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« Shellfish Dinner for One! | Main | Great Steak! »

A Pan Sauce for All Seasons

By Katie Barreira

What’s turkey without gravy? You would never chuck the succulent pan juices from a holiday roast, so why waste them any other time of year? A quick pan sauce is the easiest way to class-up a simple weeknight meal.

One of my biggest testing pet peeves is when a recipe calls for searing a protein (chicken, fish, steak…most especially steak) and then abandons the pan, never to be mentioned again. One can only assume that all those caramelized bits of flavor and schmaltzy fats are being fed to the kitchen sink.

Here’s how to turn pan juices into a pan sauce.

(suggested amounts serve 2)

1. Sear Meat – Brown meat on both sides over medium-high heat, then remove from the pan and tent with foil, leaving browned bits and juices (fond) in the pan; reduce heat to medium low.

If fond is getting too dark (it should be deep brown, but never black or burnt smelling) but your meat isn’t cooked through, remove pan from heat, transfer meat to a baking sheet and finish in a 325 to 350-degree oven.

2. Sweat Aromatics - Gently cook 2 tablespoons of finely chopped aromatics, like shallots, garlic, onions, scallions, or leeks, in the reserved pan.

For leaner proteins, add a little drizzle of oil to the pan to moisten the aromatics, for fattier cuts, pour off all but 1 to 2 teaspoons of fat from the pan.

3.  Deglaze – Add liquid to the pan to dissolve the particles of caramelized solids left in the pan.

First add about ¼ cup of acid, like wine, vinegar, or citrus juice to the pan and reduce, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Then add about 1/3 cup of broth or water – the concentrated meat flavors are already in the pan, you’re just reconstituting. Simmer until reduced by about half. Remove pan from heat.

4. Enrich with Butter - Swirl 1 to 2 tablespoons of cold cubed butter into the sauce. The cold butter emulsifies, thickening the sauce and imparting a silken texture and decadent richness.

5. Optional Herbage – Sprinkle in a chopped fresh herb at the end for another layer of flavor.

Suggested Sauce Combos

Skin-on chicken thighs (this is my favorite chicken part, but you can use any skin-on piece. Searing the skin imparts enough fat and flavor to make a savory pan sauce. Remove skin before serving to keep it light.)
Yellow onion
White wine
Chicken broth

White Fish
Sole or tilapia fillets
Orange juice
Fish or vegetable broth

Rib-eye or top loin steaks
Red wine
Beef broth

Bone-in chops
Apple cider vinegar
Chicken broth

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Reader Comments (1)

What a great post!

How about for salmon?

November 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobbin

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