Jazz up a basic chicken breast with a simple pan sauce. This easy technique puts dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes.
November 20, 2009
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Pan Sauce Secrets
Enriched by the browned bits from a sautéed chicken breast, a simple pan sauce can transform an everyday boneless, skinless breast into a variety of quick and delicious meals. Learn this basic technique, then customize the sauce with various ingredients for amazingly different results.
The process is simple: Cook chicken breasts, deglaze the caramelized juice and browned bits in the pan with liquid, add a few other seasonings, and you’ve got a tasty pan sauce. For best results, use a nonstick skillet, and scrape up the sauce thoroughly from the bottom of the pan to get the concentrated flavor left behind by sautéing.
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Step 1: Trim
For the shortest route to a weeknight dinner, start with a boneless, skinless chicken breast. Or, to save money, buy with skin on and remove it yourself. Either way, obtain the best results here by trimming excess fat and any small pieces of meat attached to the breast.
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Step 2: Tenderize
Place each chicken breast half between two sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap. Pound to a ½-inch thickness using a meat mallet or a rolling pin. This will ensure the chicken cooks quickly and evenly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
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Step 3: Sauté
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medim-high heat. Add chicken; cook 6 minutes on each side until done. To tell if the chicken is done, pierce it with a fork. If the juices run clear, it's done. Remove chicken from pan and keep warm.
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Step 4: Deglaze
After removing chicken breasts from the pan, add a liquid to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen browned bits. This will add tremendous flavor to the sauce. You can deglaze with a variety of liquids, including stock,* wine, beer, and spirits, or cider. Now's the time to add savory seasonings such as herbs, spices, shallots, onions, garlic, and whatever you choose.
* Tip: We recommend using low-sodium store-brought broth, which will help prevent the sauce from becoming too salty as it reduces. See our favorites.
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Step 5: Reduce
After you've added seasonings, cook the mixture for a few minutes until it has reduced into a sauce with the consistency you desire. Most recipes specify how long to reduce, and how much sauce it should yield. Pour the sauce into a measuring cup to be sure that it has reduced enough. After removing from heat, you can finish some sauces by stirring in a touch of cream.
Try it! Practice this technique with the following 8 recipes:
For other classic how-to instructions, check out the Cooking Light Way to Cook, which offers easy step-by-step guides to basic cooking techniques. Our most beautiful book yet, it makes a great gift or a useful addition to your own collection.