September 6, 2020

Fond of Pan Sauces

Don't waste your fond. Turn it into a perfectly silky pan sauce.

I want to get nerdy about fond. 🤓

Like Mr. Tumnus from Narnia, right? Okay, not that kind of faun.

I’m talking about those browned, almost burnt bits stuck to the bottom of your pan after you sear a chicken breast, pork chop, or even cauliflower steak. The fond is full of flavor.

And we don’t waste flavor! So don’t you dare wash your fond down the sink. (I’m very passionate about this. I’m thinking about making “Save the Fond” t-shirts 👕).

So how do we extract flavor from the fond-filled pan?

Here’s one way: make a pan sauce.

Making a pan sauce

The Formula

The ingredient list is straightforward and meant to be a guideline. Nothing is required, and it’s not all-encompassing by any means.

  • A fond-filled pan
  • A few cloves of garlic or shallot
  • Liquid—usually equal parts wine and broth (more below)
  • A couple of tablespoons of vinegar or citrus juice
  • Butter or oil to stir in at the end
  • Flavor boosters: Sturdy herbs (like thyme, rosemary, or sage), mustard, jam, whole spices, capers, tomato paste, or anything else that sounds delicious to you.

A note on the liquid: Pam Anderson who wrote How to Cook Without a Book recommends starting with about 3/4 of a cup of liquid, which will then reduce down. With that much liquid, you end up with a sauce closer to a gravy. But you don’t have to use that much liquid if you don’t want to. I’ve made pan sauces before just using butter, jam, and a splash of wine to deglaze the pan. 😋

Oh! And you don’t have to limit yourself to using wine and broth. Don’t forget about vermouth, liquors like whiskey or tequila, soy sauce, or even orange juice.

The Process

First, the fond. Cook whatever is on the menu that night—sear steaks in butter, pan roast a chicken in the oven, or char broccoli on the stovetop. Just make sure to use a stainless steel or cast iron pan. We want some “stickage” here that non-stick pans won’t give us. Cook it as you would normally. Once it’s done, you’re left with the fond. 😍

1. Start with garlic or shallot in a fond-filled pan.

You may need a touch more fat if your pan is dry. Let it soften for a couple of minutes. You want the pan slightly lower than medium heat. Since the pan is already hot and filled with browned bits, it’s easy to burn it (speaking from experience here ✋).

Add-ins: If you’re using any whole spices or tomato paste, this is a good spot to add those. We want our spices to bloom in fat to get more flavor out of them.

2. Then deglaze the pan with whatever liquid you’re using.

Deglazing sounds so fancy, doesn’t it? Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan at this point to release the fond. Don’t waste the fond people!

Add-ins: Throw in your sturdy herbs here if using them—remember sturdy herbs hold up well in heat and will infuse flavor as the pan sauce cooks. This is also a good spot to add in the jam, dijon mustard, or even large pieces of citrus zest (like the kind you’d use in an old fashion 🥃).

3. Bring the pan to a strong simmer. 💪

Let the liquid in the pan reduce down to about half of what you started with. Reducing the liquid intensifies the flavor and leaves you with a thick enough sauce that will cling to whatever you put it on.

4. Acid it up!

Next, add your citrus juice or vinegar to brighten the sauce and balance it out. 🍋

5. Stir in fat.

Butter is the most decadent. But olive or sesame oil works beautifully too. If using butter, America’s Test Kitchen recommends adding one tablespoon of cold butter at a time. The fact that the butter is cold helps to thicken the sauce.

6. Lastly, taste it!

Followed by a few choice words because you probably just burned your tongue. Taste again, this time blowing on it first. And then season with salt and pepper and more acid if needed.

Where I learned this: How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson, Bon Appetit, and reading lots of recipes from America’s Test Kitchen.