How to Make a Pan Sauce

Making a pan sauce is a simple way to add intense flavor to meat that has been pan seared, sauteed or roasted. The sauce builds on the juices and browned bits left over from cooking the meat and a few standard ingredients that can be varied quite a bit to suit your tastes.

To make ½ cup of pan sauce, suitable for 4 servings, first remove the meat from the pan in which it was cooked and keep it warm in a low oven. (This will work better if you did not cook the meat in a nonstick pan.) Add ½ cup minced aromatics and a little oil, if necessary, and let soften over medium-high. Onion and garlic are classic choices, but you might also use carrots, leeks, mushrooms, shallot, celery or ginger, in any combination.

Next, add the liquid. The typical pan sauce calls for ½ cup alcohol, such as wine, and ½ cup stock. If you’re not a drinker, use all stock or substitute apple cider, orange juice or tomato juice. Other alcohols may also be used in place of wine. Sherry, marsala, port and vermouth are all classic flavors for pan sauces.

Pour in the wine first and let it reduce, stirring and scraping to get up the bits stuck to the pan. Then add the stock and let reduce more. You may want to reduce the heat at this point if the liquid is boiling away too fast.

Now is the time to add some flavorings. The field is wide open, but of course you want to select flavors that complement the aromatics and liquids you’ve already chosen. Some suggestions are:

  • 1 tbsp. lemon or lime juice or vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. chutney, horseradish, mustard or soy sauce
  • 2 chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. seasoning mix or dried herb mix or 1 tbsp. fresh herbs

For the final step, whisk in 2 tbsp. cold butter, one pat at a time, to thicken and enrich the sauce. If you want a richer sauce, substitute ¼ cup heavy cream, but be careful to do this over low heat so the sauce won’t curdle.

Chef’s tip: If your sauce starts to separate, remove from the heat and whisk in 1 tbsp. water.

I used the following “hunter style” pan sauce to flavor roasted chicken with great results. I mixed the sauce up in the roasting pan while the chicken was resting.

Pan Sauce for Roasted Chicken

Serves: 4

  • ¼ lb. mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tbsp. shallot, minced
  • ½ cup white wine
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. thyme and rosemary, minced

Saute the mushrooms and shallot in the roasting pan over medium-high until softened. Add the wine and let reduce. Add the stock and tomato. Let reduce further, until there is about ½ cup of sauce left. Whisk in the butter, a little at a time. Add the herbs. Slice chicken and pour sauce over.

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    5 thoughts on “How to Make a Pan Sauce

    1. cooking chat 8 November 2006 at 8:01 pm

      mmm, sounds like a good one. with the colder weather I’ve been switching to grilled meats to roasting, too, with pan sauces. made a good sauce for steak the other day w roasted garlic and rosemary…recipe here: http://cookingchat.blogspot.com/2006/11/sirloin-with-roasted-rosemary-sauce.html

    2. […] Sauteing is a handy technique for quickly cooking a thin chicken cutlet or fish fillet that, if cooked too long, might dry out. I call this a technique rather than an entree because usually, you will want to add something more to the dish. Making a pan sauce is a fast and proven finishing touch (and I include a classic recipe below), but other options abound. Relish, salsa and tomato sauce are also pretty tasty toppings. I use sauteed chicken or fish in pasta dishes, tacos, sandwiches and salads, as well as the basis for more complex dishes like chicken parmesan. […]

    3. […] topped with a simple sauce. You can make a pan sauce in the same pan where you cooked the chicken. Pictured above is pan-roasted chicken with a simple […]

    4. Another Chicken Dinner « Simply Cooking 26 February 2010 at 9:15 am

      […] Pan-roasted chicken with a quick pan sauce […]

    5. Denise 26 February 2010 at 1:14 pm

      I used your information on making a pan sauce and pan roasting chicken to make the main feature of today’s lunch. I thought it was great and even the man person liked it! We’ll have this now and then for a nice change of pace. Thanks for sharing it!

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