How to Make a Delicious Pan Sauce in Minutes!

Pin for future reference!

I don’t often watch cooking programmes on the telly but yesterday, accidentally, I watched and enjoyed Rick Stein’s Long Weekends where he visited Bordeaux.  One dish he ate there was steak in a rich sauce of shallots, bone marrow and Bordeaux wine  which got me both drooling and thinking (being a woman I can do two things at once).

Pan sauces are so quick, so easy and so perfect for seared meats I thought I’d explain the method, the stages, the reasoning and give some good examples to get you started.

Quantities given are for one steak, pork chop, chicken breast, lamb chop or whatever, douuble up as appropriate.

Pan Searing & the Maillard Reaction

The reason you should sear meat is to brown it causing what is known as the Maillard reaction which, in short, makes it tasty! The browned and caramelised drippings that are stuck to the bottom of a pan are known as the fond which is French for base. They are, indeed, the base of a great sauce. to make the most of it ALWAYS deglaze the pan after cooking meat – see below. (In this picture I was browning meat for a stew, where the maillard reaction is also important, but it is the same principal - just smaller lumps of meat!)

~   The meat should be patted dry and lightly seasoned before you start to cook it.
~   Generally speaking the best fat to use is a combination of 1 tbsp olive oil and a teaspoon of butter per steak or other piece of meat. On its own butter might burn but mixed with oil it will add its flavour without burning.
~   When pan frying ALWAYS get the pan good and hot before adding oil and then get the oil good and hot before adding the meat.
~   If cooking more than one piece of meat ALWAYS leave plenty of room between pieces, otherwise what they will actually do is steam rather than fry and they'll end up pallid and soggy.
~   When turning meat use tongs rather than a fork to manipulate it so as not to pierce it allowing valuable juices to be lost.
~   If the meat seems stuck to the pan when you want to turn it wait a little while; once a good crust has formed it will release itself from the pan, providing you dried the meat properly before cooking.


Resting Meat

Pan seared meat should always be set aside in a warm place, lightly covered with foil, for 10 minutes or so, during which time the fibres of the meat will relax, juices re-distribute and the meat will become tender and succulent. While the meat is relaxing you will have plenty of time to make the sauce.

Adding Aromatics – maybe!

This stage is optional but adding appropriate aromatics such as very finely chopped shallots, onions or garlic, spices can add a lot to a sauce. Here’s what you do …

~   Pour off any excess fat being careful not to disturb any of the fond.
~   Over medium heat add your aromatics and stir for 2-3 minutes till vegetables have soften and spices have “bloomed” which means they have released their volatile oils and smell gorgeous.

Deglazing the Pan

~   Add a about 100ml of appropriate liquid to the pan. – red wine or beef stock for beef and lamb, white wine or chicken stock for pork and poultry- get the idea? Try Madeira with steak, sherry or balsamic vinegar also work well in some instances. Even water is a lot better than nothing!
~   Bring it to a simmer scraping up  the fond that has stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Reducing the Liquid

~   Cook stirring and scraping with a wooden spoon till all these yummy bits have dissolved into the liquid and continue cooking till the liquid has thickened and is syrupy enough to lightly coat the wooden spoon.

You now have a fine sauce which will be delicious served with your lump of protein, but you can go one step further and make it even better!

Finish the Sauce

Add a generous knob of butter or a splash of cream and stir in. Butter will not only add flavour and lushness it also makes the sauce glossy. Cream makes it ... creamier. Here's an idea - you could use a deliciously and appropriately flavoured butter! Oh and don't boil the sauce after adding butter.

Taste & Season

Whether or not you have enriched the sauce now is the time to taste and season with salt and whatever else you fancy and is appropriate e.g. black pepper, a dash of hot sauce, a spoonful of apple sauce (great for pork) fresh chopped herbs, a squeeze of lemon, a little whole grain mustard or whatever. More details here on how to season to taste.

Serve immediately with the well-rested meat. Pan sauces tend to be rich, you don’t need a great deal, just a few spoonsful.

So that’s how to do it - lots to read but not much to do! – and here’s a few ideas.

Pan Sauce Suggestions

Pan Sauces for Pork

Apple Cider Sauce - deglaze with chicken stock and/or dry cider and, once reduced add a spoonful of apple sauce and a little chopped fresh sage.
~   Honey Mustard Sauce – deglaze with chicken stock, reduce then add a spoonful of runny honey and a spoonful of whole grain mustard.

Pan Sauces for Steak

~   Shallot Sauce – cook a finely chopped shallot in the pan at the aromatic stage and deglaze with red wine and/or beef stock, maybe add a teaspoon of Dijon or wholegrain mustard or even a teaspoon of black garlic. Finish with butter.
~   Peppered Steak – coat the steak with freshly and coarsely ground black pepper before pan frying. Deglaze the pan with beef stock and a little brandy.  Finish with cream.
~   Caramelised Onion Sauce – deglaze with beef stock and/or red wine, reduce and then stir in a spoonful of onions cooked my favourite way. Finish with butter.

