1. Sear your protein. Works well with any meat, chicken, pork, steak etc…
A pan sauce requires a “fond” which are the caramelized “bits” that are left in the bottom of the pan after cooking. Think of them as of residual flavor crystals. In order to sear the meat you must have medium to high heat, but not too high so that it will burn the fond. If you burn the fond do not make the sauce as it will be bitter and carry that flavor with it.
2. Sauté Aromatics. What do you think of when I say aromatics?.. Yes, garlic, onions, shallots are the most common, but also can include celery, carrots, even peppers. To sauté the aromatics lower the heat a little to medium, add fat to the pan. Your protein may release a little fat while you are cooking it and you can use this as part of your “fat”. So use your judgment and add 1-2 tablespoons of butter or oil to the pan so you can sauté the aromatics just until tender 1-3 minutes. You can pick one or combine a few if you would like.
*A note about fats: Watch your heat as butter has a lower “smoking point” and will burn faster; oil’s “smoking point” is higher. I tend to use light olive oil as I am Italian, but sometimes I use half-and-half as butter adds great flavor.
*A note about thickening: You can also add a bit of flour at this point. Cook it for a minute making a simple “roux”. Add equal parts flour to fat, it should not be dry but the fat should absorb the oil. You can also thicken at the end as well.
3. Deglaze. To deglaze the pan you are going to add a flavorful liquid that will release all the particles from the bottom of the pan, (also helping with the clean-up). Your choice of liquid could be wine, juice, broth/stock, or cream. When in doubt: chicken or vegetable broths are the most versatile.
4. Add Flavor. Let your choice of meat and liquid help guide what flavorings you want to add. Flavorings are the extra sublet touches that add uniqueness to each sauce such as capers, lemon, herbs, and mustard.
5. Finish: Thicken and Strain if desired. When you have achieved the flavor you like decide if you would like to thicken your sauce more. A good consistency of a sauce should coat the back of a spoon. To thicken your sauce at the end you have 3 easy options:
- Add a pre-made roux to the sauce.
- Add a slurry. 1 teaspoon of cornstarch or arrowroot mixed with 2 teaspoons of cold water. (Cornstarch will slightly cloud the sauce, arrowroot will be more clear).
- Add very cold butter. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in very cold butter for a slight thicken and rich finish.
Lastly, you may like to strain your sauce to remove any particulates or added flavorings and serve.