The Art of Saute, Part Three


On the road to learn to sauté, we covered these four rules last week. You can refer back to The Art of Sauté, Part One and Part Two for a refresher.

Rule 1:

Mise en place – yes the words are French but the exercise is universal. Literally it means “put in place”.

Rule 2:

Veggies are chopped in similar sizes.

Rule 3:

Meats are lightly pounded to give them a similar thickness and size.

Rule 4:

Blended oils and butter are essential to sauté.

Now, onward and upward:

Rule 5:

Use the right equipment. What is the right equipment? It starts with a sauté pan.

Rule 6:

“Cutting boards? Really?” you may ask. Yes, cutting boards. They are traditionally made out of either plastic or wood. There are arguments that can be made for both.

Wood has been around a lot longer than plastic and many prefer it for a variety of reasons, one of which is the tradition.

“Come on, we don’t need plastic. Wood was good enough for our parents and grandparents. It is good enough for us.”

Here is the problem with that statement: Because of the methods used in mass meat processing, our foods have a greater risk of bacterial contamination than at earlier times, when it was done in less of a factory environment. In addition to that, our parents were buying end-grain cutting boards rather than flat grain cutting boards which we will discuss in a couple of minutes.

First, let’s go back to bacterial contamination.

The best assurance that your cutting boards (either plastic or wood) will be bacteria free, starts with a good cleaning. The true safest method is to mix bleach with water at a ratio of between 100 and 200 parts per million. There are chlorine test strips that you can purchase to figure out just how much of each is required to reach the appropriate mixture. The standard measure is: 1 tablespoon of bleach added to a gallon of water (at room temperature – the hotter the water the less potent the bleach becomes) should be 200 ppm. Let it sit for a couple of minutes. Then proceed to wipe down your boards.

A good cleaning with hot soapy water followed by a thorough rinsing is the one used more often than not in a home environment. Unfortunately to be truly effective, water should be at least 180°. Most home hot water is set between 120° and 130°. Fortunately, there are antibacterial soaps available to assist you in your quest for safe food.

There are those that believe that wood has anti–microbial properties that kill surface bacteria within minutes. According to a study done by Ak, Cliver and Kaspar in 1994 at the University of California at Davis Food Safety Laboratory those bacteria get absorbed into the wood where they eventually die. Plastic boards are non-porous, so the bacteria remains on the surface. However if properly cleaned, that issue should be resolved.

The biggest issue between plastic and wood is essentially the same. Knife marks made from wear and use over time create an uneven surface that is harder to clean properly. End-grain cutting boards are the best wooden boards.

An end-grain wooden cutting board.

A flat-grain wooden cutting board.

Think of a bunch of asparagus wrapped in a rubber band. When you look at them from the stump end, you see a bunch of individual spears banded together. This is basically what end-grain cutting boards are. Ends of pieces of wood banded together. The process to put them together is much more time consuming than flat-grain (think of lying your asparagus side by side in strips).

Because they are so much less expensive to produce, these days we see flat-grain cutting boards more often than end-grain. Because of the nature of end-grains, you are never actually cutting into the wood but separating the individual fibers that comprise the wood leaving no knife marks.

Why even bother with plastic?

Color-coded plastic cutting boards.

It is less expensive, dishwasher safe, usually less weighty (thus, easy to handle), and they come in an assortment of colors. If it’s in good shape, there is no reason not to use a plastic cutting board. I have separate cutting boards that I use for chicken, one for seafood, one for vegetables, and one for red meats. When I use plastic, I use a red one for raw meats, a brown one for cooked, a yellow one for chicken, a white one for seafood, and a green one for vegetables. I also have separate knives for each.

Bamboo has become a popular wood option. It is lightweight, easy to handle and easy to clean.

I have a mixture of both plastic and wood and each has their own place.

Simple rules to remember for either wood or plastic:

  1. Use proper sanitation.
  2. Replace cutting boards that are grooved by knife marks creating uneven cutting and cleaning surfaces
  3. Replace bowed cutting boards. If your cutting board does not sit flat on the counter it tends to rock as you cut on it creating a dangerous situation for the knife handler. (both plastic and wood bow)
  4. If using wood, consider the end-grain variety.
  5. If you are using plastic, be prepared to replace them quicker than wood.

Next up: The miscellaneous tools used in sauté.


Read Bob’s previous blogs in this series: The Art of Sauté, Part One, The Art of Sauté, Part Two, and Big Louie and the Dinner Crew.

Visit the “Taste It” archive or check out Bob’s recipes.


Bob Zimorino is a full-time real estate agent with Lambros/ERA Real Estate, a retired Certified Executive Chef, a musician with the popular local band Mudfoot and the Dirty Soles, a dad, and a grandpa. He shares the experiences from his life that helped shape his careers and hobbies. His weekly “Taste It” blog is his take on the evolution of food in his lifetime.