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May 2, 2007 07:21 AM

Sauces/Cream sauces technique

I had a question about making sauces (deglazing and reducing). Most recipes or shows I've seen just tell you to do it as a step but I wanted some clarification.

1. Do you pour the fat out before putting in some wine/stock/water to deglaze. Some of the flavour goes too!!
2. Do you reduce on high heat or low heat? I mean it's not really burning, why not save some time?
3. I've been having trouble with adding cream and making a sauce. It never incorporates and makes smooth consistency. For example there's some liquid in the pan from cooking (butter and wine). I put some shallots, wine in and reduced on high heat then added some cream and started reducing on medium high. The bits of fat/butter left in the pan and other stuff didn't really incorporate into the cream. Where did I go wrong? Not enough time, stirring, heat, fat?
4. When a recipe calls for "heavy cream" and "cream" what's the fat content? Does it matter if you're reducing it?

Thanks for the help.

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  1. 1. If you have a lot of fat, pour it off prior to deglazing.
    2. Reduce at medium heat: once a liquid is simmering, it is not really much faster if you have it at a full,rolling boil.
    3. Cream should not be added if you want to reduce the sauce more. Put it in as you finish with enough time to get it hot. If you got rid of excess fats prior to deglazing and then reducing, you shouldn't have so much fat that it won't blend well with the cream. Again, use the cream specified and do not reduce.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

      Sam's right with all of these.

      Let me add a few things...
      #1. Basically, you want just the thinnest glaze of fat left in your pan, if you have any fat in there. So pour all of it off before deglazing. This will do a couple of things. First, it will make your sauce less greasy. Second, it will keep the wine from sputtering and causing a huge mess when you add it to the pan. Third, it will help the cream incorporate better. The flavor won't really go, because there should be a lot of flavor left in the drippings that are stuck to the pan. When I make a pan sauce, I always like to start with a non-stick pan. That way you get all the yummies that get stuck to the pan. They come up easily when you deglaze with the wine.
      2. You want to reduce at medium heat, with a healthy simmer but not a full, rolling boil. Personally, I think this concentrates the flavor better. You also want to reduce your wine first, then add stock/juice and reduce again.
      3. The cream is added as a finish to the sauce and should not really be reduced. Reducing cream gives a good chance of your sauce "breaking" or separating. Reduce your stock down to half of what it was previously, then reduce the heat before adding the cream. Pour slowly and whisk while adding. If you've poured off the majority of your fat in the beginning, your cream should incorporate smoothly.
      4. I have no idea of the fat content of cream, but I've successfully added heavy cream, light cream, half & half and regular milk to my sauces. Again, you don't want to reduce your dairy. Same with butter. If you add butter to your pan sauce, swirl it in at the very end, off of the heat.

      Hope this helps!

      1. re: QueenB

        > When I make a pan sauce, I always like to start with a non-stick pan. That way you
        > get all the yummies that get stuck to the pan. They come up easily when you
        > deglaze with the wine.

        I've found that a stainless steel pan works better than a non-stick pan. If it's non-stick, how do the browned bits stick? ;-) Otherwise, all your tips are right on.

        1. re: GotGarlic

          I mistyped (again). I meant that I start with a non non-stick pan. My bad.

          1. re: QueenB


            QueenB is right on! heed her wise words. and Pate and renov8tor are also on the money!

            DON"T use a non-stick pan if you are making a reduction. your wine will clean the bottom of the pan. the meat should 'stick' a bit - it makes for yummy goodness. unless you have the flame too high, you'll be able to tell when to turn the meat by shaking the pan a bit. when it's ready to turn, it releases easily with a good shake. too high a flame will also torch your yummies and give them a bitter taste. patience is important.

            also - half and half is, by definition, half milk. milk 'breaks' very easily, esp. with an acid (wine) or high heat - use a whole cream.

            some of the solid bits (like craked pepper) will never "disappear" into the sauce - but the flavor from them has infused the wine and broth - so not to worry! if you wish to serve an elegant sauce - spoon it over your dish through a small sieve and no ugly browned bits will embarrass you. make sure 'browned' is not 'blackened'.

            a thicker suace can be acheived by flour - if you must- but better to use a spoon of butter to finish it. it will cuase the sauce to have more "body' (be a bit thicker?) without that floury thing. esp. if the 'meat' was beef.

