BRIAN IN THE KITCHEN brought to you by Stitsworth Meats
November 14 2011
Technique - Pan Sauce
Pan sauces are made by using the drippings (also called fond) left in a skillet after meat has been browned, adding liquid to release the drippings from the pan, reducing by boiling to concentrate flavor, then adding a bit of fat to smooth the sauce, give it a velvety finish, and soften the flavor.
The fond is so flavorful because it is a combination of new compounds made during the heating of meat fibers. There are both protein and sugar molecules in meat. When these molecules are heated, they break down and combine to form new compounds that are very flavorful, in a chemical reaction called the Maillard reaction. That's why it's so important to use every last bit of the drippings in a pan sauce.
For liquids, you can use chicken stock, beef broth, wine, water, or fruit juice with a bit of lemon juice. When you add the liquid, scrape the bottom of the pan with a heavy spoon to make sure all of the drippings are released. The sauce must cook over high heat to reduce quickly so the meat (which is waiting on the side, covered with foil, or in a low oven) doesn't dry out or get cold. I like adding a tablespoon of butter to finish the sauce, but you can also use heavy cream or olive oil.
For most pan sauces, 1/2 cup of liquid is a good amount for a very quick sauce. This amount reduces quickly and doesn't dilute the flavor of the drippings. Add 1 Tbsp. butter, cream, or olive oil, swirl it through the sauce, and you're done.