By Chef David Hall
In continuing our discussion on fond and making sauces, this week I get into the specific steps on how to make pan sauces.
I am frequently asked, “What’s the difference between a sauce and gravy?” The answer depends largely on who you ask. My best answer is that typically gravy is normally the meat juice left in the pan after roasting meat or bones, which is usually thickened with flour (not necessarily a roux ) and always served hot. Sauces however are made from several ingredients intended specifically to compliment the food it is to accompany, not necessarily requiring the juice from meat and always thickened (with or without using a roux). Also, sauces can be served hot or cold depending on the recipe. Most pan sauces do utilize the fond and dripping of the protein being cooked and have added ingredients and seasoning to achieve a particular flavor profile as seen below. Most pan sauces do not use a roux as the thickener but are merely well-seasoned “reductions,” frequently finished with butter or cream. Are you sufficiently confused yet?
Making a Simple Pan Sauce
Sauté the protein of your choice until done. Remove the meat from the pan and allow it to rest for 4 to 5 minutes keeping the meat warm.
Turn the heat under the pan to medium high, and deglaze with a flavorful liquid, scraping the pan with a spoon to dissolve all the fond. Reduce the liquid by at least 1/3, to taste.
When the reduction is a bit syrupy and can coat the back of a spoon, remove from the heat.
Taste and add salt and pepper, if necessary.
Swirl in a pat of butter or a splash of cream to finish the sauce to round out the flavors and give the some added body, but do this step off the heat. Otherwise, the sauce might “break” where the fat and water in the sauce separate and do not remain emulsified.
Since pan sauces can be intensely flavored, you really only need one or two tablespoons per serving. Therefore, ½ cup is enough sauce for plating a family of four, or 2 tablespoons per person.
Variants on a Theme
In Step 2, add a little fat and sauté some minced shallot or garlic until softened and just starting to brown before deglazing.
In Step 2, add minced, sliced or diced mushrooms along with the shallot or garlic.
In Step 2, stir in some mustard, chutney or other flavor accent
In Step 4, stir in some fresh minced herbs.
The trick is to use complementary flavors. This takes some time, practice and experience to learn what goes with what. A useful guide to help you achieve success is a book titled, “The Flavor Bible.”
You can make a great sauce with Asian flavors by sautéing some fresh ginger and stirring in some peanut butter in Step 2, flavoring with some five spice powder and deglazing with a lemony chicken stock. Finish the sauce with very small amount of toasted sesame oil.
For a French twist, consider adding minced shallot, stirring in some Dijon mustard, using stock and white wine for the deglazing liquid and flavoring with some tarragon, lavender or Herbes de Provence.
To make an Italian-inspired pan sauce, you might use a mixture of stock and Chianti, perhaps stir in some tomato paste along with some garlic, flavor it with basil and/or oregano and finish the sauce with some olive oil.
Remember, a quick pan sauce is about using a series of techniques—sautéing, deglazing, reducing and enriching—and not so much about following a strict recipe. Your taste buds should be the tool used to measure the ingredients.
The recipe below is the French classic Steak au Poivre (pepper steak) served with a luscious pepper cream sauce.
Steak au Poivre
Gourmet, January 2006
4 (3/4- to 1-inch-thick) boneless beef top-loin (strip) steaks (8 to 10 oz each)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 cup Cognac or other brandy
3/4 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 200°F.
Pat steaks dry and season both sides with kosher salt.
Coarsely crush peppercorns in a sealed plastic bag with a meat pounder or bottom of a heavy skillet, then press pepper evenly onto both sides of steaks.
Heat a 12-inch heavy skillet (preferably cast-iron) over moderately high heat until hot, about 3 minutes, then add oil, swirling skillet, and sauté steaks in 2 batches, turning over once, about 6 minutes per batch for medium-rare.
Transfer steaks as cooked to a heatproof platter and keep warm in oven while making sauce.
Pour off fat from skillet, then add shallots and half of butter (2 tablespoons) to skillet and cook over moderately low heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits, until shallots are well-browned all over, 3 to 5 minutes.
Add Cognac (use caution; it may ignite) and boil, stirring, until liquid is reduced to a glaze, 2 to 3 minutes. Add cream and any meat juices accumulated on platter and boil sauce, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter and cook over low heat, swirling skillet, until butter is incorporated. Serve sauce with steaks.
Until next week, be well and be blessed,
Chef David Hall