    2. Use less fat. Seriously, when you are doing a saute there should not be enough fat left in the pan to pour out. You are correct that you'll be throwing out flavor, but more importantly too much fat will, as you've found, give a sauce that will not bind with cream alone. This is not a problem when you're making a gravy that uses flour (or other starch) to provide the thickening, but there is only a limited ratio of fat::water that a cream sauce will stabilize. And even with chicken fried steak or something you probably will pour off a bit of the fat/cooking liquid as there is just too much glop to make into anything.

      You don't want to confuse a "reduction" type sauce when wine or cooking broth is boiled away to a fraction of its volume with the gentle 'reducing' that you do with a cream sauce. The cream itself is doing most of the thickening -- the simmer drives off a bit of the moisture but the total volume will likely change only a little. High heat will denature the milk protein in the cream and give a 'curdle'.

      If the food was cooked at too high a temp you will have burned bits that really won't be incorporated into a sauce no matter how long/fast/hard you whisk it. The pan should have mostly caramelized residue that readily dissolves in the deglazing liquid. A bit of alcohol helps to dissolve a lot more of the carmelized remains than plain water/broth -- the solvent nature of alcohol & fats is at work vs the "never mix" nature of oil & water.

      And yes, fat content matters. A lot. You are not changing the ratio of fat::protein by the slight reduction by any perceptible amount. You ARE changing the ratio of WATER the most. Water is flavorless. Fat is packed with flavor. Milk protein has some flavor, but overall contributes to the texture. Start with too little cream that is less than 40% and the flavor & texture suffer and cannot really be repaired -- though you might be able to coax the fat content up a bit with butter.

      Here is a nice summary:

      1. I can try to help al little.
        1.) It depends on how mcuh fat is in the pan when you add the deglazing liquid. Generally 1-3 T is plenty to impart flavor with out making your final liquid separate into fat globules. By deglazing what you're really trying to capture is the flavor in the fond. The fond is all that dark material sticking to the bottom of the pan. That's where all the flavor is, not in the fat.

        2.) You can reduce liquids on high heat, just keep an eye on them. Many a future lovely sauce as been irreversibly cooked onto a sauce pan in the name of expediency. Also, you might want to start to reduce a sauce on high and then when it's getting close to the consistency you want turn the heat down so you can control the final output/consistency.

        3.) What kind of cream are you using in your pan sauces? If you are using 1/2 and 1/2 you might get some separation but heavy cream shouldn't separate. Also, what kind of sauce are you strying to make? You may want to add some flour to the fat (a very small amount) and cook the flour, fat and fond a little, then deglaze the pan by adding wine or other deglazing liquid, then reduce, then add cream. The flour will help bind the mass together.

        Or, you may not have reduced the liquide enough before adding the cream. Also, it shouldn't take much liquid to deglaze a pan. Once this small amount of liquid has burned off the alcohol (about a minute or two), then you should leave the heat on until you've reduced it to concentrate the flavors. This concentrated liquid is what should be mixed with the cream.

        4.) I don't know technically what the fat contents of heavy cream versus cream, versus, 1/2 & 1/2 are. Maybe someone else can help you with that.

        Lastly, I've never tried this with a pan sauce but I have "creamed up" creamy soups with nonfat evaporated mil if you are trying to get a creamy consistency without the fat.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Pate

          Thanks for all your replies. I'll modify my technique. Basically I thought that you were supposed to "reduce" the cream sauce until it thickened to a point where it stays on the spoon. For this maybe I was using too high of a temperature and it separated? As far as I'm concerned it tasted pretty good, so nothing ruined. But it just doesn't look good when it's not incorporated.

          I usually use half and half which is 18% here...I will try the "whipping cream" at 35%.

          1. re: budric

            try and track down the "no emulsfiers or stabilizers" cream as it a) tastes better b) works better c) is better

            1. re: budric

              you can reduce the cream til it coats the back of a spoon but you need to use cream, not half and half, and do it over medium heat at most to slowly simmer the cream. As others have said don't have too much fat from your saute. If you want to add butter, add a little it at the end, off heat.