Sauce is my favorite thing to make (I’m sure this surprises you greatly.) Whether I’m working on the long, slow reduction of demi-glace or a quick, punchy gastrique, I always feel just a little more accomplished when sauce is involved. I have two staple sauces; both are easy, cheap, and require very few ingredients that are convenient to keep on hand, and they make your food look and taste sophisticated and well composed. You can also minimize your food waste, especially of protein, if you start saving the scraps and fat that you trim off meat and putting them in the freezer. I save fatty steak cuts, the slightly strange bits of ham, chicken necks, and anything else that would otherwise be thrown away. Turn things like that sad, expires-tomorrow pork chop or leftover steak into a gourmet treat instead of chucking it when you inevitably forget about it.
Deglazed Pan Sauce
Deglazing is fun. First you get to sear or sauté tasty morsels until they are dark and beautiful. Then you pour in a little liquid and it blossoms into a cloud of steam and smells fabulous and you totally feel like a real chef. Then you add more liquid so you don’t burn your sauce while having chef fantasies.
Anyway, moving on. Fun aside, searing and deglazing are critical cooking skills, and it is in your best interests to master them. Confidence is the essential factor, since there is a lot of heat and noise and smoke, but I believe in you. Practice making a sauce every time you cook a simple chicken, pork or steak dish, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you improve. And how often you find people inviting themselves back over for dinner.
The instructions are chicken based, but I’ll list of few of my other favorite combinations at the end. The method and ratios are essentially the same, except where noted.
Large enameled skillet (preferably with a lid) or Dutch oven. Nonstick will work if you don’t have anything else, but not as well. You should probably just listen to me and buy a Dutch oven.
Kitchen fan A good sear easily creates enough smoke to set off the fire alarm. Crank it up to high, and crack a window if yours is not stellar.
At least 1 chicken neck
Saucy Note: Usually a whole chicken will come with the neck inside it, so it’s particularly easy to make sauce if you’re roasting the entire bird. The roasting time is also perfect for a nice rich reduction, so I tend to use less chicken scraps than when I do other proteins. If you have extra pieces saved or chicken thighs are on special though, I highly recommend making extra meaty chicken gravy at some point. You can also usually buy bulk chicken necks at the grocery store and freeze them in small bags if you want to have a better supply.
1 shallot or onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 bay leaf
2 cups chicken broth
Saucy Note: Adjust the amount of liquid you’re using based on how long you’ll be reducing it for. A long reduction calls for more liquid, whereas you can make a quick tasty au jus in about ten minutes with less than a cup.
2-3 second pour white wine or dry sherry Saucy Note: Buy a big bottle if you like our blog!
1-2 tbsp. oil, depending on amount of meat Note: Olive oil is fine, although it tends to be smokier than other oils. Sesame oil or canola oil is better.
Heat skillet or Dutch oven over high heat. Add oil and heat until just starting to smoke. Quickly and carefully arrange chicken in single layer in the hot pan (very easy if you’re only using the neck.) Set a timer for 4 minutes. Do not touch, turn, flip, poke, or even look at the meat for too long during this time. With practice you won’t need a timer, but anyone new to this technique should so you can ignore it for the appropriate amount of time without forgetting it.
While chicken is browning, dice onion and smash garlic. Keep separate.
When the timer sounds, use tongs to ever so gently pull at a piece of the chicken. If it releases easily, it’s ready to flip. If it sticks, give it another thirty seconds. If it’s still stuck, you might need to turn the heat up. When the meat releases easily and is dark brown, repeat the process on the parts that now look pale and anemic compared to your beautiful sear. When chicken is well browned on all sides, use tongs to remove to plate. Turn off heat and let cool for a moment.
Make wine and broth easily accessible. You’ll need to move quickly once the garlic goes in the pan.
If the pan is very greasy, drain or use a paper towel to mop up grease so there is about 2 tbsp. left. Turn stove back to medium, and add shallot or onion and sauté until lightly brown, turning heat down if bottom of pan starts to get too dark. When onion is golden, add garlic and turn heat to high, stirring constantly. As soon as the garlic is fragrant (20-30 seconds), splash in the sherry or wine-you want enough to create a small puddle but not enough that the pieces are swimming. It will steam and boil immediately, so watch your sensitive bits while continuing to stir with the wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the pan to get up the fond (the savory, sauce winning brown stuff. There will not be as much fond with nonstick, which is why it is not as awesome for this)
After the alcohol has evaporated and the pan is almost dry, pour in the broth, repeating the scraping and stirring, and turn down the heat to simmer. The liquid should be slowly producing small bubbles. Add the bay leaf and return chicken pieces to pan, including the juices accumulated on the plate.
If you have at least an hour until the gravy needs to be ready, cover and let simmer for about thirty minutes. If you are working with less time, leave uncovered. The next step can also be moved up 10-15 minutes if trying to reduce faster.
After thirty minutes, turn up heat until liquid is bubbling steadily. Cook until reduced to desired consistency, and then strain the solids (I recommend a gravy strainer. The top is perforated to allow liquid through, and it has a special spout to separate the grease.) Sometimes I make it thinner for hot sandwich dipping. Other times I return it to the pan and reduce it even further until it is very concentrated. Swirl in a couple tablespoons of butter for a rich gravy, and make sure you serve bread so people can resist drinking straight from the gravy boat.
Salt to taste.
Seared smoked ham ends, deglazed with bourbon and simmered with beef broth
Note: As I mentioned earlier, I save the little end pieces and fatty trimmings from pretty much everything. In the case of ham, its usually already cooked and seasoned, so it imparts more flavor than others. I like it for French dips because it’s a little smoky.
Seared steak trimmings deglazed with red wine and simmered in beef stock
Beef makes for a very luxurious tasting reduction because it is so rich, especially if you’re using steak trimmings, and can benefit from a splash of vinegar at the end.
Seared steak trimmings and onions deglazed and simmered with beef broth
Very simple, and if you pick out the beef bits with tongs, the onions make for a heartier texture.
Gastrique: The Easiest Fancy Thing Ever
If you’ve never had a gastrique, you are majorly missing out. Sweet, tangy, and full of sass, gastriques are as beautiful as they are delicious. Made of equal parts liquid sugar (simple syrup, maple, honey, agave…) and vinegar, gastriques are also deceptively easy to make. Ten minutes of effort, a little flavoring in the form of fruit, vegetable, wine or herb, and you’ll be sending it home in to-go cups. Except there won’t be any left because everybody ate it already. The following recipe is my absolute favorite for smoked ham, but it’s also fun to play around with on breakfast foods. Ham and pancake sandwich anyone?
Makes about 1 cup
Nonstick skillet or sauté pan
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup apple cider vinegar
Splash of red wine
Heat maple syrup over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, swirling pan occasionally so it heats evenly. Add vinegar all at once, careful not to splash the hot liquid on yourself. It should boil immediately. Continue cooking for another few minutes as the syrup and vinegar meld.
Add the red wine, just enough to give the mixture a brilliant scarlet color, and reduce, stirring occasionally. The gastrique is done when you can leave a temporary clean streak on the bottom of the pan with your spatula.
To serve put in gravy boat or spoon over top. Keep in mind this is a strongly flavored sauce.