Boosting the Basics: Two Wine Pan Sauces to Dress Up Any Meal

By the editors of Cook's Illustrated

Your meaty main course just got a lot more interesting.

Nothing dresses up a cut of meat like a rich wine pan sauce; it’s a decadent, impressive way to finish a dish. But too often these sauces taste too much of alcohol or have little body to them, tasting flat or harsh. We found a way to solve these problems with our Red and White Wine Pan Sauces.

Red Wine Pan Sauce

 Red Wine Pan Sauce

WHAT CAN GO WRONG

The wine can make the sauce taste too boozy and harsh.

HOW WE FIXED IT

We reduce the wine separately from the broth. In experiments, we found that wine and broth reduced together had as much as eight times more alcohol than wine reduced on its own first. Less booziness allows more wine flavors to come to the fore: While the alcohol burns off, the wine’s nonvolatile flavor compounds concentrate, making it taste richer and more complex. Wine choice is also important: A medium-bodied fruity wine made from a blend of grapes, such as a Côtes du Rhône, offers the most well-rounded flavor.

1 large shallot, minced
1/2 cup red wine
3/4 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces and chilled
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Pour off all but 2 teaspoons fat from pan used to cook meat. Add shallot to pan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add wine and simmer rapidly, scraping up any browned bits, until liquid is reduced to glaze, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth and sugar and simmer until reduced to 1/3 cup, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in any accumulated meat juices. Off heat, whisk in butter, 1 piece at a time, until melted and sauce is thickened and glossy. Stir in rosemary and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste, spoon over meat, and serve.

White Wine Pan Sauce

 White Wine Pan Sauce

Lighter and brighter in taste than its red-wine sibling, white wine pan sauce gives an elegant touch to pan-seared chicken breasts or pork tenderloin.

WHAT CAN GO WRONG

As with red wine pan sauce, a white wine pan sauce, too, can taste too boozy. While it won’t taste harsh, it can taste too flat and want for brightness.

HOW WE FIXED IT

For a more complex taste, we follow the same method we use for Red Wine Pan Sauce and reduce the wine before adding the broth. As for wine choice, Sauvignon Blanc is your best bet. In tests, we found that it boils down into a “clean” yet sufficiently acidic flavor that plays nicely with the other ingredients. Dry vermouth is a close second—and it has the advantage of a long shelf life. Chardonnay is too oaky, and Pinot Grigio is so mild that its flavor quickly fades into the background. And while expensive wine is never necessary for cooking purposes, the wine you cook with should be good enough to drink on its own.

1 large shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces and chilled
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

Pour off all but 2 teaspoons fat from pan used to cook meat. Add shallot and garlic to pan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add wine and simmer rapidly, scraping up any browned bits, until liquid is reduced to glaze, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth and simmer until reduced to 1/3 cup, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in an accumulated meat juices. Off heat, whisk in butter, 1 piece at a time, until melted and sauce is thickened and glossy. Stir in thyme and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste, spoon over meat, and serve.

 Strip Steak

RECIPE FOR MEMBERS: Pan-Seared Steaks with Herb Sauce

We found a way to bring the ultra-rich flavor and glossy consistency of a classic French demi-glace to our Pan-Seared Steaks with Herb Sauce without spending all day roasting bones and reducing stock.

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