The term, sauteing, has been applied to various cooking methods and it will continue to be applied to various cooking methods, however sauteing really refers to browning food quickly in a little cooking fat. It's a very convenient cooking method and one that's used most often with vegetables.
There are three very important things to remember when sauteing, so your food turns out perfectly:
1. The fat must be very hot before the food is added. If the fat's hot enough, it will sear the skin of the vegetables as soon as it touches them. If not, the vegetables will absorb the fat, making them greasy, and in some cases, downright inedible.
2. The pan must be large enough. When cooks try to cram too much into one pan, they end up stewing the food, rather than sauteing it. Stewed vegetables are definitely not what you want when you set out to saute.
3. The food must be dry. Even foods that have been marinated must be dried before putting them into the hot fat in the pan for sauteing. If they aren't dried, the liquid on the food will cause the food to stew rather than saute. If you want to create a glaze, and this is a nice effect at times, you add liquid - honey, brown sugar, molasses, etc. - to the vegetables after they're in the pan.
When a simmering layer of oil is added to the saute pan, the cooking technique changes from sauteing to pan frying. As the bubbling fat surrounds the frying vegetables with heat, they can be coated with an egg mixture, corn meal, or various batters.