How to Repair Broken Pan Sauce
Pan sauces can be a simple way to elevate plain meat, but if you find your sauce broken, here's how to fix it.
A simple pan sauce can upgrade plain steaks, chops, or chicken—but if you're not careful, it can go from creamy, rich, and glossy to broken in the blink of an eye. Why? A pan sauce is an example of a fat-in-water emulsion, generally made by whisking fat, usually in the form of butter or cream, into a liquid reduction of wine and/or stock. When the tiny droplets of butterfat, aided by the agitation of whisking, get suspended in liquid, the result is a shiny, unctuous sauce. However, if the sauce stays on the heat too long and too much water evaporates, it will break, since there's no longer enough water to hold the fat in suspension. If this happens, the sauce will look curdled and greasy.
The fix is simple—add water back. A generous splash (about ¼ cup) of water is likely more than enough. Make sure to reheat the sauce to a vigorous simmer, whisking constantly, so that the bubbling action can help re-emulsify the butter and bring back that thick, glossy sauce. Continue simmering until the sauce reaches the desired consistency, and then serve.