It’s been a long day. You’re hungry. You open the fridge door, staring blankly into its depths. Two raw chicken breasts sit before you, and your brain has clocked out for the day.

At this point, you could throw your hands up and order delivery. Or, you could pull out a technique that puts a great meal on the table in less time than it would take for the delivery to arrive. Enter: the pan sauce.

“I make a lot of pan sauces,” says Joshua Resnick, lead chef and operations manager at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. “Say it’s 7 o’clock, and I just got home. I want to whip up something quick without using a bunch of ingredients or without standing over the stove reducing something. And, it makes for very easy cleanup because you use the same pan all the way through.”

The beauty of pan sauce is that it requires just a couple extra ingredients and zero extra time, since it’s assembled as the rest of your meal comes together. This happens through the magic of deglazing, a technique that can be done with almost any slightly acidic liquid, but traditionally relies on a few glugs of booze.

The specific booze? It’s up to you. It’s simply a matter of knowing how to choose it, and what to do with it.

What is a Pan Sauce?

After browning a protein, you may notice little brown bits still in the pan. Those are called “fond,” meaning “base” in French. Deglazing, Resnick explains, is adding liquid to unstick the fond and repurpose it into a flavorful sauce to be served over said protein. This is known as a pan sauce.

“When we’re cooking, we want as much flavor in our dish as possible,” says Resnick. “That protein, as long as it’s not burnt, can provide good flavor for our sauce. We deglaze to help free up those brown bits from the pan, and to use them in our sauce.”

Deglazing is typically associated with browning a piece of meat or fish, but Resnick says the same process could apply if you’re using veggies as the basis of your meal. Deglazing can be performed using a multitude of liquids, including stock, water, wine, and spirits — it all depends on the ingredients you’re looking to elevate.

How to Deglaze for Pan Sauce

After your protein is cooked, check the pan to ensure that what remains is browned but not burnt. You also want to check the amount of fat left over from cooking, especially when working with meat. If there’s over a tablespoon of fat, pour off the excess into another container. If you have less than that, add a neutral cooking oil. You want enough fat to lightly cook your aromatics, but too much, and it will mute the flavors and make your pan sauce look broken. Then, add minced aromatics. This could be onions, shallot, garlic, or whatever you have hanging around. You want to “sweat” them, meaning they look soft but not mushy.

Next, comes the actual deglazing. This just means adding in a small amount of the alcohol to the hot pan, and scraping off the fond. Then, proceed with the pan sauce, per the recipe below.

How to Choose Your Deglazing Liquid

The ideal deglazing booze will depend on your meal and your preferences. In general, you’ll want to match the heaviness of your protein to the heaviness of the alcohol. You also will want to avoid excess sweetness or bitterness. Resnick cites Moscato, IPA, and coconut rum as liquids he’d avoid. He does, though, recommend the following flavor combinations:How to Make Pan Sauce with (Almost) Any Booze, flavor combinations that pair with wines

After cooking your protein, follow the recipe below to make a classic pan sauce. Let your imagination — and the flavors of your dinner — be your guide when it comes to choosing your alcoholic component. “For me, it’s always about using what I have around,” says Resnick. If you happen to make extra sauce, it can keep in the fridge for two to three days, and is great spooned over veggies, rice, or leftover protein.

Handling the Heat

If you’re working with higher-proof spirits, there’s the possibility of the spirit briefly lighting on fire, also known as flambé. This may sound fun, or maybe terrifying depending on your cooking experience. Just know you haven’t done anything wrong if this happens, and the flame will die down quickly, once the alcohol burns off. If you’d prefer to avoid an open flame situation, stick to wine, beer, cider, and other lower-proof alcohol.

“I’d rather have you be in a safe position, than risk it happening when you’re unprepared,” says Resnick. So, if you’re using a spirit, be extra safe. Before adding said spirit, turn the heat on high and tilt the pan away so if the alcohol ignites, it happens away from your face. Then, proceed with the recipe.

Classic Pan Sauce


  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon butter, kept cold
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 sprigs parsley leaves, finely minced


  1. Heat the canola oil in a pan over medium low heat until shimmering.
  2. Add the shallots into the pan with a pinch of salt. Cook while moving until the shallots are cooked but have no color.
  3. Remove the pan from heat and add in the wine. Return to the heat and scrape any “fond” from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or sturdy spatula.
  4. Reduce the liquid until almost dry, about 1–2 teaspoons liquid remaining. Add in the chicken stock and stir to combine.
  5. Reduce the liquid until the sauce fully coats the back of a metal or wooden spoon.
  6. Remove from heat and stir in the butter until it melts completely into the sauce.
  7. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper before adding in the parsley.

*Image sourced from Camela –