Sauteeing / Frying Without Oil

I’m currently enrolled in a Forks Over Knives course with Rouxbe Cooking School online.  The most exciting thing I have learned is how to properly sautee without oil – something I had previously thought impossible.

So far, I have been muddling along happily and ‘frying’ with stock or water, which cooks the veggies well enough but does not develop a nice color on them, which in turn means that the delicious flavor from the color is missing too.

The basics of getting this right are as follows;

  • Heat your pan to the ‘right’ temperature
  • Add your vegetables (onions, peppers, carrots, leeks etc..) and sautee until they start to stick to the pan.  The veggies start to color, the pan will too.  This is normal and not something to be avoided – in fact, it’s exactly what you are looking for.  All the flavor from the pan will end up in your final dish
  • When the veggies stop moving freely around the pan and start to stick, this is your cue to add spices (cumin, paprika etc.. depending on what you are preparing) and garlic to briefly toast for about 30seconds
  • Add your deglazing liquid – this could be water, stock, broth, wine, vinegar.  It will lift the veggies from the pan and coat everything in the delicious browned flavor.
  • Continue stirring until the liquid is almost all absorbed and then continue with your recipe.

So, how do you know the ‘right temperature??  This is what i’m so excited about!  There is a very good trick to knowing when your pan is at the right temperature – I have been doing it since, just for the pure joy of seeing this trippy phenomenon.   All you need to test your pan is a a teaspoon and some water.  When you drop approximately 1/4tsp water in the pan, you want it to form a ball like mercury.  You do not want it to spatter or sizzle and steam while rapidly evaporating.  This indicates that the pan is not yet hot enough.  It sounds strange and I would not have believed it was possible had I not learned it on this course (thank you Rouxbe!)

This is not a matter of cranking your cook-top up to the highest setting but more waiting patiently for your pan to heat thoroughly at a lower temperature.  The first time I tried this, I had mine set to 8 (9 is the highest) which made the waterball but charred my onions – far from idea!

I tried again at 6 and it took much longer to heat up but eventually I was able to get the waterball to form.  This is a perfect ‘medium high’ setting.

I have an induction cook top and timed it this afternoon – it took about 10 minutes to reach the right temperature, so I imagine on an electric hob it would take quite a bit longer and perhaps gas would be about the same.  As long as you remember to start heating your pan early, it isn’t a problem at all

My course required me to do this for a garlic mushroom recipe, so once I had the garlic in the pan, I added the mushrooms before deglazing.  Another recipe I have used this method for is for barbecue sauce, where I sauteed the onions, garlic and spices, then deglazed before adding in chopped tomatoes to simmer down.  It’s a versatile method that I’m really very excited about.  There is no loss of flavor, nothing complicated and best of all – no tough scrubbing of the pan!

Here are some videos I have recorded to demonstrate the wonder of the waterball:

Here you can see that although the pan is pretty hot, it is not hot enough.  The water just fizzles and evaporates.


Here is the waterball in all it’s glory!


Here I am cooking an onion with a pan that is at the correct temperature, sauteeing without oil and deglazing with water.


And here is a photo of a waterball with an air bubble inside it – the wonders never cease!


  • Harriet Ferguson January 13, 2018 at 12:16 am

    I am excited to try this as have found the worst thing about cooking without oil is losing the depth of flavour. I hope I have the same good results. Thanks for the tip!

    • plantpoweredpea January 30, 2018 at 2:29 am

      This technique definitely brings back the flavor because you allow the food to brown and then deglaze so all that goodness transfers to the final dish.


Have you tried this? Would you? Please share your thoughts!

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