This is a classic french technique that can be at the foundation of your cooking endeavors. The beauty of the pan sauce is that it comes together quickly, it utilizes all of that leftover flavor (the fond) from that protein or vegetable you just cooked in the pan, and, once you learn the basics, you can apply the technique to so many cuisines and flavors.
Basically, a pan sauce consists of...
1) sauteed aromatics (garlic,shallots, etc)
2) reduction of an alcohol (most often, red or white wine)
3) Addition of stock (chicken, beef, vegetable, etc.)
4) Addition of butter and/or cream (coconut cream or milk works great for a non-dairy option)
If you get this technique down, you'll really start building confidence in the kitchen. You'll start to experiment with different flavor substitutions, and sooner or later, you'll start impressing your family, friends, and even yourself. Here are a few recipes for you to try and build your pan sauce skills:
Red Wine Sauce with chives (for red meat or chicken)
What you'll need:
- olive, canola, grapeseed, or avocado oil
- shallots and/or garlic
- fresh cut chives
- dry red wine (cabernets, merlots, and pinots work great)
- Stock (Beef or Chicken. Try and pair the stock with the type of protein you're having.)
- Salt + Pepper (fresh ground if possible)
- Unsalted Butter (try it with our Garlic and Shallot butter!)
1) Oil your pan, get it hot.
When you're oil has a nice shimmer going, you know that it's ready to roll.
2) Throw in your aromatics
Start sauteeing your garlic and/or shallots. Season with salt and pepper.
* it's important to season throughout, so you get a nice consistent flavor. If you add all the salt/pepper in at the end, the seasoning won't properly permeate the sauce. Try and season as you go, so that you have nice layers of seasoning, that will all come together at the end for maximum deliciousness. Sautee aromatics until they become translucent, or just darkening.
3) Add in your wine
This is one of my favorite parts of cooking. Adding in alcohol to a hot pan creates the most amazing sizzling sound, as well as the sweet aroma of the alcohol evaporating into sugary goodness in your pan. Add in just enough to cover the circumference of the pan, and watch it reduce.
4) Add in your stock
When the wine reduces and thickens to a light, almost maple syrupy consistency, add in your stock. Season with salt and pepper, and watch it reduce more. Be sure to stir consistently with a spoon or whisk.
5) Taste your sauce
Does it need more red wine? More stock? More salt/pepper? Here is where practice will help you to expand your palette, to where you'll instinctively know what is needed. Once your sauce is well balanced between the sweetness of the wine, savoriness from the stock, and enhanced with the right amount of salt, you're ready to move on.
6) Swirl in Butter
This is the most rewarding step - watching the sauce come together and thicken, with the addition of our old friend. But of course, adding in butter to a hot pan presents the challenge of preventing the "breaking" of the sauce.
Butter is made up of 3 components: Butterfat, water, and milk solids. Butter has a low heat tolerance (250 F) because the milk solids in the butter don't have the same heat tolerance as the pure fat. If the butter surpasses 250, the milk solids will separate from the pure fat, and this will result in a broken sauce, which doesn't have the same flavor complexion or smooth aesthetic. This will take practice, but if you're using cold butter, you will have more time to swirl in the butter.
Cut your butter into different pieces, and as soon as you throw them in your pan, start swirling them with your spoon or whisk to incorporate the butter with the sauce. Have your heat on low or even off. Once the butter is totally melted throughout, taste the sauce. Season if needed, and throw in your chives (or other herbs, or even heavy cream if you want to add in some more richness). The sauce should be thick enough to just coat your spoon, while slowly falling off.
**if you put too much butter, and you want to add more wine or stock:
Go ahead, but know that you will have to raise your stovetop heat back to medium or high, and this will separate the butter. This is fine. You will have another chance to incorporate the butter back in at the end...by adding in more butter. If you keep on practicing this, breaking your sauce over and over again, you will inevitably strengthen your pan sauce skills.