Pan Sauce 101

Chicken and Garlic and White Wine Pan Sauce

Chicken with Garlic and White Wine Pan Sauce

One of my favorite things to do for a meal is to cook some sort of meat in my 12-inch stainless steel pan and then use that to make a pan sauce.  Pan sauces are able to take the remnants of the meat you’ve cooked and incorporate those delicious flavors into your sauce.  Plus there’s also the added benefit that you don’t need to dirty an extra vessel to make the sauce in.  For those of you who love nonstick cookware, you need to try and avoid that convenience for this.  A nonstick pan just won’t give you the same rich flavor that you will get using a stainless steel pan (I’ll explain this below).  The wonderful things about pan sauces, is that once you get the hang of the process you can experiment and come up with your own sauces.  Here are the steps for a successful pan sauce:

1. Fond: The reason you need to use a stainless steel pan.  When you brown meat in a stainless steel pan, little bits of meat stick to the surface of the pan and brown.  This is called fond.  In this case any shade of brown is good, especially deep brown.  Black, however, is bad.  If you notice that bits of fond are getting too dark while you are covering the meat, you can move the meat on top of the bits of exposed fond that are burning.

Fond

Fond

2. Aromatics: This is where you add additional flavor from things like garlic to your sauce.  Garlic and shallots are two of my favorite things to add at this stage.  You basically want to cook them until they are softened, and then proceed to the deglazing before they burn.

3. Deglazing: This is where you incorporate the fond into your sauce.  Basically you are now adding a liquid while the pan is hot in order to incorporate the fond into your sauce.  In my opinion the best liquid for this job is some sort of alcohol.  Most of the alcohol itself evaporates in cooking and it leaves behind wonderfully complex flavors in your sauce.  You can also use things like chicken broth or stock if you don’t want to use alcohol.  Technically, you could even use water, but that doesn’t add any additional flavors to the sauce.   During this time you will usually simmer the deglazing liquid and scrape the bits off the bottom of the pan.  You will notice how the fond gives the sauce a rich color when it is incorporated, and that if you used a nonstick pan your sauce will be much more pale in comparison (in taste as well as color).

4. Reduction: This is where you get the sauce to the consistency you want.  Reducing it will make it more viscous, or you can thicken it with a bit of flour (it won’t take much, maybe a teaspoon).  This is also where you will cook out the alcohol if you decided on that as your deglazing agent.  You can tell when most of the alcohol is cooked out just by smelling the sauce.  I often will add a Tablespoon or two of butter at the end of this stage to increase the volume a bit and add a richer flavor.

5. Seasoning: This is the stage where you add your salt and pepper to taste.  Also at this point you can add things like mustard, that will produce an off flavor if cooked too long in the sauce.  Now you ready to enjoy your sauce.  Just spoon it over your dish and enjoy!

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