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Non Stock-based Sauces

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Non Stock-based Sauces

Author: Jack Lang (jackal10)

Various sauces have been discussed in the eGCI - see Stock Based Sauces and Cream Sauces.

In this course I will discuss a selection of savoury sauces not previously covered:


Mayonnaise and its Derivatives

Beurre Blanc and other Butter Sauces

Pan Sauces and Gravies


Vinaigrette, or in classical parlance Sauce Ravigote is easy to make yet has ample potential for individual creativity. It is a thin sauce which coats leaves well so its traditional role is as a dressing for salads.

Vinaigrette is a water-in-oil emulsion. Droplets of water are suspended in an oil, which is the opposite way round to a mayonnaise. A vinaigrette is quickly made, but without additional emulsifiers, it is not stable, and will revert to oil floating on water.

To make vinaigrette, put 1 part of vinegar and 2 parts of oil (see below) in a jar.

These proportions are sacred for the best and thickest vinaigrette. Say out loud “Two of oil and one of vinegar”. Now say it again.


Two of oil and one of vinegar

If you increase the proportion of water to oil, you can get “inversion”. Now, instead of having water droplets suspended in the oil, you have oil droplets suspended in water. This is why you should make sure the salad leaves are dry before adding the vinaigrette, lest the water on the leaves invert the emulsion.

Shake well (make sure you have the lid or stopper on tight).


You have vinaigrette. That is it. Serve it with salad, or marinate fish in it.


Garden salad of little gem lettuce, and edible flowers: nasturtium, viola, borage, and rose petals, chives.

When you dress a salad, do it at the last minute, otherwise the acid in the vinaigrette will start to wilt the greens.

However, that is not the whole story of vinaigrette. It can be a lot more interesting.

Garbage in, garbage out. Make sure you have the very best ingredients. Nasty oil or vinegar will make nasty vinaigrette. A good olive oil is ideal, but some find that the very strong olive oils are too assertive, and need diluting with a neutral oil, like corn oil. The better the oil, the better the vinaigrette. See note below on olive oils.

Not all vinegars are created equal. In particular they have different levels of acidity. Here I’ve used a mild wine vinegar. You would want to cut a normal malt vinegar by half with water, so that the proportions are 1 of vinegar, 1 of water and 4 of oil. Check the level of acidity on the bottle. I think something in the range 3% to 4% is ideal for a vinaigrette that doesn’t burn the throat. You could use lemon juice, or orange juice, or even plain water. You can use a flavoured vinegar, such as raspberry or basil. You can use aged balsamic vinegar, but it will make the sauce very dark coloured. (I prefer to save my balsamic to dip bread into or adsorbed on croutons).

Vinaigrette has the reputation of being unfriendly to wine. If this is a concern, use wine instead of vinegar as the acid. You might want to reduce the wine by about half to concentrate the flavour.

Plain vinaigrette separates easily and quickly. To slow this down you need to add an emulsifier and stabiliser. In commercial practice a vegetable gum, such as Xanthan gum is used to glue it together. That stuff stays mixed for weeks, but you eat it at your peril. Read the fine print on the ingredients of commercial vinaigrettes next time you are in the supermarket.

An emulsifier we can use at home (and avoid a chemical cesspool) is mustard, dry or ready mixed. It doesn’t stop the vinaigrette from separating, but it does slow it down. The fine grains act as nuclei for the water droplets to attach themselves to. Use a half a teaspoon for a cup or so of vinaigrette. Notice how much smoother the sauce is.


Other emulsifiers include hard-boiled egg yolks or a little mashed potato.

Now comes the creative part. You can add all sorts of flavours, such as garlic or herbs or spices in moderation. You can add sweetness, such as sugar, or honey, fruit or even jam. You can add salt or salty things, such as soy or anchovies. You can add meat glaze. You can use different oils or vinegars. There are infinite variations. Be creative. Stake out your claim to a "house vinaigrette".

Here are some of my favourites. All are for 1/2 cup vinaigrette:


Honey-mustard-garlic vinaigrette.

Honey-mustard-garlic ½ tsp mustard. 2 tsp honey, 1 clove garlic, crushed (if liked). Pinch salt. You could also add some chopped dill.

I use this for most of my green salads. Sometimes it's nice to have just a plain salad: fresh, crisp buttercrunch or cos lettuce tossed with this vinaigrette. Or, you can serve it with avocado.

