Sautéed bacon and vegetables. [File photo]
In a recent soap opera that depicts a famous female cook from the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD), the heroine, played by Angelababy, makes fried dishes. In fact, there was no sautéed food at that time, as ancient Chinese often steamed and boiled food.
As a distinguished feature of Chinese cuisine, sautéing, also known as stir frying, is common nowadays, but it turns up later than other ways of cooking. According to the record, sautéing remarkably began to appear in the Wei, Jin and Southern and Northern dynasties(220-589).
The reason why sautéing turns up later than other cooking techniques is connected with the prevalence of the metal cooker. To sauté, the cook needs hot oil heated by big fire. Proper cooking equipment is necessary for this way of cooking. Due to the high price of bronze, it was only when cheaper iron cookers were widely spread that sautéing became possible.
And compared to other cooking methods, sautéing requires more oil. Ancient Chinese mainly used animal fat and oil to cook and a small quantity of animal oil is not enough to let sauté cooking to become popular. Thus stir-fried food was still exclusive to many restaurants in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).