Monday, October 19, 2015

Pan Sauces Forever: Learning the Magic of Scraping Up the Brown Bits

Have you ever eaten something and wondered how on earth it came to be considered a food?

Like beer.  Someone boiled or soaked grain in a bunch of water, but then, upon straining out the grain, left the sugary water out for so long that it fermented and got all funky. 

Then someone decided to go and drink it.  


I kind-of imagine the same thing happening with preparing meat.  Some foodie peasant daredevil was roasting his chicken/beef/pork/whatever over the fire, and, upon plating his meat, poured some water into the pan to let it soak while he was eating—and then decided to pour that water on his meat instead.

The miraculous birth of pan sauces!

I love making pan sauces.  They can be made simply with water, or they can be trumped up to all hell with wine, herbs, 'shrooms, you name it.  There is an infinite number of ways to make it, but they all have one delicious goal: to take your meat from boring to brilliant in about 30 seconds flat.

Here are some chicken cutlets I made the other night when I was bach-ing it and just wanted something super simple to make along with my roasted veggies: 

chicken cutlets with pan sauce and herbs

See those yummy juices dripping off the meat? Yeah?

I made them.

They didn't exist when I took the chicken out of the skillet.  The skillet was completely dry.  HOT and dry.

Unfortunately and most likely, so would be my chicken.

So here is why I love pan sauces so so so much.  You know what I did? 
  1. I took my skillet over to the sink.
  2. I put the pan under the faucet and turned the water on for about 2 seconds.
  3. I put the skillet back on the burner.  
  4. As the water rapidly simmered off, I madly scraped with a metal spatula at all the yummy, crusty crud that had browned and crisped itself to the bottom of the pan, stirring all the bits into the simmering water to dissolve.  
  5. When the amount of liquid in the pan boiled down to look like the amount I needed, I turned off the heat, scooped up a big blob of butter (I keep softened butter by the stove; you should, too), and plopped that into the sauce, whisking it in until it had melted.

And then I poured that deliciousness all over my chicken.  

Now.  That is a very basic pan sauce.  It is delightfully delicious, made with two ingredients that I KNOW you have in your kitchen, and it is damn fast to make.  You will love it.

If you want to get even more fancy schmancy, but not any more difficult (I swear!), try browning some sliced or chopped mushrooms or shallots or garlic in the pan before you add the water.  Or instead of using water, use broth or wine.  Or use a mix of both! There is no right or wrong.  Just do what you feel like or have on hand.

But no matter what additions you make or what you use as your liquid, always whisk in a plop of butter after you turn off the heat.  It thickens the sauce up a bit and just adds a nice richness to the flavor.

To top it all off—literally—try sprinkling on some fresh herbs after you pour on the sauce.  I used cilantro in the pic above because I had seasoned my chicken with some cumin and cayenne.  (If you aren't sure if an herb will go well with your seasonings, tear open a leaf and then sniff it together with your spices.  If it smells good together, it will taste good together.)

And that is that, my friend.  


(Pan Sauces Forever)

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