If you’ve ever cooked pan-seared steak, sautéed vegetables, or roasted a turkey for Thanksgiving, you’re likely familiar with the concept of brown bits (what the French call fonds) of food sticking to the bottom of a pan. While you may think it’s best to let the brown bits be, it’s important to remember that they’re loaded with flavor and can help create the base of a fantastic, savory sauce. In order to maximize the flavor in the pan, you need liquid such as chicken stock, wine, water, lemon juice, or even a pat of butter to release the bits from the pan. This technique is known as deglazing, and it’s a popular one used by professional chefs.
“A lot of people think it’s only worth deglazing if you’re making a pan sauce, but even if you’re just searing chicken, it’s worth deglazing because otherwise you’re leaving so much flavor behind,” says chef Adrienne Cheatham, chef at the Institute of Culinary Education. Below, we explain how to deglaze a pan and share some of the best recipes that utilize this technique.
How to Deglaze a Pan
“If you’re deglazing to add additional flavor to the meat, do it in the last couple minutes of the cooking process,” says Cheatham. Deglazing is just adding a small amount of liquid to the pan and basting the protein—chicken, steak, pork, fish, or even tofu—with the flavorful glaze. You can even water instead of butter or wine; the liquid will still bring out all of the flavor trapped in the fonds.
Deglazing to Make a Pan Sauce
A pan sauce is an easy and delicious way to dress meat without the fuss of making a complicated bordelaise or bearnaise sauce. If you want to create a rich, flavorful pan sauce, use the drippings from meat such as steak or turkey when you cook them in a stainless-steel or cast-iron pan. The surface of these pans lend themselves to creating those flavorful brown bits, which caramelize throughout the cooking process. The nature of nonstick pans means that nothing will ever stick completely to the bottom of the pan, which prevents the caramelization process from occurring.
Once you’ve selected the right type of pan, you’re well on your way to creating a flavorful dish. After you’ve finished cooking a piece of meat, transfer it from the pan to a plate to begin the deglazing process. Add a couple of tablespoons of wine (usually white wine for poultry and red wine for red meat or pork), lemon juice, or even beer. Allow the sauce to simmer for a few minutes and stir frequently, which will help to release the fonds from the bottom of the pan. Once the sauce has reduced, strain it and serve alongside your meat for a delicious dinner.