Learn how to make a simple but elegant sauce for your next dinner.
A pan sauce is an easy way to elevate a meat and potatoes meal into an attractive, more upscale dish. And the best part is, it’s a simple process that utilizes existing flavors in the pan all thanks to fond. Fond refers to the browned bits stuck to the pan after you’ve cooked meat or vegetables.
Pan sauces are not only easy, they’re highly customizable too. So feel free to riff and create your own based on whatever starches or sides you’re pairing with your dinner. Follow along to find out how to make the perfect pan sauce.
Pan sauces are, as the name implies, sauces made in the same pan used to cook a protein, so you don’t lose any of that precious flavor preserved in the form of fond. Once you’re done cooking, simply remove the meat from the pan, cook your aromatics, deglaze with a flavorful liquid (such as alcohol, stock, or cuisson), and add some more fat before drizzling it over your dish.
You can make a pan sauce in almost any pan, though depending on what you use to deglaze the pan, Carbon Steel may not be the best choice in this scenario. Using an acidic liquid to deglaze will strip away your hard earned seasoning, so if you're using Carbon Steel, opt for stock. We recommend Stainless Clad, either our Frying Pan or Saute Pan. A Dutch Oven would also be a suitable choice, especially for smaller cuts of meat, as part of developing proper fond is making sure that your meat has full contact with the pan.Step 1: Sear Your Meat
Pan sauces can be made from the fond of any kind of meat, though steak and pork chops are maybe the most common. You could also use chicken, fish, or even vegetables. To begin, heat your pan over medium-high heat, drizzle with a Tbsp. of neutral oil.
Sear your meat for a few minutes on each side until a crust begins to form and the meat releases naturally from the pan. That’s an indication that a Maillard reaction has occurred. Once your meat is cooked to your liking, remove it from the pan and let it rest in a warm spot while you make your pan sauce.Step 2: Sweat Your Aromatics
There should now be a beautiful layer of fond on the bottom of your pan. This is the foundation of your sauce. Reduce the heat to medium, to keep your fond from burning, and add in a bit more fat. You can use oil, but butter will add richness and help improve the texture of the sauce later on.
Shallots are a classic addition to pan sauce, but you can also use garlic, onions, or a combination. Other fresh herbs that lend themselves to a pan sauce are tarragon, parsley, and rosemary. You could even use a delicate green like sorrel that will melt into the sauce.Step 3: Time to Deglaze
Sweat your aromatic mixture for a few seconds. You want them to infuse the butter without picking up any color. Next, it’s time to deglaze. Deglazing helps pick up all the bits of fond from the bottom of the pot and incorporate them into the sauce. Brandy is a popular choice because of its unique flavor, but you can use wine, beer, or cider.
If you don’t consume alcohol, simply use more stock or even cuisson so you don’t miss out on any flavor. Water will do in a pinch, but your pan sauce won't be as flavorful. Reduce the heat slightly, letting the alcohol cook off for a few minutes, then add stock. We encourage you to make your own stock, as it’s a big part of the sauce’s flavor and store-bought stock is often salty. Allow the liquid to reduce by about half.Step 4: Add More Fat
Once your liquid has reduced, it’s time for the final additions of fat in the form of cream and butter. This gives the sauce the velvety body it needs to coat the meat. Pour in the cream and let the sauce thicken for a few minutes. If you’re adding a briny element to the sauce like capers, do that now.
To test if your sauce is thick enough, drag a spoon through the liquid. There should be a trail behind it. Once you’ve achieved this thickness, reduce the heat to low and stir in the remaining butter. Now your sauce should be able to coat the back of a spoon. In French cooking, this consistency is called nappe.Step 5: Serve
Taste your pan sauce and adjust the seasoning if necessary. If you’re using lemon juice or other acidic ingredients, add them here so you don’t break the sauce You can drizzle the sauce over your plated meat or pour it into a pool and arrange the meat on top. Either way, you have just made a beautiful and simple dinner in under an hour.
Now that you know how to make a basic pan sauce, feel free to riff with different flavor combinations. Get creative—try this technique with fish, vegetables, or different meats. Whatever you choose, pan sauces are an important part of any home cook’s repertoire, turning an ordinary weeknight meal into something restaurant worthy.
Chef Tracy Malechek-Ezeikel of Birdie’s in Austin has the perfect showcase for a pan sauce with a dish that dresses steak and potatoes up with shallots, herbs, and briney green peppercorns. The whole thing comes together in under an hour and can easily be customized once you know the basic technique. Follow along and learn how to make your own pan sauce below.