Jan has been cooking and writing about food for over 20 years. She has cooked on multiple television stations, including the Food Network.
Perfect Pan Sauce for Steaks
I made this the first time and turned around to see my dinner guests licking their plates. Of course, one was my brother, and he didn't think I'd catch, but it was still a good indication of how well this sauce turned out.
I was already pretty confident in my steaks. Sometimes I use a grill, but this time I had a cast-iron skillet. Need help seasoning a cast-iron skillet? I can help with that. A cast-iron skillet is an amazing tool. I have one that belonged to my grandmother, and it's been in constant use for almost a hundred years. If you don't have one, get one. They're inexpensive, easy to care for and are an amazing cooking tool.
As much as I love my grill, there is one major drawback: there are no pan juices with a grill. Pan juices and the little brown bits stuck to the skillet are the key ingredients to this gorgeous sauce. Those bits are called fond, and we are certainly fond of them. They have amazing flavor.
In this sauce, you're using a technique called deglazing—using a liquid to pull those beautiful bits off the pan and into the sauce—where they will amaze your taste buds instead of going down the drain or into the dishwasher. They do nobody any good there. Instead, use a wooden spoon to scrape them up and work them into your sauce, where they'll make you look like a rock star.
Give this a shot. This sauce will work with any steak that takes a hot, quick sear. Filet, NY Strip, sirloin, t-bone—heck, stick it on a porterhouse! This recipe serves two well, and it doubles very easily.
Picking the Right Skillet
You'll first need to pan sear a steak. A cast-iron skillet is best because it can handle the high heat and maintain a nice even temperature. Cast-iron also heats very evenly and maintains an even temperature with no hot spots. If you are cooking a thick steak and need to finish in the oven, cast iron can handle it.
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If you don't have cast iron, use a good stainless steel skillet, and make sure it has a nice, heavy bottom. I like stainless almost as much as cast iron, especially if it's a heavy-bottomed skillet. It can take the heat, it's easy to clean and doesn't have the heft of cast iron.
The one thing you don't want is a non-stick skillet. They don't do well with the high heat that's needed to get a great crust on the steak, and if you have to finish in the oven, most nonstick skillets have plastic handles, which will melt.
Once the steak comes out of the skillet, place it on a plate, cover it with foil, and turn the heat to medium. Then you'll need:
- 1/4 cup good beef stock, preferably homemade
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Sauté the garlic and shallot in the hot pan for about two minutes, or just until beginning to release their moisture and become fragrant. Watch this step so you don't burn the garlic, especially if your pan was really hot.
- Add the beef stock and red wine vinegar, and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Use a wooden spatula or spoon to scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. This stuff is culinary gold - it's called fond, and it will incorporate into the sauce, bringing an amazing amount of flavor. (Fond is the French word for foundation - as in the fond is the foundation of the sauce.)
- Allow the sauce to simmer for about 7 to 8 minutes, still stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 1/3 of the original volume. The sauce will obtain a nearly syrupy consistency. This reduction is important for flavor.
- Turn off the heat, and add the butter to the pan. This is called mounting the sauce. Stir well. The sauce will turn glossy; the texture is incredible.
- Immediately pour over the warm steak and serve.
How to Deglaze a Pan
Don't Have Shallots?
If you can't find shallots, don't worry about it. A mild onion such as a Vidalia is a good substitute. If those are out of season, pick a nice white onion, mince it finely and use that instead. The shallots (or onions) are just to provide a nice sweetness. The shallots are only a supporting player in this show, so don't stress over a hard to find ingredient.
Tips for Success
- While most of the time I go after the least expensive ingredients I can find, this is one time you want to splurge a little. If you've already spent the money on quality steaks, the last thing you want to do is ruin them with a bad sauce. The important things here are the beef broth and the red wine vinegar.
- If you don't have homemade beef broth (and I'll admit, even I don't have homemade beef broth very often), buy a high-quality beef stock made without sodium. You'll have a lot of flavor in the pan sauce from the fond, and if you seasoned your steaks correctly, you'll be halfway there already. Taste and adjust for seasoning right before serving.
- A good quality red wine vinegar also matters. It's amazing how much difference in taste there is between a cheap, poor quality vinegar and one that has some thought and effort behind it. Vinegar isn't used in much volume, and this is something that has a high payout for a little investment. So get a good quality red wine vinegar.
- Finish the sauce with cold, cubed butter, adding it a little at a time, whisking thoroughly. This is called 'mounting' the sauce - as in mounting it with the butter. The sauce will emulsify as you whisk it, and the finished dish will be glossy and gorgeous.
© 2010 Jan Charles