Questions and Answers - Sweating vs. Sautéing Onions

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I was recently preparing a bread sauce from one of Michel Roux's recipes and it asked me to "melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the chopped onions and sweat them gently for 1 minute." Can you please tell me what "sweating" means? Thank you so much! - J. Smith (9/14/99)


I am wondering what difference there is, if any, between sautéing onions and "sweating" them. - Nancy (7/11/05)

Whole Onions

Sweating Onions:  

Sweating is the process of releasing flavors with moisture and low temperatures. Fat, in this case, is used just to hold the non-volatile flavors as they're released from the onion. No browning takes place. The pan is covered so the lid traps steam, which condenses and drips back on to the onions. Some cooks cover the onions directly with a piece of foil or parchment, than add a lid as well. The cooked onions have a more mellow favor with this technique as the more you cook an onion, the sweeter it gets. Sweating onions is especially desirable when making white sauces that contain onions, as no color is added to the sauce. Also used in make risottos.

Sautéing Onions: 

Sautéing uses a small amount of fat, and it's done in an uncovered pan. As fat reaches higher temperatures than water, cooking usually occurs quickly, and you can easily see the onions become translucent as they move from raw to cooked. Some fat is also absorbed by the onion. Sautéing adds deeper flavors and richer colors to the onions. This basic technique is more common in cooking onions.



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