G Daniela Galarza
THE WASHINGTON POST – Next time you roast, saute, sear or pan-fry vegetables or proteins, check out the bottom of the pan.
As long as it’s not nonstick or otherwise coated, you should see browned bits, or a deeply burnished crust coating the pan.
Don’t think of that crust as a “dishwashing chore”, as Martha Holmberg put it a few years ago in a detailed guide to the technique. Think of it as a secret path to flavour.
That brown stuff is just a layer, or stuck-on bits, of caramelised carbohydrates, protein and fats. You may have heard these called pan drippings.
Knowing how to turn them into the beginnings of a soup or stew or, as we’ll do here, a sauce is a technique every cook should know.
Daniel Holzman, the co-author, with Matt Rodbard, of the new book, Food IQ: 100 Questions, Answers, and Recipes to Raise Your Cooking Smarts, and a chef-owner of restaurants in Los Angeles and New York, breaks down the process in a recipe for seared chicken breasts.
Here’s how to make a pan sauce from pan-seared food:
– Make sure the food you want to sear is well-seasoned and dry. If it goes into the pan wet or damp, it’s going to steam instead of sear.
– Get your pan very hot, add a little fat, and wait for a wisp of smoke
– Carefully lay the food in the pan, allowing it to fall away from you. If you’re cooking chicken, lay it skin-side down.
– Then… wait. Don’t wander into another room – this is no time for distractions! – but let your food brown. Resist the urge to move it around. Give it at least two or
– Peek at the seared side – is it brown? Then it’s time to flip. (If, when you go to flip it, it sticks, give it another minute or two.) If you’re cooking meat, make sure you’ve cooked it all the way through. Use a thermometer if necessary.
– Sauce time: In some cases you’ll remove the meat or vegetables from the pan, in others they stay there, and while everything is still very hot, you add liquid – water, stock, broth, vinegar, bean broth, soy sauce, juice, cream, brine – and maybe some complementary aromatics, such as spices, peppercorns or herbs.
– As the liquid hits the hot pan, it creates steam that, when combined with the friction from a spoon or spatula, will help you scrape up the browned bits.
– Now, simmer the sauce for a few minutes so it reduces, thickens and its flavours become
One last tip before we start cooking: The pan is going to get very hot, and when you add liquid to a ripping hot pan, it’s going to sputter. Fear not! “If you’re not regularly setting off your fire alarm at home, you’re not really cooking,” Holzman advised, and I agree. (Though, you may want to have a splatter screen handy!)
CHICKEN WITH PAN SAUCE AND WILTED SPINACH
Seared chicken breasts or thighs turn into an elegant meal thanks to a simple pan sauce.
This recipe is all about the technique of building a sauce out of the fond, or bits of browned fat and protein that stick to the bottom of the pan after caramelising food over high heat.
Here, skin-on chicken pieces are seared and cooked through in a hot skillet. They’re then removed, and chicken broth is added, followed by stock and butter.
Simmered and reduced, this mixture combines with the fond to produce a flavourful sauce. It’s endlessly variable: Substitute almost any well-seasoned protein or vegetable, and play around with different liquids: vinegar, brine, water, bean broth, soy sauce and other savoury liquids, in the right proportions, will all make delicious sauces.
– Two bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs or split breasts, patted dry
– Fine salt
– Two tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
– Two sprigs fresh thyme
– Freshly ground black pepper
– Quarter cup of chicken broth
– Half cup chicken broth
– Three tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
– Five cups baby spinach
Season the chicken generously on both sides with salt. (If you have time, season them up to one hour before cooking – or the night before, and refrigerate until ready to cook.)
In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it just begins to smoke. Pat the chicken dry and gently lower each piece into the pan, skin side down, dropping it away from you so hot oil does not splash toward you.
Cook the chicken until the skin is deeply golden brown, about five minutes, then flip and add the thyme to the pan. (If the skin sticks, the chicken isn’t ready to flip; give it another one to two minutes and it will loosen on its own.)
Continue cooking until the chicken is firm and barely pink in the centre, about four minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the centre registers 140 degrees. Transfer the chicken to a plate, season with pepper and let them rest in a warm place while you make the sauce.
Add the chicken broth to the pan, and using a wooden spoon or spatula, scrape up any browned bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Increase the heat to high and boil the broth until it has almost completely evaporated, about two minutes.
Add the broth and boil until it has reduced by half, about three minutes. Whisk in the butter, letting it gently melt into the sauce.
The sauce is ready when it has thickened; it should coat the back of a spoon, and when you trace a trail with your fingertip across the back, the trail should hold its shape
Decrease the heat to medium, and pour the sauce into a small bowl and keep warm.
In the same skillet, wilt the spinach. Season it with a pinch of salt, and stir until it releases its moisture and turns silky and soft, about two minutes. Remove from heat.
Transfer the chicken to individual plates, and add a spoonful of spinach to each plate.
Spoon the sauce over the top and serve.