* Have all your ingredients measured and close at hand. You'll need to add them in quick succession to cook them evenly.

* Put the skillet over moderate heat for a few minutes. Then add the oil or butter and swirl it around until the palm of your hand feels hot when you hold it close above the pan. If you are using oil, it should also shimmer slightly.

* Don't crowd the pan as you add the ingredients. If the pan is too full, the temperature will drop and the food will not brown properly. Instead, the juices will leach out and the food will poach in its own liquid and ultimately overcook. If you have a lot to sauté, cook in batches.

* Conversely, if the skillet gets too hot and the food starts to brown too quickly, pull it off the heat briefly to cool it down.


* Browning food not only contributes a rich caramelized flavor but also leaves drippings and crusty browned bits that make a wonderful sauce when you deglaze the pan. First, remove the cooked food and pour off the fat (leaving any dark juices). Adjust the heat to prevent the drippings from burning. Pour in a little liquid--wine, stock or water--and stir with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the skillet to loosen the browned bits. Voilà--an instant pan sauce.

* Bear in mind that strong wines and spirits give sauces a quick flavor boost; try sherry, Cognac, Madeira, or Marsala.