How to Make a Pan Sauce
Once you know how to make a pan sauce, chicken breasts will never seem boring again.Katie Workman chicken, chicken breasts, chicken dinner, herbs, pan sauce, tips, weeknight chicken dinner, weeknight dinner ideas
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).
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.
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.
5) Make the Sauce
Add more liquid, often broth, to create a sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
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).
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.
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 Arugula and Mustard Pan Sauce
- Chicken with Tomato and Leek Pan Sauce with Jasmine Rice
- Grits with Chicken and Creamy Green Chili Pan Sauce
- Chicken with White Wine, Leek, Spinach and Arugula Pan Sauce
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.