All types of frying use some form of heated fat to transfer heat to food. The technique of frying has a number of sub-categories. In deep fat frying, the cook fully immerses the food in hot fat or oil. Shallow frying calls for cooking the food in a layer of fat that rises to perhaps one-third to one-half the height of the food. Pan frying refers to the act of cooking relatively large pieces of food in a shallow layer of fat, and often requires the food—say, a steak—to be flipped over at least once for even cooking.
Deep fat frying and shallow frying each tend to add a great deal of fat to the final dish. Pan frying adds less fat, especially if the cook drains off the remaining fat before serving.
Two of the healthiest frying methods are sautéing and stir-frying. In each, the cook prepares small pieces of meat or vegetables (as uniform in size as possible) and then fries them in a thin layer of oil at high heat for a brief period, stirring frequently. This technique locks in moisture, flavor and nutrients. The term sauté refers to European and American type food while stir-frying usually brings Asian cuisines to mind. In an Asian stir-fry, sometimes the cook adds sauce directly to the meat or vegetables and stirs everything together before serving. In either case, the cook needs to stand over the hot stove and keep tending the food, but not for very long.
Asian wok cookery is particularly effective in keeping fat levels down. With a wok, a comparatively small amount of fat at the bottom of the pan transfers heat to a relatively large quantity of food chunks, all with constant stirring.