Pan Sauces for Lamb

~   Red Wine & Rosemary Sauce – cook a finely chopped garlic clove at the Aromatics stage, deglaze with red wine, reduce the sauce till it coats the wooden spoon. Stir in a little freshly finely minced rosemary and finish with a little butter.
~   Minty Pan Sauce – as above but instead of the rosemary and parsley add a spoonful of mint sauce. 
~   Roasted Garlic Sauce – deglaze the pan with a light chicken or vegetable stock, reduce and then squeeze in a couple of roasted garlic cloves.  Finish with butter.

Pan Sauces for Chicken

~   Tarragon Sauce –deglaze with white wine and/or chicken stock. Finish with cream and maybe a handful of finely chopped tarragon.
~   Garlicky Mushroom Sauce – at the aromatics stage add a very finely chopped garlic clove and a handful of quartered mushrooms and sauté till the mushrooms are browning.  Deglaze with white wine and finish with cream.
~   Lemon Sauce – deglaze with chicken stock, reduce, then add a squeeze of lemon, some freshly chopped parsley and the juice of half a lemon.  You could add some capers – but I wouldn’t because I don’t like them!

Of course these are all just suggestion, follow the steps and invent your own sauces.

Simple Homemade Dumplings from Scratch

My last post (an unconscionable 2 weeks ago) was about comfort food for the winter but I forgot to mention dumplings!

If you have made a casserole or stew you can, with very little time, effort or money, add some delicious, light, fluffy (but comforting) dumplings.

I often make 8 or 9 of these for my real man, a Geordie lad, to eat with his minced beef or chicken stew and every time I make them he looks surprised and says, “nice dumplings!” which is possibly the greatest compliment he has ever given me!


Sorry about the quality of this picture - it was a bit steamy. 


This makes about 12 dumplings, so enough for 1½ Geordies or 3-4 “normal” people.

Have your delicious stew, which you have already made, at a simmer before making the dumplings.

225g/8oz self-raising flour
225g/8oz plain flour + 1 rounded tsp baking powder (about 8g/a scant ½oz)
half a teaspoon of salt
60g/2½oz cold butter or margarine
100ml/3½ fl oz milk

~   Stir together the flour, salt and baking powder (if using).
~   Add the butter or margarine and “rub in” with your fingers until a breadcrumb texture is achieved (see below).
~   Add the milk and mix in, by hand is easiest. Add a little more milk if too dry or a little more flour if too wet – work just enough to form a soft dough.
~  R
oll the dough into walnut sized balls and, as you form them drop, spaced out a bit so they don’t touch, into the simmering stew. 
~   Turn down the heat, cover the pot and cook for about 20 minutes till the dumplings are risen and firm.
~   Take the lid off the pot and allow to steam for a couple more minutes to dry out the tops of the dumplings.

How to Rub In

This is just lightly rubbing the flour and the fat between your fingertips till the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.


~   If you use butter cut it up into small pieces first for easier rubbing in, margarine being softer doesn’t need this.
~   Hold your hands a little above the bowl so that the flour and fat stays cool, airy and flaky. Be gentle with it!
~   Shake the bowl occasionally which will cause larger pieces of fat
to be revealed ready for rubbing in.

You can also do this in a food processor using the pulse button, but it hardly seems worth the faff for a few dumplings or whatever. It is quick and easy and more controllable by hand.


This is the very same easy dough that I use to make scones, biscuits, rock buns, doughnuts, cobbles, griddle cakes and more and which I have written about in my book The Secret Life of Scones.

Dumpling Variations

Of course, you can add all sorts of things to your basic dumpling dough, for instance …

~   herbs, spices, garlic, mustard, grated cheese, seeds and so on.
~   maybe sprinkle the cooked dumplings with cheese or breadcrumbs or panko crumbs or a mixture and pop under a hot grill to crisp up.
~   you could even put a nugget of something (a flavoured butter, for instance, or a piece of cheese) into the middle of the dumplings so long as you make sure the dough is completely sealed around it. 


You can also make sweet dumplings, of course, including Grand-Père – a superb Canadian dish of little dumplings simmered in diluted maple syrup. By the time they are cooked the syrup has concentrated back into a glorious sticky goo which coats the dumplings and makes you happy! The recipe is in my above-mentioned book; The Secret Life of Scones.


Leftover Dumplings

The best way I know of re-heating dumplings is to cut them in half and then fry, cut side down, in a little butter or oil till crisp and golden and hot through.  Place on top of your dish, as in this picture of roasted tomato soup with fried dumplings, crisp side up.

Speaking of leftovers check out my book on the subject, Creative Ways to Use Up Leftovers!

Dumpling Eaters

I recently downloaded A Learned Dissertation on Dumpling:Its Dignity, Antiquity and Excellence  which starts with the surprising sentence (well, I didn’t know this) …


The dumpling-eaters are a race sprung partly from the old Epicurean and partly from the Peripatetic Sect; they were first brought into Britain by Julius Caesar; and finding it a Land of Plenty, they wisely resolved never to go home again.