One of the main reasons carnivores love meat is because of its depth of flavor. And the easiest way to magnify that flavor is to brown the meat.
For those of you into science, this is called the Maillard reaction, after the French chemist who first described it in 1912. But there’s also another reason to brown meat.
As meat browns, it gives off juices that concentrate in the bottom of the pan as little brown bits. Those flavorful brown bits don’t need to be lost. They are easily reconstituted with liquid after the meat has finished browning. And just that quickly you have the base of a deeply tasty sauce.
If you’ve never made a pan sauce, this recipe for Steak au Poivre is a great way to get started. A French classic, steak au poivre is steak that is crusted with cracked peppercorns, then seared and served with a quick pan sauce. Not a fan of peppercorns? Just leave them off; the dish will still be delicious.
The first thing to do when making a pan sauce is to pat the meat dry. Doesn’t matter is you’re cooking beef, lamb, pork or chicken. Grab some paper towels and pat the meat dry. And stick with tender cuts, such as steaks and cutlets. The meat won’t spend a whole lot of time in the pan.
Next, season the meat well with salt and pepper just before putting it in the pan. Then you brown it in fat over medium-high heat until it’s nicely colored and cooked to the doneness you desire. (A meat thermometer is your best friend here.) Remove the meat from the pan, transfer it to a plate, cover it loosely with foil, and let it rest.
Now you make the pan sauce.Pour off most of the fat, then move on to the next step — adding liquid. It can be wine, stock, water, cream or a combo. Whatever you go with, add it and bring it to a boil. As it boils, the key is to scrape up the brown bits stuck to the bottom the pan. This process is known as deglazing.
Once the pan is deglazed, you lower the heat so the sauce just simmers. Next, pour in any juices from the meat that have drained onto the plate where it is resting.
Want the sauce to be thicker? Throw in a tablespoon or so of butter, then turn off the heat and swirl around the butter until it’s melted.
The recipe below includes cream, which naturally thickens as it cooks down, so I left the butter out.