Maureen Dowd article titled, “Neocons Slither Back” in September 15 New York Times begins with the following sentence:

“Paul Ryan has not sautéed in foreign policy in his years on Capitol Hill. The 42-year-old congressman is no Middle East savant; till now, his idea of a border dispute has more likely involved Wisconsin and Illinois.”

I guess “sautéed” in the line of “Paul Ryan has not sautéed in foreign policy in his years on Capitol Hill” either “seasoned / well-trained /well-experienced” in the subject (foreign policy) or “being grilled on the specific issue,” but I’m not sure.

Cambridge online Dictionary defines ‘sauté’ as verb meaning ‘to cook food in oil or fat over heat, usually until it is brown.’

Oxford Online Dictionary defines it as verb meaning ‘to fry quickly in a little hot fat: and adjective meaning ‘fried quickly in a little hot fat’.

OAELD defines it as verb meaning ‘to fry food quickly in a little hot fat, and adjective that is only used before noun.

None of the above definitions seems to match Maureen Dawd’s usage of “sautéed” in the above quote.

What does “Paul Ryan has not sautéed in foreign policy in his career” mean?

Is this again Maureen Dawd’s favorite, quirky diversion of a plain cooking word for an irrelevant subject, or just an ordinary usage of “sauté” in your day-to-day conversation?

If it is the latter, can I say “He has sautéed in the medieval English literature, (Hollywood movie, or topics of American football)”?

  • There is a ballet step saute which could be relevant [can't do accents in comments]. But this is yet another of the NYT's frankly odd turns of phrase.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 16 '12 at 7:24
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    @AndrewLeach "NYT's ... turns of phrase", more of Ms. Dowd's I'd say, always new, always challenging, always interesting turns of phrase.
    – Kris
    Sep 16 '12 at 7:42
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    Creative and interesting; or idiosyncratic and obscure? One man's meat, I suppose. To answer the last question, I certainly wouldn't recommend using this particular metaphor at all.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 16 '12 at 8:01
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    A number of cooking terms are used metaphorically or idiomatically: cook, stew, half-baked, grill, fry, etc. You can also immerse yourself, soak up things, and so on and so forth. Sep 16 '12 at 8:02
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    @AndrewLeach: relevant in that the ballet step and the cooking method are both described using the French verb sauter (to jump, skip, leap, hop, that kind of thing). The proper French way to employ the cooking method is to keep the food in motion hence "jumping", but the English are lazy about both frying and cooking terminology which is why to us it basically just means shallow-fried. The "same" verb appears in Italian, saltare, for example saltimbanco, acrobat, literally "jump on a bench" :-) Jun 13 '14 at 1:24

This phrase is not common, and appears to just be a diversion into cooking terms to create an analogy.

Sautéing is as you defined it. When you sauté olive oil, garlic, and onion together when starting to make an Italian pasta sauce, the outcome is that the oil will take in the flavor of the garlic and onion.

So, by analogy, Paul Ryan has not taken in the flavor of foreign policy, i.e. he is inexperienced in foreign policy.

Readers will probably understand this analogy if they understand the more commonly used analogy of marinating.

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    About your last statement (using marinated vice sautéed) – that may indeed have been more understandable, as you suggest, but I wonder if Ms Dowd liked the notion of adding heat into her analogy, since foreign policy often requires one to handle "hot" situations.
    – J.R.
    Sep 16 '12 at 9:30
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    Are you saying that Paul Ryan has not been sautéed or has not been the "chef" doing the sautéing? The marination analogy suggests that he has not been marinated in foreign policy but I don't believe Ms Dowd intended to mean Ryan was the thing being sautéed, rather he was the one doing the sautéeing.
    – Jim
    Sep 17 '12 at 4:51
  • @Jim I understand it as: Paul Ryan has not been "sautéed in foreign policy". i.e. Put Paul Ryan, Foreign Policy, some spices, and oil in a pan and add heat. When you finish, Paul Ryan will have absorbed some foreign policy. However, for your description to work, the verb would be "sauté in" meaning the chef takes what's in the pan, and adds something into it while frying. This second interpretation would treat Paul Ryan's experiences as the pan of ingredients, with Paul Ryan as the chef.
    – Xantix
    Sep 17 '12 at 5:44
  • @Xantix- Well, I think for your interpretation to work the word been is necessary- Paul Ryan has not been sautéed... Either way, it's not one of her better metaphors.
    – Jim
    Sep 17 '12 at 7:15

The idea of sautéing is "to ensure the ingredients have been thoroughly jumped" (tossed).

"all the ingredients are heated at once, and cooked quickly. To facilitate this, the ingredients are rapidly moved around in the pan" (wikipedia).

Speaking of Paul Ryan, the writer explains, "till now, his idea of a border dispute has more likely involved Wisconsin and Illinois.” He has not trained himself thoroughly and quickly on the Middle East and ME policy while at Capitol Hill. So "is no Middle East savant".

The author is known not so much to use idioms and metaphors as to set precedents with her own creative ones.


The juxtaposition of a hot, quick, and very active cooking method and Ryan's years in the House (first elected 1998) suggests one thing: that Maureen Dowd cannot cook.

The metaphor would perhaps be clearer had she written:

Paul Ryan has not even sautéed, much less simmered, in foreign policy in his years on Capitol Hill.

But that would likely have been too much of a good thing. Extending metaphors in this fashion can be a recipe for disaster.


This metaphor sounds bizarre to me, and it's not a common one. The way I would understand it is through the meaning of 'jump lightly' (in ballet), and I think it is used in a similar way to 'dabble', as in 'he hasn't dabbled in foreign policy'. It just means he hasn't got involved with it at all (like, he hasn't jumped about in it?). That's how I would interpret it, but the diversity of answers here shows that it's not a transparent idiom and therefore shouldn't have been used with no identifying context.


I think the author meant to say "sortied into".

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    It’s unthinkable that a veteran columnist like Maureen Dowd confounds ‘sautéed’ with ‘sortied’ by deliberately using an accent aigué.
    – Yoichi Oishi
    Sep 17 '12 at 5:27
  • I would suggest than an error is much more likely than any of the tortured explanations offered so far. It may not have been her error, but an error arising from bad editing (including the kind of bizarre products of spelling checkers. ) Sep 17 '12 at 14:16
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    This is not such a bad answer. A clever columnist might have used a word that sounds like another word. The meaning is similar in many ways. I think this is interesting because it shows how the brain works when picking words. Sep 18 '12 at 21:00
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    Yoichi may be right that Dowd wouldn't have made such a mistake, but the fact of the matter is sautéed is indeed a "bizarre" choice here, with no clear-cut significance to native speakers. Other answers attempting to guess some "valid" meaning that might have been intended by the author are a bit futile, and distract from the fundamental point. Regardless of Dowd's intentions, it has no meaning in this context, for almost the entirety of her readership. Sep 27 '12 at 18:22
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    This isn't a bad answer, but Maureen Dowd has used enough unusual analogies in the past that this one doesn't seem that unlikely. The difference is that while her analogies usually are pretty good, this one just doesn't work very well. Nov 10 '12 at 11:56

It means being so higher than good. In other words being more than baked.

Other definition (not in this case): when being high and drunk at the same time.

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