Raspberry-pepper 2 tsp raspberry puree or raspberry jam, ¼ tsp white pepper, salt. Blackberry puree or jam is good too. This makes a light, fruity vinaigrette that matches well with a chicken or turkey salad.

Asian 2 tsp light soy, 1 tsp crushed fresh ginger, 1 spring onion, chopped. A little sesame oil would go well, also. Use this to dress Pak Choy or steamed Chinese broccoli or perhaps a rice salad with peas and fresh corn (you could add a few shrimp for a more substantial salad).

Sauce Ravigote 1 Tbs each of chopped shallots, capers, herbs (tarragon, chives, parsley, chervil). Ravigote with crabmeat salad or crab cakes is a classic.

Thousand Island 1 Tbs chopped hard-boiled eggs, 1 tsp tomato ketchup, 2 tsp chopped shallots or spring onions, 1 tsp chopped parsley, 1 tsp chopped tarragon, and for that authentic touch of luxury, the cooked and sieved coral of a lobster. Most cheap imitations just colour it pink with a little tomato ketchup. Some people also add sweet pickle and mayonnaise. This is the sauce to dress the salad on a burger.

Hot bacon Use hot bacon grease for the oil part. Fry some fatty bacon chopped small until the fat runs. Remove the crispy bacon bits from the pan and add them to the salad, splash in some vinegar (roughly half the amount of fat), swirl and pour over the salad. A salad of spinach leaves, with this dressing is simple and good, or you can be extravagant and pretend it's breakfast with baby green leaves, some quail eggs, fried potato cubes, mi-cuit cherry tomatoes, and, if you like it, black pudding.

The last word has to be from Sydney Smith (1771-1845), poet, and gastronome, written in a letter to Lady Holland in 1839.

To make this condiment your poet begs

The pounded yellow of two hard-boil'd eggs;

Two boiled potatoes, passed through kitchen seive,

Smoothness and softness to the salad give.

Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,

And, half-suspected, animate the whole.

Of mordant mustard add but a single spoon,

Distrust the condiment that bites too soon;

But deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault

To add a double quantity of salt;

Four times the spoon with oil of Lucca crown,

And twice with vinegar procur'd from town;

Lastly o'er the flavour'd compound toss

A magic soupçon of anchovy sauce.

Oh, green and glorious! Oh, herbaceous treat!

Twould tempt the dying anchorite to eat;

Back to the world he'd turn his fleeting soul,

And plunge his fingers in the salad-bowl!

Serenely full, the epicure would say,

Fate cannot harm me, I have dined today.

Note on Olive Oil

Olive oil is graded according to the amount of oleic acid it contains. This represents how much the fat molecules have been broken down in treatment. It is quite a complex subject:- for example the US and the European Union have slightly different definitions. See here. for example.

To be considered "virgin", an olive oil cannot be sujbected to heat during processing. Apart from pressing, washing, decanting, centrifuging and filtering, it must not be subject to additional treatment. Neither can it be mixed with oils from other sources. Oil obtained by the use of solvents or re-esterification cannot be labelled "virgin". Oils that have undergone further treatment than that allowed for virgin oil can be labelled "olive oil", "refined olive oil" and even "olive-pomace oil" (pomace is the matter left after the olives have been pressed).


Extra Virgin Less than 1% free oleic acid. This grade generally has all the nuances and characteristics of the olive it is taken from. It is full-bodied and can be astringent, peppery, buttery, green, piquant. A vinaigrette made from it will reflect these elements.

Virgin Less than 2% oleic acid. This grade has less flavour, but some reflection of the olive can still be present, especially when you pair it with a light vinegar.

Ordinary Virgin Less than 3.3%. This grade will be taste neutral .

Lampante Virgin more than 3.3%. Not edible without further treatment.

The terms “Cold Pressing”, “First Cold Press” or “Light Oil” may be descriptive, but are obsolete.

Mayonnaise and its derivatives

The legend is that mayonnaise was invented by the cook to the Duc de Richelieu in 1756 as a field expedient while the French forces under his command were besieging the English at Port Mahon in Minorca. However, there are older versions of the sauce, with records dating back to Roman times. Some say the name is derived from the French manier to manipulate, others that it derives from moyer an old French word for egg yolk.

