Make Flavor with a Pan Sauce

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I remember the first time I learned what fond was. I was in a kitchenware store in New Orleans and Chef Paul Prudhomme stopped by to give an impromptu cooking class. He sautéed some chicken with a spice mix and then picked up the pan and pointed to all the gunk glued to the bottom. “That’s the good stuff,” he chuckled. “That’s where the flavor comes from.” From that day on I stopped fretting when my sautés stuck. But it wasn’t until later, when I was taking a course at the Culinary Institute of America, that I learned the technical name for that gunk was fond, and that it was the essential ingredient for making a quick pan sauce.

make-flavor-with-pan-sauce Just add a splash of liquid—like wine or vinegar, or even broth—scrape up the fond from the pan (called deglazing) and you’ve got the makings of a tasty sauce. Take it off the heat, swirl in a knob of butter or a tablespoon of cream and some minced herbs and you’ve just turned a simple supper into something special.

Here are seven simple steps to making a pan sauce:

1 – Heat your (not nonstick) pan over medium-high heat. Heating the pan before adding fat or food allows the cells of the metal to expand, creating a nearly non-porous surface.

2 – Add your fat and let it get nice and hot. The heated fat—be it oil, butter or duck fat (ahhhh)—creates another barrier; having it hot ensures good browning when the food hits it.

3 – Add the main attraction to the pan … and then leave it be until it’s ready to be turned (be sure to leave enough room in between pieces to allow air to circulate or else the food will steam rather than sear). Be it meat or chicken or fish or tofu, if you move the food around too much, it won’t develop a crust. When it’s cooked through and nice and brown on the outside, remove it to a plate and keep it warm in a 200 degree oven.

4 – Sauté additional ingredients and aromatics. Nudge these around often, letting them get good and caramelized.

5 – Pour in liquid and deglaze. Wine, vinegar and broth are all great deglazing liquids. Use a stiff-edged spatula to scrape up the bits at the bottom of the pan. Here’s a quick video on how that works:

6 – Take pan off the heat and swirl in a bit of richness. Just a tablespoon or two of butter or cream can enrich a sauce dramatically. Be sure the pan is off the heat, though, or they’ll separate and become oily (that’s what it means when a sauce “breaks”).

7 – Adjust for acid and salt. Give the sauce a taste and adjust the seasoning: a squeeze of lemon for brightness, a drizzle of vinegar for punch, a dash of salt, a grind of pepper; add what makes you go “mmmm.”

To get you started, here are three different ideas for three completely different pan-sauces:

  • Sauté minced ginger and garlic before deglazing the pan with a dry white wine like vermouth and swirl in a bit of vegetable or chicken broth, a tablespoon or two of cream, and a pinch each of minced fresh thyme and lemon zest.
  • Sauté minced shallots before deglazing the pan with dry white wine, then swirl in a bit of vegetable or chicken broth and two tablespoons butter with a generous pinch of tarragon.
  • Sauté minced pancetta and onion before deglazing the pan with dry red wine. Add a touch of red wine vinegar, two tablespoons butter and several turns of freshly ground black pepper.

Or keep it simple and make the recipe below. In any case, set your sights on making some flavor this week!

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Veal Scaloppini with Shallot-Caper Sauce

This dish is a fresh twist on the classic veal piccata. Although it has an air of elegance, this whole dish comes together in less than 15 minutes.

veal-scaloppini-recipe2 teaspoons minced lemon zest
1 tablespoon minced parsley
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 (4-ounce) veal cutlets, pounded to 1/2-inch thickness
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/4 cup white wine
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Place an ovenproof platter on the middle rack.

Mix together lemon zest and parsley in a small bowl, and set aside.

Heat a large skillet (not nonstick) over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon butter and the oil to pan.

While pan is heating, mix together flour, salt and pepper on a wide plate, and dredge veal cutlets. Swirl the butter and oil around the pan, shake off excess flour from cutlets and sear for about 2 minutes per side. When nicely browned on both sides, transfer to the platter in the oven.

Add shallots to the pan and saute for 3 minutes, until softened and brown. Pour in white wine and cook for 1 minute, while scraping up the browned bits in the pan (the fond) with the flat edge of a stiff spatula.

Remove pan from heat and swirl in remaining 1 tablespoon butter, lemon juice and capers. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.

Serve cutlets drizzled with sauce and sprinkled with lemon zest and parsley.

Serves 4

  • Jill Silverman Hough

    I sort of think that, as many of us have moved to quicker, healthier fare, we’ve lost the ability to make a sauce – not a thick gravy that gets slathered all over the plate, but a flavorful tablespoon or two that enhances our simply prepared quality ingredients. In other words, a pan sauce, which you’ve so beautifully described, and which can add so much to a dish. Thank you, Lia!

    In place of the butter or cream, I also like blue cheese swirled into the sauce. Red wine and blue cheese pan sauce over a steak is awesome!

  • Jacqueline Church

    I love a quick pan sauce. It’s funny when I read this it instantly reminded me of the great little book Proust was Neuroscientist. Somehow in the otherwise interesting and well-written book they misspelled “fond” and it’s printed (at least in my edition) as “frond”! Isn’t that hilarious?

    Anyway, whether you call it “Yum yums” like Emeril or “frond” there is magic in that crusty stuff. We really need to re-teach that – thanks for this!

  • Lia Huber

    Thanks, Jill … I love the suggestion to swirl in blue cheese (especially with the red wine pairing … speaking of wine–check out Jill’s book 100 Perfect Pairings for some fabulous ides on food and wine pairings!). Along those same lines, mascarpone and even soft goat cheese are wonderful “swirlers” too. Anyone else have other ideas?

    Jackie … something tells me I’m going to think “frond” every time I make a pan sauce now ;-)

    Anyone else? Ideas for pan sauce combos?

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