How To Make a Pan Sauce from Steak Drippings

updated Jul 7, 2023
How To Make a Pan Sauce from Steak Drippings
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Credit: Lauren Volo

Your perfectly cooked steak is waiting to be carved and you glance at the now-empty pan from cooking your steak. Luxe browned bits of steak drippings cling to the pan. Perhaps there’s a little bit of butter and some fragrant herbs left in the pan, too. It seems like a true tragedy to waste any of the wonderful mess.

Pan sauces are designed to turn the browned bits in the bottom of a pan, lovingly known as fond, into a base for making sauce or gravy for the cooked meat. You can turn that pan of drippings into a tasty sauce for your steaks with a little broth or wine, a few aromatics, mustard, and a pat of cold butter.

Quick Overview

How To Make a Pan Sauce

Building a pan sauce happens in four quick steps. It is best to have your ingredients ready before building the sauce.

  • Deglaze the pan: Returning the pan to the heat will help loosen the fond stuck to the pan, and then adding wine or stock will deglaze the pan.
  • Reduce: Cooking down the wine or stock creates a rich base and boosts the flavor.
  • Add an emulsifier: A dab of mustard readies the sauce for the fat that will be added to thicken the sauce.
  • Add fat: Adding cold butter to a pan sauce is called “mounting the sauce” or Monter au Buerre, a classic French technique for thickening a pan sauce. The trick to this magic is to use very cold butter and whisk vigorously.
Credit: Lauren Volo

Type of Mustard To Use As An Emulsifier

I prefer Dijon for steaks, but honey mustard is particularly delicious in a pan sauce for pork dishes. Mustard adds plenty of flavor to the pan sauce, so be sure to pick your favorite and avoid basic yellow mustard.

Amping Up the Flavor of a Classic Pan Sauce

Once you’ve mastered this basic technique, feel free to play with the ingredients to make a myriad of other sauces. Use onions or garlic in place of the shallot here (or even capers, which pair exceedingly well with fish). Use fresh-squeezed juice, in whole or as part of the deglazing liquid, or substitute red wine for a more robust sauce. Use grainy or fiery mustards for the emulsifier. Finish the sauce with aged or cultured butter and a heavy sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs to suit the finally dish.

Finish fast: Unlike gravy, pan sauces aren’t designed to linger longingly on the table. Keep the sauce warm in the pan until the steaks are sliced and then serve with the sauce immediately.

Credit: Lauren Volo
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Drain the fat, but don’t clean the pan: While your steaks are resting, pour off the fat from cooking and any aromatics that were cooked with the steak, but do not wipe the pan clean. (Image credit: Lauren Volo)

How To Make a Pan Sauce from Steak Drippings

Makes about 1/2 cup

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • Drippings from 1 to 2 pan-fried steaks

  • 1 teaspoon

    fresh thyme leaves

  • 1

    small shallot, minced

  • 1/2 cup

    dry white wine or broth

  • 1 teaspoon

    Dijon mustard

  • 1 tablespoon

    cold unsalted butter

Equipment

  • Cast iron skillet

  • Whisk

  • Measuring cup and measuring spoons

Instructions

  1. Drain the fat, but don't clean the pan: While your steaks are resting, pour off the fat from cooking and any aromatics that were cooked with the steak, but do not wipe the pan clean.

  2. Cook the shallot and thyme: Return the pan to medium heat and add the shallot and thyme and cook until fragrant and the shallot has softened.

  3. Deglaze the pan: Add the wine or broth and scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or whisk. Cook until the liquid reduces slightly, about 1 minute.

  4. Add the mustard and butter: Whisk in the mustard and remove the pan from the heat. Vigorously whisk in the cold butter until thickened.

  5. Serve: Slice the steak and serve with the pan sauce.