You can make it in a blender in a minute or two, but I think that a better sauce is made by hand. For me, it curdles easily in a blender, as I am tempted to add too much oil at once. To quote Elizabeth David: I do not care, unless I am in a great hurry to let [a kitchen gadget] deprive me of the pleasure and satisfaction to be obtained from sitting down quietly with bowl and spoon, eggs and oil to the peaceful kitchen task of concocting the beautiful shining golden ointment that is mayonnaise.

Mayo is an oil-in-water emulsion, with many small drops of oil dispersed in a watery base. There are so many (about half a pint of oil to a few teaspoons of water) that they jostle together and make a thick sauce. They are kept from coalescing by the emulsifiers in the egg yolk, principally Lecithin. The oil droplets are the original fat globules from the egg yolk, swollen by the added oil. The watery stuff they swim in is some of the watery components of the egg yolk, but mostly the added water phase components. Traditionally this is something acid, such as lemon juice, or a mild vinegar, but it could be just plain water.

We will start by making a classic mayonnaise, and then look at derivations and other ways to make the sauce.

To make mayonnaise you need an egg yolk (see note one), 1 cup/250ml mild, room temperature olive oil (see note two), half a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of mild vinegar or the juice of half a lemon. Oh, and a bowl and a spoon.

Put the egg yolk in the bowl. Put the oil in a measuring jug, so you can see how much you have added.


Beat the egg with a spoon until it is smooth. Add the salt and beat that in. Do not add the lemon juice or vinegar yet.


Add a drop of oil—literally a drop. The biggest mistake is to add too much oil at once in the early stages.


Beat with a spoon until the oil has completely disappeared and the sauce is shiny again.


Add another drop and repeat. Have patience, and do not be tempted to rush it. Slow down. Relax. It’s a beautiful thing you are making.

After about 10 drops you can add a little more at a time- say a teaspoonful.


You must beat it in completely before adding more. Pretty soon it begins to look shiny - more like a sauce. Be patient - cooks have been doing this for two thousand years or more.


After about a third of the oil has been added it will begin to be very stiff, and look like mayo.


Time to add a squeeze of lemon juice or a little vinegar, or whatever water-phase liquid you are using, and beat it in. This will thin and whiten the mayo.


Keep adding the oil a few teaspoonfuls at a time, and beat in. Never add more than about a third of the volume of the sauce you have already made. The mayo will stiffen again. Make sure to beat in each addition of oil before adding more until the mayo comes together and looks shiny again.


If it gets too stiff, add a little more lemon juice or equivalent. If you are bold you can now start to add the oil in a very thin stream, while beating with the other hand. Remember that the oil in the emulsion prefers to dissolve into a pool of oil if it can, rather than be absorbed into the tiny droplets in the emulsion. Don’t add too much at a time. If it begins to pool, stop pouring and beat the mixture until the oil you have already added is absorbed.


When all the oil has all been incorporated you have mayonnaise.


Taste it, and adjust the seasoning. If it is too thick you can add more of the lemon juice, or whatever you are using. If too thin beat in more oil, assuming it hasn’t split.


Mayo is fairly stable at room temperatures, and should keep for a day or two, covered. The acid in it kills most bugs.

If you refrigerate it, especially if you used an oil that thickens in the fridge, for example an unrefined oil like extra virgin olive oil, it will tend to separate.

Escoffier, as always, is definitive:

Unless it is exposed to too low a temperature, the mayonnaise...never turns, and may be kept for several days without the fear of anything happening to it. Merely cover it to keep the dust away.

He also says

It is an error to suppose that it is necessary to work over ice or in a cold room. Cold is deleterious to mayonnaise, and is invariably the cause of this sauce turning in winter. In the cold season the oil should be warmed slightly, or at least kept at the temperature of the kitchen, though it is best to make it in a modestly warm place.

Derivative Sauces

All quantities are for 1 cup/250ml mayonnaise.

Aioli – Garlic mayonnaise

Peel and crush two cloves of garlic and add to the egg yolk at the beginning of the process. Ideally pound the garlic to a paste with the salt in a pestle and mortar. This is the French version. In some parts of the south of France (Provence) it is used much as ketchup is used in the US, and sometimes called “the butter of Provence”. Aioli Garni is aioli served with cooked and raw vegetables, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs and sometimes salt cod or other fish to dip into it. With good bread, it makes a wonderful summer lunch or supper. The garlic flavour should be so strong it makes your throat tingle.

