How to Build a Pan Sauce and Unlock Flavor

One of the best features of cooking in a stainless steel pan is the sear you can achieve when cooking steak, chicken, fish, and other proteins. This creates a “seared” crust on the outside of the protein, which adds flavor and a desired textural component to whatever it is you're cooking. It’s what makes pan-seared dishes in restaurants taste so good—and it’s something you can achieve at home, when using a properly heated stainless steel pan.

But another great thing about pan searing is the left over bits of food residue that form on the bottom of the pan. These food bits should not be ignored or discarded – it’s where tremendous amounts of flavor reside.

One great way to unlock this flavor is to make a pan sauce, which relies on a cooking method known as “deglazing.” Deglaze means to use a liquid to remove and dissolve browned food bits to make a sauce. Almost any liquid will do, but stocks, wine, spirits, and acids (such as lemon juice) are commonly used.

Making a pan sauce is pretty simple. When you finish searing a protein in a pan, remove it, and then add your deglazing liquid of choice, with the burner on medium-to-high heat. After a short amount of time, use a wooden or silicon cooking utensil to scrape off the left over food bits (they should come off easily) and stir them into the liquid so they dissolve. Then, let the liquid reduce, which will further concentrate the flavor, until the consistency becomes sauce-like. Briefly add the protein back to the pan so it melds with the sauce. This is the technique used to prepare a wide-range of classic dishes, such as steak au poivre and chicken piccata.

You can also add seasoning or other ingredients to balance out the flavor as the pan sauce is developing (for instance, a combination of lemon juice and chicken stock work well together for a pan sauce). Feel free to experiment to see what liquid and other ingredients you like to add—as well as what works well with different types of proteins.

*Tip: This deglazing method also works well to clean your pan. If you have stuck-on food residue and decide not to make a pan sauce, you can clean your pan by adding a liquid, setting the burner to medium, and scraping off the food bits with a wooden or silicon cooking utensil, which should come off easily. Turn off the heat and once the pan cools down, clean as usual, with warm water and delicate dish soap. 

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