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Pan Sauces & Gravies

Fine Cooking Issue 38

One of the simplest sauces for sautéed and roasted meat, poultry, or fish is a quick sauce made by deglazing the sauté pan or roasting pan. Deglazing is the technique of adding a bit of liquid to the hot pan after the food has been cooked to dissolve the caramelized juices stuck to the bottom of the pan. Follow these guidelines for quick sauces that require few ingredients and provide a wonderful depth of flavor:

• Choose a pan that’s neither too large nor too cramped for whatever you’re cooking. (Too much surface area will result in burned juices and a bitter flavor, and too little will prevent the juices from caramelizing.) Nonstick pans are a poor choice since juices won’t stick to the surface. Sauté or roast your ingredients according to your recipe. Transfer the food to a warm place while making the sauce.

• Before deglazing, remove any excess fat from the pan to avoid a greasy tasting sauce.

• If you like, add a chopped shallot to the still-hot pan before deglazing for a bit more flavor. Cook over medium heat until the shallot begins to soften.

• Deglaze by adding wine (red, white, or fortified), good stock, vinegar, cider, beer, brandy, or water to the hot pan. Use enough liquid to cover the bottom of the pan—1/3 to 1/2 cup for a medium sauté pan, more for a roasting pan.

• As the liquid simmers, scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon and stir to dissolve the caramelized juices. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by about half. Serve the sauce at this stage (as a jus, or unthickened sauce) or embellish it further.

• For more sauce, add some good-tasting stock. Simmer to reduce, and then enrich the sauce with a few tablespoons of cream or crème fraîche and reduce again, or whisk in a few tablespoons of butter. If you like, season with chopped herbs or a splash of vinegar or spirits, such as Cognac. 

• Add a vegetable purée to a pan sauce to thicken and add flavor.

• For roasting-pan gravies, it’s easiest to transfer the deglazing liquid to a smaller saucepan once the caramelized juices have been dissolved.

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