Elizabeth David writes:

The aioli garni is a Friday dish as well as one of the traditional Christmas Eve dishes; on non-fasting days the beef from a pot-au-feu or even a boiled chicken may form part of the dish. It then becomes le grand aioli.


Le Grand Aioli.

The Provencal advise those who find aioli indigestible to take a trou or coupe de milieu in the form of a small glass of marc (the local spirit) as a digestif in the middle of the meal.

Aioli is also used as an ingredient, for example in bourride, the fish soup.

Pureed roast garlic makes a nice flavouring for mayonnaise, but it is not Aioli.

The excellent Catalan Allioli is made without egg yolk, but is based on a paste of garlic and a little vinegar. It is lighter, but more fragile than the French version.

Rouille fiery mayo.

Rouille means rust in French, and refers to the colour of the sauce. It is an indispensable accompaniment to bouillabaisse and other Mediterranean fish soups, slathered onto the accompanying crouton. There are as many versions as there are cooks but broadly in Nice it is Aioli with lots of cayenne pepper (2tsp) and sometimes some saffron, while in Marseilles chillies (deseeded) are pounded with the garlic, as well as a handful of bread which has been soaked in hot water and then squeezed dry.


Originally the sauce for Steak Tartare, now more generally used for fish and fried foods. Add 1 Tbs each of chopped shallot, gherkins, capers, chervil or parsley and chives to 1 cup mayonnaise. This delicious sauce, named after the bold Tartars of old, is often sadly abused in chemical commercial offerings.


Add 1 tsp anchovy sauce, ½ tsp Dijon mustard, 2 tsp chopped capers and chopped gherkins. This is traditionally served with shrimp but it is also good with hard-boiled eggs or any cold meat or fish. Sometimes horseradish is added.


Puree together 2 sieved hard boiled egg yolks, 2 anchovy fillets, 1 tsp each of chopped chives, tarragon and parsley. Pass the resulting puree through a sieve and mix with the mayonnaise. Good for cold meats etc.


2 Tbs sour cream or yogurt, 1 tsp chopped fennel and 1 tsp Worcester sauce. Excellent when served with smoked meats and fish.


Soften 1 Tbs chopped shallot or onion in a little oil, add 2Tbs tomato paste, a bay leaf and a clove; simmer then pass through a sieve. Cool and add to the mayonnaise with chopped fine herbs.


Puree together 1Tbs/25g of each of blanched spinach, watercress, tarragon, chervil or parsley, and chives. Pass the puree through a fine sieve and add the green liquid to a stiff mayonnaise. This makes a lovely green mayonnaise and can be served with an Aioli Garni (as illustrated above) for those who dislike garlic.


Mix equal quantities of Sauce Verte and Sauce Tartare. This is a green version of Tartare and is used similarly. It makes a nice colour contrast with salmon.


Add 2Tbs very red tomato paste, and 1Tbs julienne of red pepper. This sauce is used more for its colour than for its taste. Use it with hard-boiled eggs, for example.


Add 1/3rd the amount of a firm melted aspic. This was formerly used to coat decorative pieces, now replaced by Chaud-Froid.


Not quite mayonnaise, more a salad cream, but still a lovely sauce. Like Cambridge but without the raw egg yolk. Mix together 3 hard boiled egg yolks, sieved, 1 Tbs French mustard, a little salt and pepper. Work in 1 cup oil, as for making mayonnaise. Finish with chopped herbs, capers, gherkins and the chopped white of the eggs. Since it has no raw egg, it can be served with hot food. Try it with hot boiled ham or tongue.

Notes on egg yolks

1. Mayonnaise contains raw egg yolks. Some are concerned that raw eggs can contain Salmonella and other bugs, although there is also evidence that the acid environment is not conducive to their survival. If this is your concern, or if you are serving the sauce to potentially vulnerable people (the very young or the very old, or people who are otherwise immuno-compromised), then use pasteurised egg yolks, or use a technique to pasteurise them first.

2. How much oil can a single large egg yolk emulsify? Traditionally it is about ¾ cup of oil; with 2 tablespoons of water ( or its equivalent) per cup of oil. McGee in the Curious Cook (see "Further Reading" below) gives the theoretical limit as about 15 cups of oil, and experimentally 100 cups, or 6 gallons.

