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.
Fear not, because 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.
Pan Sauce Basics
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. 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 liquid (usually wine or stock) will deglaze the pan, allowing every morsel of flavorful fond to release from the pan.
- Reduce: Cooking down the wine or stock creates a rich base for the rest of the sauce 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. 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.
- Add fat: Culinarily speaking, 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.
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.
How To Make a Pan Sauce from Steak Drippings
Makes about 1/2 cup of sauce, enough for 2 steaks
What You Need
Drippings from 1 to 2 pan-fried steaks
fresh thyme leaves
small shallot, minced
dry white wine or broth
cold unsalted butter
Cast iron skillet
Measuring cup and measuring spoons
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.
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.
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.
Add the mustard and butter: Whisk in the mustard and remove the pan from the heat. Vigorously whisk in the cold butter until thickened.
Serve: Slice the steak and serve with the pan sauce.