Upgrade Your Dish With A Simple Pan Sauce
Home cooks can easily take their dishes to the WOW stage with a few simple ingredients by making one simple thing – a pan sauce. Understanding the technique of how to do this can be done with just a few pantry staples. Pan sauces are convenient because they are made right in the pan you are cooking in – no extra dishes. Often referred to as reduction sauces, a simple pan sauce is what makes all the difference to a dish like chicken piccata, marsala, saltimbocca, steak au poivre or fish with a creamy herb sauce.
The best pans to use are wide frying or saute pans. This will help reduce the sauce down and thicken quicker. Ideally a pan without a non-stick finish is preferred as it will allow you to create a “fond” or flavour in the bottom of the pan. “Fond” is a fancy word for all the browned bits that form on the bottom of the pan which adds to the rich taste of the sauce and should not be sent to the sink to clean before the sauce is made. Graves made from the pan juices are in the same category. If you are someone who always wants to clean your pans after this process, give yourself a break. Let the sauce do the work for you.
DEGLAZING: The first step in creating a pan sauce is to “deglaze” the pan. This cooking term refers to lifting off those browned bits using an acidic ingredient like vinegar or wine while the pan is still warm, then gently scrape the bottom of the pan with a flat-edged tool to release the fond. Then allow the liquid to reduce to a syrupy consistency. Next add liquid such as stock, broth or whipping (heavy) cream and seasonings and simmer gently until the desired consistency is reached.
NAPPE: The french culinary term for the perfect desired consistency is “nappe” which means coated. A sauce should be thin enough that it doesn’t sit on top of the food but thick enough that it doesn’t run all over the plate. To check and see if your sauce is the perfect consistency, dip a spoon into it and see that the spoon is coated. If it’s too thin, you can reduce the sauce alittle more to evaporate extra water off. If its too thick add a little water, cream or stock to thin it down.
INFUSING: There are many flavourful ingredients you can add the to pan sauce to give it texture, colour and taste. This is the perfect place for herbs, mustards, peppercorns, capers, citrus zest, anchovies and tomatoes. Aromatics such as shallots, onions or garlic should be added at the beginning after you have sautéed your meat but before deglazing. This process also adds flavour to the “fond”.
Finally, for extra richness and flavour try adding a few tablespoons of cold butter into the pan when the sauce is complete. This process is done off the heat. Once the sauce is complete, remove the pan from the heat and add a tablespoon of butter at a time, swirling the pan sauce to allow the pan sauce to melt the butter. Don’t let the pan sauce boil after this point or the sauce will separate.