It’s hard to imagine a more perfect complement to a steak than a rich, well-seasoned red wine pan sauce. But for as long as I can remember, I considered a pan sauce to be one of those restaurant-only luxuries. I was convinced the technique to transform wine from the bottle to the plate was so advanced that I didn’t dare attempt it in my home kitchen. So when “Pan Sauce Day” arrived during culinary school (yes, this was an actual day), it might as well have been Christmas morning.
From that day forward, my steaks would never go naked again. I would no longer view wine as simply a beverage. The idea of “whipping up a quick pan sauce” became a reality, and suddenly my everyday entrées went from blah to brilliant.
Like many basic culinary techniques, the varieties and customizations for pan sauces are endless. Some–and I would argue the best–start with the crispy bits left in the pan (a.k.a. “fond”) after you cook your protein, be it steak, chicken or pork. Others are made with fresh herbs, aromatics and a range of liquids, from stock to water and wine to vinegar. But with this basic technique you’ll be free to customize your sauce and use any combination of herbs, aromatics, liquids, and even dried fruits.
So before you toss those crispy bits in your sauté pan, read on to discover how in less than 10 minutes you can cook up a flavor-packed pan sauce to serve with your next dish.
The types and ratios of ingredients will vary based on your taste preferences. Follow this basic ratio while customizing the actual ingredients to your own palate:
– 1 (6 to 8-oz.) protein
– 1 tablespoon minced shallots
– 1/2 cup wine (or other liquid)
– 1/2 cup stock (or other liquid)
– 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
– Salt and pepper
The first step to any successful pan sauce is to make sure you get a nice sear on your protein, which is aided by the type of pan you use. Not only does a good sear create a crispy crust, but it also produces a flavorful fond, which are the brown bits in the pan that will be the basis for your sauce. For the best fond, cook your protein in a steel pan (like you would find in the KitchenAid® Sculptured Stainless Steel 10-Piece Set) or cast iron skillet (not a non-stick pan).
After cooking your protein, remove it to a plate and leave all of the fond in the pan. Next, reduce the heat to medium-low and add the shallots to the pan, cooking them in the fond until they’re soft. (Note: If there isn’t enough fat in the pan, you can add a few teaspoons of vegetable oil or clarified butter.)
Now it’s time to deglaze the pan, which will help loosen any remaining bits of fond. Remove the pan from the heat, add the wine, and then place the pan back over high heat. Bring the wine to a boil while scraping up the brown bits with a wooden spoon.
Reduce the wine by half and then add the stock and continue cooking the sauce until it thickens slightly. The end goal is for the sauce to be nappe, which means it’s thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Remember that the more you reduce a sauce, the richer and more flavorful it will be.
The final step in making a pan sauce is known as monter au beurre, which means to finish the sauce with butter. It is important to remove the reduced sauce from the heat and to then quickly whisk in ice-cold butter to help the sauce thicken. At this point, the sauce is ready to season and serve; however, if you prefer a smoother sauce, you can strain it through a mesh sieve to remove any aromatics.
And it’s as simple as that! Transforming an everyday dish into a restaurant-worthy meal takes less than 10 minutes and a few basic ingredients. Best of all, this basic technique can be used for creating any variety of pan sauce, from white wine and rosemary sauce for chicken to red wine and dried cherry sauce for pork.