How to Make a Pan Sauce

Once you know how to make a pan sauce, chicken breasts will never seem boring again.

chicken, chicken breasts, chicken dinner, herbs, pan sauce, tips, weeknight chicken dinner, weeknight dinner ideas
Serves 4

How to Make a Pan Sauce


In the left corner, you!  In the right corner, a package of those ubiquitous damn chicken breasts.  It’s enough to make you want to drop to the ground and concede defeat – you just can’t face another boring chicken dinner.  And plain pan cooked chicken is usually….pretty boring.

But wait, what is that up your sleeve?  A pan sauce recipe?  You’re brilliant, you’re inspired, you’re going to make the magic happen.

Making a Simple Pan Sauce:

This is really a blueprint recipe for a key, adaptable pan sauce.  Once you internalize the general technique, you’ve grabbed onto one of those indispensable “what else can I try?” dinnertime areas of expertise.  This is definitely a 30-minute or less cooking process, and during that half hour you should also be able to get a salad made and some rice or pasta cooked up to take advantage of all the luscious sauce you are making.

Here are the key steps.  In short, you are searing a piece of protein (in my house, it’s usually chicken), then adding some seasonings and some liquid and creating a sauce right in the pan.  That’s it.  The rest is just details.

This is a simple blueprint for a key, adaptable pan sauce recipe. Say goodbye to another boring chicken dinner.Click To Tweet

1) Sear the Chicken:

In a large skillet, in a bit of oil or butter, sear the boneless, skinless chicken breasts until they are browned on the outside and just barely cooked through, about 5 minutes on each side (or sear bone in-breasts, or thighs, or steak, or tofu, or piece of fish, or scallops, or whatever protein you are featuring that evening).

Pan Sauce Chicken / Mia / Katie Workman /

If you plan to finish the cooking in the sauce itself, you can take the food out of the pan before it is fully cooked through.  If you want a more elegant presentation, or if your chicken breasts are more than 3/4 inch thick, you may want to place the chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound them with a rolling pin or a wine bottle until they are flattened and of uniform thickness.  These will cook faster as well.

Pan Sauce Chicken / Mia / Katie Workman /

2) Set the Chicken Aside.

Remove the chicken to a plate—DO NOT WASH OUT THE PAN!

3) Saute Some Seasonings

Sauté some onions, garlic, shallots, or other aromatics (usually some member of the onion family) until tender.  Add some herbs or seasonings if desired.

4) Deglaze the Pan

Deglazing basically means adding liquid to a pan and scraping the bottom to loosen any flavorful bits of other ingredients that have caramelized (aka browned) on the bottom of the pan, which lend their flavor to the sauce.

Pan Sauce Chicken / Mia / Katie Workman /

5) Make the Sauce

Add more liquid, often broth, to create a sauce.  Season with salt and pepper.

Pan Sauce Chicken / Mia / Katie Workman /

6) Finish the Sauce

Simmer to blend the flavors, and concentrate the sauce, adding other seasonings if desired (see tip) and maybe a little bit of fat or dairy for richness (such as butter, cream, olive oil, or sour cream).

Pan Sauce Chicken / Mia / Katie Workman /

7) Finish the Dish

Either pour the sauce over the chicken, or return the chicken to the sauce to finish cooking through.  And that, that is a pan sauce.

Pan Sauce Chicken / Mia / Katie Workman /

Serve it up with a salad, some sautéed greens, or roasted vegetables.

There is a very basic pan sauce recipe to follow.  But once you have the gist, here are 4 more recipes to get you started:


Chicken with White Wine, Leek, Spinach and Arugula Pan Sauce / Katie Workman / / Photo by Cheyenne Cohen

How to Make a Pan Sauce: This is a simple blueprint for a key, adaptable pan sauce recipe. Say goodbye to another boring chicken dinner.

How to Make a Pan Sauce

  • Method: Stovetop
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cooking Time: 15 minutes

  • 4 (8 ounce) boneless chicken breasts
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots or onions
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • Juice of one lemon or 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard or both
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the chicken breasts and sauté until done, about 4 to 5 minute on each side (click here for more detailed directions and a video). Remove the chicken breasts to a plate and set aside; tent them with foil to keep them warm. Do not wipe out the skillet!

How to Make a Pan Sauce: This is a simple blueprint for a key, adaptable pan sauce recipe. Say goodbye to another boring chicken dinner.

