As an athlete with a strict, clean diet, it can be hard to make the same food satisfying day after day…especially when your Instagram is blowing up with the latest 48oz steak or bottomless brunch. Last week, we talked about creating depth of flavor with onions and the Maillard Reaction, the chemical reaction that turns your meat brown and creates a crispy, delicious crust on your steaks and cookies. This week, we’re going to take the Maillard Reaction one step further and teach you to make a pan sauce from the leftover bits.
This technique is used in kitchens across the globe and is one of the first things budding culinary students learn in school. It’s straightforward, relatively idiot proof, and a little goes a long way.
Once you’ve seared a perfect steak, chicken, or burger, you’re left with goopy bits of flavor at the bottom of the pan, thanks to the Maillard Reaction. The science is a bit complicated, but suffice to say that during the process of browning, amino acids and simple sugars are react together and create literally hundreds of new flavor molecules. When you’re searing a steak, most of the flavor molecules remain on the steak itself, some of them get left in the pan. Those bits look like junk, but they’re packed full of flavor and will serve as the base for your pan sauce.
Pan sauces are quick and can be whipped up while your meat is resting (you are letting your meat rest…yes?). They can also be made with usual pantry items. For a simple pan sauce, you’ll need:
- A splash of acid (vinegar, lemon juice, wine, gin)
- Stock (any will do, but the general rule is chicken stock for poultry dishes, and beef/veal stock for beef or game)
- Butter or bone marrow (optional)
Remove the meat from the pan and keep the frying pan over medium high heat. Using your preferred acid (we like sherry vinegar), pour enough into the hot pan so it just covers the bottom of the pan. Using a spatula or spoon, scrape up all the bits from the pan while the mixture is boiling so nothing is left sticking to the surface of the pan. Let the mixture boil until au sec, or rather, “nearly dry,” about 1 minute.
When most of the acid has evaporated, add enough stock so it is about 1/2 inch to 3/4 of an inch deep. For an 8 inch pan, that’s about a 1/2 cup of stock. Crank up the heat and let the mixture come to a boil and reduce until the liquid begins to thicken. You’ll know a pan sauce is finished if you run a spatula through it and the bottom of the pan is visible.
If you’re bulking or trying to incorporate a bit more fat into your diet, now is the perfect time to whisk in a tablespoon of butter or bone marrow for added richness.
Taste your sauce and add salt and pepper as needed. Pan sauces can also be kept in the refrigerator or frozen for later use!