Meat Magic In A Pan Sauce

If you want to elevate any meat to restaurant quality, just add a simple pan sauce. The meat should rest for a few minutes before serving. That leaves you time to create this lovely addition that will knock your socks off. 

Making a pan sauce.

A pan sauce uses the fond, or the browned bits left on the bottom of the pan, as the sauce basis. There is a lot of flavor left in that pan. Once you have removed the meat from the pan, add a flavorful liquid, like wine or broth, and use a spoon or spatula to scrape up those bits on the bottom of the pan so they are loose in the liquid. Use enough liquid to barely cover the bottom of the pan. Put the pan on high heat and begin reducing the liquid to a thicker sauce. You can add in some more flavor using spices, herbs, sliced mushrooms, finely minced garlic or capers. After about five minutes, the sauce should be reduced and ready to pour over the meat on your plate. 

Those are the basics for any pan sauce. From there you should vary the ingredients in the sauce to complement your dish. Here are some ideas. 

Steak

Steak with mushroom red wine reduction.

Wine is one of the best liquids to use for a pan sauce. For steak, you want a hearty red wine, like a Cabernet. And, as I’m sure you’ve heard, you should never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink. That is especially true when making this sauce. After using some to make the sauce, you can drink the rest of the wine in the bottle with the meal. Start by adding enough wine to barely cover the bottom of the pan. Use a spoon to spare up all the bits sticking to the pan. Place over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occassionally. Add in sliced mushrooms, about a cup, and cook for about five minutes. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer for a few minutes. If you think the steak has gotten cold while you make this sauce, you can put it back in the pan now while the sauce thickens. 

Pork

Boneless pork chops in
Marsala wine sauce.

Pork chops remain a favorite in many homes. It is cheaper than beef and more flavorful than chicken. A Marsala wine sauce is ideal for pork, or most other meats. You might have to hunt a little for the wine, but it will be worth it. Add a cup or two of Marsala to the pan about 15 minutes before the meat is done. The sauce will be created while the meat finishes cooking. Again, throw in some sliced mushrooms to cook with the sauce, adjust the seasoning and let it reduce. When seasoning, remember to use a light touch so it doesn’t overpower the rest of the dish. 

Chicken

Chicken in cream sauce.

The standard rule says white wine should be served with fish and chicken. But we don’t accept that. A good wine is the one you like, whatever it is. The reason behind that rule is based on French cooking. Usually, a white flesh is more delicate tasting and thus requires a more delicate wine, which means a white wine. Red meats usually take a strong red wine to complement the meat. But in this case, a white wine would work best.  You can also use chicken broth. For our pan chicken sauce, remove the chicken when it’s done. Add minced garlic and onion and then the wine or broth. Allow it to cook on high heat for about five minutes, until the sauce thickens. Then add two or three tablespoons of butter or ghee and melt it into the sauce. This will make the sauce rich and a little creamy. Pour that over your chicken and be prepared for a “Wow!” 

A quick note about wines

Never use a cooking wine or sherry. They are just awful. Get the real thing so you can have a drink or two while you cook. It really helps. As for what kind of wine, if you don’t have much experience with them, go ahead and follow the standard rule of red wine for red meat, and white wine for white meat and fish. For white wines, I like a Pinot Grigio (or Pinot Gris if French) or a buttery Chardonnay without too much oakiness, depending on the season and the dish. I like the fruity Pino Grigio in the summer and the heavier Chardonnay in the winter months. For reds, a Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvingon or Merlot are the best choices for the novice. The first two are very strong flavors that go better with spicy dishes. Merlot is more mild tasting for lighter dishes. Feel free to consult a wine shop keeper for advise.

A Cream Sauce for Fish

Fish with cream sauce.

A quick sauce is called for here because the fish will not need to rest as long as other meats. When the fish is done, remove it from the pan and add a cup of white wine, a couple teaspoons of lemon juice and about a quarter cup of heavy cream or half & half. Let the sauce thicken and then add a handful of capers and some herbs, fresh if you have them. Then just spoon the sauce over the fish and serve. 

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