He also gives a technique using frozen egg yolks. For some not well understood reason, freezing an egg yolk liberates a much greater emulsifying power. Freezing whole egg yolks makes them almost rubbery and too hard, but freezing

1 whole yolk for four hours or

1 whole yolk whisked with 1T lemon juice (not vinegar) for eight hours or

1 whole yolk whisked with 1T water for 24 hours

and then using ¼ of the thawed result gives a low-egg yolk mayonnaise. Dave the cook gives a full recipe in the eG Recipe Archive.


It is possible to make an oil-in-water emulsion using many other emulsifiers besides egg yolks. They may be fine sauces, but they are not mayonnaise. Examples include egg white, evaporated milk, gelatine, mustard and mashed potato. Garlic, onion or shallot puree, either raw or from the roasted bulb, also work.

Notes on Oils

1. Since a mayonnaise is mostly oil, it is important that the oil is good quality. However, using a full-flavoured oil will result in too powerful a taste in the finished mayonnaise. Milder oils, or a full flavoured oil cut by half with a more neutral oil, will give a better product. Some flavoured oils, such as lemon infused oil, work well.

2. As noted above, unrefined oils, especially those that cloud when cold, tend to make the sauce break when kept in the fridge.

Notes on Vinegars and other watery ingredients

In the section on Hollandaise, we said that not all vinegars are created equal, and it is easy for a strongly acid component to overwhelm the delicate taste of the sauce. Use lemon juice, or a mild vinegar, or cut the vinegar with water.

There is much less chance of the emulsion inverting and the sauce splitting if you don’t add the additional water-phase component until after the initial oil has been added and the mayonnaise has started to thicken.

Many authorities (including Escoffier) advise adding 2 tsp of boiled water at the end to both hollandaise and mayonnaise to improve their standing properties. I think it is a bit of a myth. To quote McGee:

Finishing the sauce by adding a dollop of boiling water is a piece of conventional lore not to bother with....The important thing is not the temperature of the of the water or when it is added. The important thing is that there be enough water in the sauce to accommodate the amount of oil you've beaten in. The consistency of the sauce will tell that: if it is getting stiff and sweating oil, it is clearly in need of a drink. In any case a tablepoon or two of boiling water in a cup or more of room-temperature sauce is not going to raise its temperature enough to do anything useful. It's fine to adjust the flavour and texture at the end, but there is no need to put on the kettle.

Blender mayo

It is perfectly possible to save all that stirring by making mayonnaise in a blender.

Same proportions. Put the egg and the salt in a blender, set it running, and drizzle in the oil, slowly at first, then a little faster. If it gets too stiff add the lemon juice or equivalent. The strong mechanical agitation helps the emulsification, but it is easy to add the oil too fast.

Rescuing split mayo

If it splits either the oil was too cold, or you added too much at one time.

Take a clean bowl and another egg yolk, and use the split sauce as though it was oil, adding it to the new yolk no more than a teaspoon at a time and beating well before adding more oil.

Beurre Blanc and other Butter Sauces

Beurre Blanc means white butter. It is reputed to have been discovered when a hurried chef forgot to add the eggs when making a hollandaise. It is also attributed to Mme. Clemence as a sauce for salmon and other fish of the Loire, but there are many similar sauces from historic times. Beurre blanc has periods of fashion: it is a quickly made sauce, and low in carbohydrates, but you are basically eating softened flavoured butter. It is a very rich sauce – use sparingly.

Like mayonnaise, beurre blanc is another oil-in-water emulsion. It uses the ready-made emulsion in butter as the emulsifying component. You can’t use margarine, or any butter substitute as they are held together differently. Butter is already a stable emulsion, provided it does not get too hot. If it gets too hot the emulsion breaks. If, after it is melted, it is allowed to solidify again, the emulsion will also break. Thus the secret to beurre blanc is temperature control. McGee says the temperature should be between 100F and 130F, (38C and 54C), but Keller indicates it can go up to 190F/90C. It should feel warm, not hot. If you can’t keep a finger in it comfortably, it is too hot. On the other hand if the butter is not melting into the sauce it is too cold. The vinegar or wine and the shallot are just dilutants and flavourings, rather than contributors to the structure of the sauce – the butter already contains enough water. However if you add more than 1 stick/8oz/250gms to a tablespoon of liquid the sauce becomes vulnerable to overheating. You can make things a little easier by adding some cream (ideally reduced by half over a gentle heat) at the beginning. Cream is another emulsion, and you are adding additional emulsification.

