Chef Notes: Pan Sauce Magic

Chef Notes: Pan Sauce Magic

What do roasted chicken, sautéd pork chops, broiled fish, and pan seared steaks all have in common? They all leave you with a gift on the bottom of the pan. Usually referred to as fond, it’s actually browned sugars, carbohydrates, and/or proteins and whatever fat was rendered from the meat and it makes a mean base for a pan sauce. The technique is simple:  adjust the fat, sauté an aromatic, deglaze, reduce, add liquid and flavoring, reduce, and thicken if desired.

Adjust the fat – After removing the meat to rest, take a look at that pan.  It doesn’t matter what kind of pan it is.  I’ve made pan sauces in roasting pans.  If there’s a lot of juices and fats in the bottom, drain those off.  If you’ve got one of those fat seperators, drain it into that and let it sit for later.  You’re going to want just enough fat in the pan to do a quick sauté.

Saute an aromatic – Get your fat hot and quickly sauté a couple tablespoons of a finely minced shallot or onion.

Deglaze and reduce – As soon as your aromatic is soft, pour in about ½ cup or so of wine, sherry, cognac, beer, or appropriate stock. I try to match this to the meat. If I’ve made chicken or fish I’m probably going to go with a white wine or light colored beer. For red meat I’m likely to use a red wine, dark beer, or stronger liquor. Use a spatula to scrape the bottom of your pan and get all those flavorful little bits stirred around. Let this liquid reduce to au sec (almost dry).

More liquid and reduce – Now add in a cup or so of the juices from your fat separator, if you had any, or stock and a couple pinches of a finely chopped fresh herb like parsley, tarragon, rosemary, sage, thyme, etc. Allow to reduce a bit.

Thicken – This step is optional. You could stop here and have a fabulous au jus or you can thicken. I like to pull that pan off the heat and toss in about two tablespoons of very cold butter, cut into cubes, and whisk until melted. Another option would be to make a slurry of equal parts corn starch and stock and add a couple tablespoons to the simmering liquid and thicken that way. Once, done taste for seasonings and adjust salt and pepper as desired.

Pan sauces are so flavorful that you only need a small amount on each serving of meat. They’re quick, easy and the varieties are endless.

 

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