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My pan sauce needs help!

Last night I tried to do a scallops picata dish. The pan sauce I made seemed to be too concentrated and dark at the end. And though I reduced it a lot it still had too much of an alchohol taste to it and the flavor was rather strong. Other times I try reducing it less, but then it just tastes like wine. I would love some suggestions for improving my technique. I just can't seem to get the pan sauce right ever!

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  1. Can you tell us what your technique is?
    For instance, did you make the sauce in the same pan as the scallops? How much oil/grease/scallop breading remnants was in it? How much wine did you add? What were your other additions?

    7 Replies
    1. re: QueenB

      I made the scallops and removed them. There were browned bits stuck to the pan. I added capers, lemon juice, wine, a bit of butter. Then simmered it until the bits were dissolved and it was reduced down quite a bit. It was ok, we still ate it ...but I know it could be better.

      1. re: thatgirl153

        I'm not sure how much the order matters, but here is my order when making piccata:
        1. Cook protein (chicken fish etc)
        2. Add minced onion, cook.
        3. Deglaze with wine or chicken stock. Reduce.
        4. Add lemon juice, lemon slices, and capers. Reduce.
        5. Remove from heat, swirl in butter and add parsley.
        6. EAT

        1. re: laurendlewis

          I'm going to hitch-hike on what you said, because I think you know what you're talking about. Looking at the previous reply, "I added capers, lemon juice, wine, a bit of butter. Then simmered it until the bits were dissolved..." Don't you want to add the wine ONLY, then raise the temperature to deglaze, then add other ingredients and lower temperature to a simmer to reduce?

          Here are a couple of recent threads re: wine sauces and reductions. They are not exactly on point, but close enough to offer some suggestions. Like "add the butter last."
          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/28320...
          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/36362...

          1. re: yayadave

            I see...so maybe the other flavors (lemon juice, capers, butter) become too concentrated and that's why my sauce seems to strong? Also, next time I will try wine AND chicken stock like QueenB suggested.

            1. re: thatgirl153

              Also, depending on the sort of capers you use, they might benefit from quick rinse. Sometimes the pickling brine is too intense & can overwhelm the other flavors of the sauce.

        2. re: thatgirl153

          If you're reducing with the butter in the pan, that's probably what's causing your problem. Especially if you're reducing a lot.
          laurendlewis has the correct order for making a pan sauce. Swirling the butter in at the end is important, and you need to do it off the heat. I also add wine, deglaze with that, scraping up the bits, reduce then add chicken stock, then reduce again.

          1. re: thatgirl153

            As others have said, you should reduce the sauce and then add cold butter at the end. Also, you haven't mentioned proportions but "real" piccata has a small amount of lemon and wine and lots and lots of butter. If you aren't using traditional gobs of butter it might not have the flavor you are looking for.

        3. Try wisking in a few pats of cold butter

          1. Put the butter in the freezer for a bit. When you whisk it in at the end, it will melt slowly and give you a better finish.

            1. I would heat up a heavy saute pan, then add the best olive oil you can find; cut a clove of garlic in half and add it to the pan with a sprig of thyme. Allow the garlic to go golden. Remove. Season the scallops with kosher or sea salt, then add to the pan. Don't move around, and allow them to sear on one side. Remove to a fine seive, set over a bowl. Wipe out the pan. Add a few tablespoons of butter, another garlic clove cut in half, or a little finely chopped garlic, if you really love the stuff. Add a tablespoon of finely chopped parsely, a few capers, rinsed and patted dry (the best ones come packed in salt), a splash of white wine (just a few tablespoons, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, or even a piece of lemon zest with all of the pith removed. Reduce for a minute or so to soften the acidity of the wine. Off the heat, swirl in another tablespoon of butter. Taste for salt and fresh lemon juice. Add the scallops and swirl them around (the heat of the sauce will reheat them). fayefood.com

              1 Reply
              1. re: fayehess

                sounds delicious! I am printing out this page for reference. thanks for your technique.

              2. Another approach. Maybe it's not your technique but the quantities you're using. For a pan sauce for about a pound of scallops, I would use about 1/3 cup of wine and 2 T lemon juice. That wouldn't require "reducing a lot," which you said you did. If you used a greater quantity and simmered it for awhile, you would get the concentrated alcohol flavor and the dark color that you are finding unpleasant. Simmering it less, doesn't mellow the alcohol sufficiently.
                Pan sauces are quick deglazing techniques that should reduce very quickly with little simmering. For seafood, you should try to use a seafood stock, even if you have to use a commercial one.
                I would use about 1/3 cup of stock after the pan had been deglazed by the wine and lemon. Allow the stock to boil for a minute or two until it begins to thicken and then whisk in a couple of tablespoons of cream off the heat. The butter shouldn't be necessary unless the emulsion breaks.
                Don't expect large quantities from pan sauces. You won't need a gravy boat. There should be just enough to coat your scallops.

                4 Replies
                1. re: MakingSense

                  I am going to test this. I am pretty sure I am using too much wine. And I don't ever think of using stock. The stock would probably mellow out the too-intense flavor of my pan sauce.....and the cream too.

                  1. re: thatgirl153

                    I think a little bit of seafood stock adds a great deal to a seafood pan sauce. Using the small amount of stock repeats the flavor of the seafood in the sauce and relates the two.
                    Seafoods don't seem to give up as much of their juices when they are quickly sauteed - unlike poultry and meats. You can make them from leftover shrimp shells or fish bones, freezing them in ice cube trays, or use fish bouillon cubes or powder (be careful of salt if you use those.)

                  2. re: MakingSense

                    All the above recommendations are great. I would suggest experimenting with the quantities of wine and stock, though. My usual proportion is 1/3 c. wine and 1/2 c. stock but sometimes I will deliberately vary them to change the taste. One-half cup wine to 1/2 c. stock also works very well. The flavor is different but still pleasant.

                    I don't like cream sauces so I've never tried using cream and have been known to skip the butter if I'm feeling overly diet-conscious but a tablespoon or so of butter at the end really does smooth out the sauce beautifully. And yes, a spoonful or two of sauce per serving is all that you should be ending up with.

                    1. re: rockycat

                      I rarely use cream sauces either, rockycat, especially for seafood, but a couple of tablespoons of cream can provide a dressy finish to a pan sauce. I've even used fat-free half-and-half - how's that for an oxymoron? Ocassionally, a dab of tomato paste or a little concasse will add a touch of color or tang.
                      I think you are right to vary the proportions. You probably cook a lot like I do, rarely measuring. After awhile, it just feels like the right thing to do.