To make a classic Beurre blanc, start with 4 Tbs of dry white wine and 4 Tbs of wine vinegar and add a finely chopped shallot. Put in a good solid pan.


Reduce until about 1 Tbs of liquid remains and the shallot has softened. Have 1 stick/250gm of best unsalted butter ready, cold, and cut into pieces.


Whisk in the butter.


Correct the seasoning. Add a squeeze of lemon juice if you like.


That is it. Keep it warm, not hot, for service. If you need to keep it for some time, a thermos flask rinsed with warm water works well. It cannot be kept in the fridge, or frozen. Traditionally, Beurre blanc is served with seafood. Here it is shown with pan fried scallops.


There is a debate as to whether to sieve out the shallot pieces or not. It depends on the dish you are making. For a classical dish sieve them out, for a rustic style dish keep them in,

Use a solid pan that does not have hot spots or the sauce will overheat locally and break. Some pans with thin walls and a copper sandwich have hot spots at the corners. Don’t use a non-stick pan either, since the non-stick surface forms an oily film which can break the sauce, and a metal whisk can easily damage the surface of the pan.

To rescue an overheated sauce: cool, add a teaspoon or two of water and whisk until the oily streaks disappear.

To rescue a solidified sauce, you need to re-emulsify it. You can sometimes rescue it by whipping the melted sauce into cream, but it is easier to treat it like a split hollandaise, and make hollandaise instead.

Instead of wine as the liquid component, you can use water, mild vinegar, lemon or other citrus juice or even some of the poaching liquid from the dish you are making. If you use red wine or madeira as the liquid, you will be making a Beurre rouge.

Beurre Noisette is butter heated in a frying pan until it is nut brown, then, off the heat, lemon juice is whisked in (1/2 a lemon for 4oz of butter).

Beurre Noir or black butter is made the same as Beurre Noisette, but when it has coloured, it is taken off the heat and a tablespoon of vinegar (for 4 ozs butter) and a large pinch of chopped parsley is whisked in. I like to add a tablespoon of capers as well.

Traditionally, Beurre Noir is served with skate wing. First fry the skate wing in butter and remove it from the pan and keep it hot. Wipe out the pan, and with fresh butter make the beurre noir.

Beurre a la Meuniere is butter cooked gently until it just begins to colour – slightly nutty, but not as dark as Beurre Noisette. Once it has reached this slightly nutty stage, add the lemon juice and chopped parsley. This is the traditional sauce for Sole a la Meuniere.

Pan sauces and Gravies

A brief survey of a large subject

In one sense, a pan sauce, prepared quickly in the same pan the main ingredient was cooked in, and hence flavoured primarily with the cooking residues, is the original and true sauce for the dish. Because the pan residues are essential to a pan sauce, it is only used for pan-fried or roast dishes.

However, those cooking residues residues are only there if they have escaped from the main ingredient. The main ingredient is typically a piece of meat or fish. The residue is the result of partial over-cooking which breaks down the structure so that the juices escape. These then reduce or dry in the pan.

Brillat-Savarin, the gourmet, in The Physiology of Taste (1825) (see "Further Reading" below) tells the tale of how he managed to take the pan juices of a leg of lamb being prepared for another party, and serve them with eggs. He says We feasted indeed…we were swallowing the very essence of the roast, and leaving nothing to [the other party] but the dry remains. Some argue that it is better if the main ingredient is cooked at a temperature that does not leave much residue in the pan, and the sauce is then made separately. They also point out that the pan residues may not have been cooked under ideal conditions, and may be burnt or otherwise inappropriate.

Let us assume though that there is enough residue, for example from the initial browning, or from ingredients, such as onion, explicitly added to assist in making the sauce. Then the steps are:

Remove the pan-fried (or roasted) main ingredient and keep it hot.

Pour off any excess oil or other cooking medium.

Add additional components to the pan to add flavour (chopped shallots or onions for instance) or to change the texture and adsorb the fat (flour to make a brown roux).

Deglaze the pan by adding liquid to the pan and stirring over heat to dissolve the dried and caramelised deposits. The liquid can be water, stock, cream or wine, vinegar, or even black coffee for red-eye gravy. You might want to reduce the liquid to concentrate the flavour.