2. Add the shallots or onions to the skillet and sauté over medium heat for 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender. Add the white wine and stir to scrape up all the little flavorful bits that may be stuck to the bottom of the skillet. Add in the broth, and return to a simmer, stirring occasionally for another 4 minutes until the mixture reduces slightly, by about a third. Then add the lemon juice and/or mustard and butter, and stir until the butter is melted.

How to Make a Pan Sauce: This is a simple blueprint for a key, adaptable pan sauce recipe. Say goodbye to another boring chicken dinner.

3. You can slice the chicken breasts or leaves them whole. Transfer them to individual plates and spoon the sauce over the chicken breasts. You can also slice them all up and serve them with the sauce spooned over on a serving platter.

How to Make a Pan Sauce: This is a simple blueprint for a key, adaptable pan sauce recipe. Say goodbye to another boring chicken dinner.

What's a fork-in-the-road dish?

This is. If you have a picky eater, this is also a perfect Fork-in-the-Road recipe, just leave one of the sauteed breasts plain, and slice it up - it's still a lot better than reaching for the frozen chicken nuggets.
Ideas for Add-Ins

Hot peppers, citrus juice, citrus zest, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, vinegar, capers, Dijon mustard, chopped tomatoes, soy sauce, fresh herbs, minced anchovies, hoisin sauce, whatever you have, whatever you like.

How to Make a Pan Sauce: This is a simple blueprint for a key, adaptable pan sauce recipe. Say goodbye to another boring chicken dinner.
What the Kids Can Do:

Measure the chicken broth, garlic, and any other ingredients, and help choose the herbs. Letting them create their own combination of herbs gives a kid nice pride of ownership, and helps them become familiar with the different herbs in the spice drawer.

How to Make a Pan Sauce: This is a simple blueprint for a key, adaptable pan sauce recipe. Say goodbye to another boring chicken dinner.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Welcome Newsletter

Dinnertime inspiration awaits.

Sign up to receive The Mom 100 recipe newsletter.

6 thoughts on “How to Make a Pan Sauce”

  1. LORI says:


    1. Katie Workman says:

      I would shred the chicken and mix it into some plain grains or cooked rice. Diffuse the strong flavor if the chicken with some bland starch. Hope that helps!

  2. Erika says:

    Thank you so much for this, I love making pan sauces now! I just had a quick question, if I’m adding the chicken back into the sauce to finish cooking, about long should I leave them in? I either end up with some pink or a little bit dry.

    1. Katie Workman says:

      the sort of annoying answer is it depends! You can alway cut into one to see, and then do feel the way the chicken feels when you press is slightly – after a while you’ll get to know what just-cooked chicken feels like, and then you won’t have to slice into the pieces! But usually 1 to 4 minutes.

  3. Alice says:

    Nice ideas, thank you.

    For speed and minimal clean up, I have converted all my chicken recipes to a sauce to add to chicken thighs that have been cooked in a covered casserole for roughly 15 minutes, or baked in a 350 degree oven for 30 – 45 minutes. I remove the bone-in, skin on thighs carefully from the package with a fork, to prevent getting.raw.chicken juice from getting.on anything, then put it in the covered casserole for the microwave, or 9″ x 9″ pan for the oven.

    These days, I prefer the microwave, because the chicken turns out moist, not dry, every time, and there are no oven splatters to clean up, because the microwave casserole dish is covered.

    I simply put the chicken in the casserole and sprinkle on Schilling’s poultry seasoning (incredible flavor, far better than any of the other brand’s poultry seasoning, imho.)

    Zap 15 minutes.
    In a sauce pan, I put a can of Campbell’s Healthy Request cream of chicken soup.

    In another pan I cook brown rice, and either peas or other veggies over the rice after its partially cooked, or in a separate pan steam the veggies.

    I start cooking rhe brown rice first, then get the chicken into the casserole dish and microwave.

    The flavor or the poultry seasoning and soup combination is incredible, and so easy. I add a little salt to taste at the table.

    With other chicken recipes, such as cacciatore, or teriyaki sauce, I cook the chicken thighs in the covered casserole for 10 minutes, then add the simple homemade sauce for another 5 minutes, or til the chicken is no longer pink in the middle. Then serve with brown rice and a steamed veg.

    Thank you for your ideas. I will try them for variety. Some shallots, mushrooms, basil, and a deglaze of white wine are calling me!

    1. Katie Workman says:

      thanks for sharing all of these ideas!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *