Today's post is more of a technique than a recipe. Pan sauces are a staple technique in the culinary canon, and everyone should know how to make one.
When you cook a piece of meat in a pan, you'll notice that there are little brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. This is called fond, and while it may look burnt, it's actually full of flavor. Pan sauces are a way of utilizing the fond to build a flavorful, viscous sauce that's perfect over whatever meat you're cooking. And they come together in the time it takes for your meat to rest after cooking.
Pan sauces rely on a technique called deglazing. This refers to the process of adding liquid to a hot pan in order to release the fond and build that into a sauce. You can deglaze with any kind of liquid, but wine and broth are the most common ones used to build pan sauces. It's important to use a high-quality bone broth for this process, as the high gelatin content is what allows the sauce to achieve that delicious consistency.
Overall, the process for building a pan sauce is quite formulaic. First, you cook a piece of meat in a pan. After the meat has cooked, you add in some aromatics and cook those down. Next, you deglaze the pan with wine, broth, or another liquid and allow that to reduce. Finally, you stir in some cold butter to add creaminess, flavor, and body.
There are lots of additions and substitutions you can make along the way. Shallots, onion, garlic, leeks, and more all work well for aromatics. Any kind of broth will do for deglazing, and red or white wine can be used to add additional flavor. Heavy cream can be added for richness, while lemon juice or vinegar can bring some brightness and acidity. Fresh herbs and spices also help to add additional complexity.
Pan sauces are simply a vehicle, and once you master the basic technique you can play around with different ingredients and flavors geared towards whatever you're cooking that day.
As always, feel free to reach out if you've got any questions!
- 1 cup high-quality bone broth
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 large shallot, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley
- lemon juice
Step 1: Cook Your Meat
In a heavy-bottomed pan (use cast iron, stainless steel, or carbon steel) cook your meat. I'm cooking a Denver steak here, but this works great on any kind of protein.
Once your meat is fully cooked, set it aside to rest.
For a breakdown of how to cook a steak in a cast iron pan, check out this post.
Step 2: Cook Your Aromatics
Remove any excess oil from the pan, apart from a tbsp or so. If there's no oil left in the pan, add in a small amount. Place the pan over medium-high heat.
Add in your diced shallots and cook until translucent. After a minute or two, add in your garlic and cook for another minute.
Step 3: Deglaze the Pan
Pour 1 cup of high-quality beef broth into the pan. It should sizzle and steam immediately upon contact.
Side note: If you're using wine to deglaze, I like to add that first, allow it to reduce a bit, and then add in the broth. When making a pan sauce with wine, I use equal parts wine and broth.
Using a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan to allow the liquid to lift the fond off of the pan. Give everything a stir.
Step 4: Reduce the Sauce
Allow the sauce to reduce, stirring occasionally. You'll know it's properly reduced when you can drag a spoon across the sauce and it's thick enough to allow a streak to form across the bottom of the pan.
Step 5: Add in Additional Flavorings
At this point, you can add in additional flavor components. For this step, turn the heat down to low.
Here I added a quarter cup of heavy cream, a few tbsp chopped parsley, and a big squeeze of lemon juice.
Step 6: Emulsify with Butter
Finally, we're going to add in a knob of cold, unsalted butter.
Turn off the heat under the pan, and add a tbsp of butter. Immediately begin stirring it to combine and emulsify. Sometimes i can be helpful to use a whisk for this step, but it's often not necessary.
Step 7: Plate Up and Enjoy
Once the butter incorporates, your sauce is ready to use. I recommend serving this sauce immediately after it's made.