Finish the sauce by correcting the seasoning and, if appropriate, strain it and add a squeeze of lemon or give it a gloss with a knob of butter.

I will illustrate the required processes first with pan fried chicken breasts with a shallot and sherry vinegar sauce and then with steak and a red wine sauce. Finally, I'll offer suggestions for variations of pan sauces.


Sauteing the chicken breasts

Saute the chicken breasts until done and remove from the pan and keep warm. Pour off any excess fat leaving about 2 Tbs in the pan.

Add some finely chopped shallots and a little garlic to the pan and saute briefly.


Sautéing shallots.

Deglaze the pan. I used sherry vinegar but you could use balsamic vinegar though it will make the sauce darker.

(Demi-glace is used for classical meat dishes, but the use of reduced meat sauces is a becoming a cliché, and the universal spread of brown sticky goo can make everything taste of Bovril (commercial meat glaze)).


Deglazing with sherry vinegar. Note the steam from the rapid reduction.

Bourdain puts it well in Kitchen Confidential

…we finish nearly every sauce with [butter]…that is why my sauce tastes richer and creamier than yours, why it's got that nice thick opaque consistency.


Finishing with butter.


Completed sauce.


Poured over the chicken and served with fingerling potatoes and a salad (omitted for clarity).

Red Wine Sauce

This is traditional with steak so first, cook the steaks to the desired doneness.


Remove the steaks and keep them warm. Note the flavoursome pan deposits


Add a generous slug (1/4 cup/60ml) of good red wine. If you wouldn't drink it, don't

cook with it. Add any juices drained from the steak.

Reduce at a rapid boil until syrupy.


Finish by stirring in a generous knob of butter into the rapidly boiling sauce.

Correct the seasoning.


Steak with a red wine pan sauce.

Variations on the Pan Sauce Theme

Flavourings might include soy, garlic, ginger, mustard, pepper, peppercorns, capers, brandy or liquors.

The sauce is reduced to concentrate the liquid component, if required.

The sauce is thickened if a thick sauce is desired. Often a thin gravy is nicer. Thickening can be divided into:

Emulsification: An oil or high fat ingredient like butter is added, and the contents whisked vigorously or boiled rapidly to achieve emulsification. This works best if there is plenty of gelatinous material to act as an emulsifier in the pan residue.Like beurre blanc, a ratio of 2 of fat to 1 of liquid is desirable.

Starch: A starchy thickener is added. Essentially a sort of veloute is being made. Be sure to cook it sufficiently for the floury taste to disappear. Don’t add too much starch. Pan sauces should be moderately thick, not glue-like.

Typical thickeners include:

Cornflour (cornstarch), slackened in twice the amount of water. This is often used for Chinese wok cookery. Commercial gravy powder is mostly cornflour, with some seasoning and colouring.

Roux, or roux made in the pan with the fat (and extra butter if required) and flour.

Beurre manie: butter mashed up with an equal part of flour. This provides both thickening and a finish in one step. Use sparingly, and cook out properly.

Vegetable purees, such as onion puree.

Finishing. The sauce is typically finished by correcting the seasoning, and if appropriate, straining, adding a squeeze of lemon, or a giving a gloss with a knob of butter.

Ham with red-eye gravy

Red eye gravy

Whether the origin of the name was President Jackson’s red-eyed cook, or because the evaporating gravy is said to make a red “eye” in the centre of the pan, this a traditional southern accompaniment to county ham. It is often served with eggs or grits and biscuits. The distinguishing feature is that the pan is de-glazed with black coffee.

This is my version, and I’m not even American. I may be treading on sacred topics. I break with tradition, partly to illustrate the technique, and partly because I prefer my gravy thick—I finish the sauce with beurre manie to provide instant gloss as well as thickening. Of, course, it must then be cooked for a few more minutes to get rid of the raw taste of the flour.


Remove the ham from the pan, and deglaze with about 4 Tbs of coffee and a teaspoonful of sugar.


If you want a less pronounced coffee flavour, use half coffee and half ham stock.

Beurre Manie is softened butter and an equal quantity (by volume) of flour.


Mash them together with a fork.


Add a knob of the Beurre manie (about 2 tsp) to the pan and stir rapidly. Instant sauce!



Country ham and egg, red eye gravy


Further reading

The Curious Cook - Harold McGee

Physiology of taste - Brillat-Savarin

Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making - James Peterson

Post your questions here -->> Q&A

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