How to Make a Pan Sauce
on Mar 08, 2019, Updated Nov 15, 2023
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This is a simple blueprint for a key, adaptable pan sauce recipe for a great (definitely not boring) chicken dinner.
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 chicken cooked on the stove 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!
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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.Tweet This
What Is a Pan Sauce?
A pan sauce is any sauce that you make in the same pan as any meat or seafood you have cooked, using the flavor from cooking as the base of your sauce. This recipe 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.
Chicken with Pan Sauce Ingredients
Check out the cooking tips for other ingredients to add to this pan sauce recipe.
- Chicken breasts – This recipe uses boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but you can make a pan sauce with any meat or seafood of your choice. Just adjust the seasonings and additions to match.
- Olive oil – Used to sear the chicken and get it nice and browned, which helps with the flavor of both the chicken and the sauce.
- Shallots or onions – Any type of allium (member of the onion family) will do. You can also add thinly sliced garlic with the shallots or onions, but don’t let the garlic get too brown.
- White wine – The wine is used to deglaze the pan, releasing the little caramelized bits from browning the chicken from the bottom of the pan and reducing down as part of the savory, acidic sauce.
- Chicken broth – Switch this out for beef broth if you are cooking beef, or seafood broth if you are cooking seafood, and so on.
- Lemon or Dijon mustard – You can choose one or add both. Both the lemon and mustard add a bit of brightness to the sauce.
- Unsalted butter – Cold butter emulsifies into the hot sauce, giving it a rich flavor and a thick texture that coats the chicken beautifully.
How to Make a Simple Chicken Pan Sauce
- Flatten the chicken: If you want a more elegant presentation, or if your chicken breasts are more than ¾-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. You can also cut the breasts in half horizontally into two thinner pieces.
- Sear: In a large skillet, sear the chicken breasts until they are browned on the outside and just barely cooked through, about 5 minutes on each side (or sear chicken thighs, steak, tofu, piece of fish, 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.
- Set aside: Remove the chicken to a plate — DO NOT WASH OUT THE PAN! The little bits in the pan will be the flavor base of the pan sauce.
- Sauté the aromatics: Sauté some onions, garlic, shallots, or other aromatics in the same pan until tender. There should still be enough fat in the pan, but you can add a touch more oil or butter if needed. Add some herbs or seasonings if desired.
- Deglaze: 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.
- Make the sauce: Add the wine and broth and bring to a simmer. If needed, add more of either liquid to create a sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
- Finish the sauce: Simmer to blend the flavors, and concentrate the sauce, adding other seasonings if desired (see Pan Sauce Cooking Tips) and maybe a little bit of fat or dairy for richness (such as butter, cream, olive oil, or sour cream).
- Serve: Either pour the sauce over the chicken if the chicken is fully cooked, or return the chicken to the pan to finish cooking through. And that, that is a pan sauce.
How to Season Pan Sauce
You can add all kinds of things to a pan sauce. Stir in any of these ingredients at the end:
- Minced hot peppers
- Citrus juice and zest – You can use lemon, lime, orange, or any other citrus you have on hand.
- Worcestershire sauce
- Hot sauce
- Vinegar – any kind of vinegar will do, but I am partial to rice wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, or sherry vinegar.
- Mustard – Try a seasoned Dijon like tarragon Dijon, coarse-grain mustard, or think about honey mustard.
- Chopped tomatoes
- Soy sauce
- Fresh herbs – I like tarragon, basil, oregano, thyme, and chervil.
- Minced anchovies or anchovy paste
- Hoisin or oyster sauce
The fond is the browned bits that stick to the bottom of your pan when you cook something. In a pan sauce, these bits form the flavor base for the rest of the sauce.
Fond actually means “base” or “bottom” in French, and the pan sauce method has its roots in French cooking. Fond is often ignored or even scrubbed away (!) by home cooks, but preserving and utilizing the fond will add so much flavor to your cooking.
Deglazing is the act of adding liquid (often wine) to a hot pan in order to release the fond. The reaction of the liquid with the browned bits on the bottom of the pan causes them to release. The bits are then incorporated into the liquid, and all of their delicious caramelized flavor is released into the sauce. Deglazing is the action that defines a pan sauce, but it can be used in other preparations like a soup or a stew.
Unfortunately, most vegetables do not react with a hot pan in the same way that meat does, and they do not form the fond, which is so important when making a pan sauce. The exception to this rule is mushrooms, which create a beautiful pan sauce. Sear the mushrooms just as you would a piece of meat. Then add aromatics, sauté, deglaze, and add mushroom or vegetable stock to finish the sauce.
What to Serve With Chicken and Pan Sauce
More Chicken with Pan Sauce Recipes
- 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
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How to Make a Pan Sauce
- 4 8-ounce boneless chicken breasts
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup minced shallots or onions
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 cup chicken broth
- Juice of one lemon (or 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard or both)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 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 minutes 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!
- Add the shallots or onions to the skillet and sauté over medium heat for 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender. Add the white wine, bring to a simmer, 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.
- You can slice the chicken breasts or leave 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.