For many home cooks, the word “sauce” conjures not-so-nice imagery: another dirty pan hogging the sink; a Hollandaise that might break; a Mexican molé requiring a ton of dicing.
But a pan sauce is among the home cook’s best friends. Executed correctly, the making of it essentially cleans the pan you’ve used for searing meat. In the process, you’re concocting something downright sultry, and in minutes. There’s very little by way of difficulty here: Pour out some of the fat, add fresh or dried herbs, splash in liquid, and finish with a knob of butter and salt and pepper. That’s it.
As it bubbles away, the liquid accomplishes something called “deglazing,” a fancy name for getting those tasty crisp bits off the surface of the pan and concentrating flavors. Use water if you’re feeling frugal, or wine, bourbon, cider, or even beer if you want to amp up the flavor.
Some sauces reduce until they’re a viscous syrup, whereas others require just a minute of simmering before being spooned loosely over the meat like a gravy. The best ones come together as the meat rests, so your dinner companions can top off their wine glasses as you simmer and reduce in a matter of minutes. Spoon the resulting liquid over the meat, and boom: Your guests will feel like they’re at a fine French (or Italian, or Mexican) restaurant.
The following recipes showcase pan sauces at their mightiest. Don’t tell anyone you made one so you’d have one less dish to clean.
Sorry if you were planning on something else for supper. How drool-inducing is this sucker? Mushrooms and steak are a match made in heaven, especially when butter and shallots enter the mix. Red wine is the liquid to use to deglaze after cooking the mushrooms and steak one after another in the same pan. Slices of herbed compound butter finish the look of a true French brasserie meal. Serve with ample red wine, of course.
Maybe you remember ordering a ho-hum version of this dish at your neighborhood Italian joint as a kid, but the best chicken piccata is the one you make at home. This version relies on one pan only, thank you very much. Plus, it employs a whole jar of artichokes for an automatic vegetable serving. Trust us that veggies don’t upset the balance of the beloved Old-World classic, which you’ll finish with plenty of lemon juice, white wine and capers. Delicious.
Figs, rosemary, prosciutto and shallots are key to the autumnal charm of these lamb lollipops. They’re wonderful in any sort of sweater weather, but we’re particularly partial to them in fall. There’s something about the aroma of rosemary with shallots and prosciutto and that luxe balsamic vinegar you splash in to deglaze the pan. Got fresh figs? Toss them in. Otherwise, dried figs will plump up nicely in the tremendous sauce.
When was the last time you roasted chicken legs and then poured a sauce over them? The humble bird deserves the same royal treatment other meats do, including a tarragon-spiked Vermouth sauce that will conjure Paris bistros. Chicken legs are cheap and cheerful, but you can serve this to guests along with cold Chardonnay, rolls and salad. (And knock everyone’s socks off.)