Last night my wife and I had the privilege to attend the first Lemon Ball to support the Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation at the Bellevue in downtown Philadelphia. It was a terrific "yellow-tie" event that raised a lot of money to be used for childhood cancer research.
It was a very moving night with speeches from Jay and Liz Scott, Alex's parents who spoke on Alex's fight with cancer and dream to raise millions of dollars so doctors could find a cure by selling lemonade starting with a stand in her front yard.
If you don't know Alex's story, I highly recommend you visit the Alex's Lemonade Stand web site, read all about this incredible little girl who raised over $1 million dollars during her short lifetime and inspired her parents to start the foundation to continue her dream. It is truly amazing and heart warming.
The foundation honored Billy King, President and General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers who became a close friend to Alex when she just started and was one of her biggest supporters. Then there was a visit and speech from the Gov, Edward G. Rendell.
The Bellevue put out a fine dinner for what looked to be over 500 people. The menu started with Belgian endive and baby mixed greens served with honey-roasted pecans, grapes and crumbled Roquefort cheese and finished with a citrus vinaigrette.
The entrée was filet mignon and Chilean sea bass, leek and mushrooms accompanied by Wasabi potato puree. The waiter came by with a gravy boat filled with a reduction sauce, the subject I would like to talk about.
Before Reduction Sauces
Before everyone was concerned about diets and eating healthier, most sauces were thickened with the help of liaisons, a fancy name for thickening agents. The most popular is a classic roux consisting of a fat (usually butter) and flour although some people will use simple flour and water.
Another popular thickener is cornstarch mixed with a little water or stock. Egg yolks are also used to create a silky texture but if you're not careful, they can end up as scrambled eggs.
And one of my favorite thickening agents that my doctor tells me I should eliminate from my diet is cream or half and half (half milk/half cream). I have read you can use evaporated milk combined with a starch thickener as a substitute but I really don't think it would taste the same.
With restaurant goers demanding lower calorie and less fat in their food but still wanting it to taste special, chefs turned to reduction sauces to give them what they want. A reduction is the result of boiling or cooking down a liquid until it reduces to the consistency of a sauce. The liquid can be just about anything but is usually a wine or a stock that has been used to deglaze a pan where meat, chicken or fish have just been sautéed. (See my article on Pan Sauces)
What's great about reduction sauces is they are easy to prepare at home and because you are evaporating the water from whatever liquid you are using, you are instantly intensifying the overall flavor of the sauce.
A Basic Reduction Sauce
You can make reductions sauces from all sorts of liquids. One of my favorites is a balsamic reduction sauce where you slowly cook down a cup of balsamic vinegar until it reduces by half or if you like, even further until it becomes syrupy. This is great to drizzle over fish, chicken or pork chops.
Another basic reduction sauce I make a lot at home is a simple pan sauce. Here's where you sauté, lets say a chicken breast, in a sauté pan, remove it from the pan, deglaze the pan with some wine, let it cook down to an essence and then add some chicken stock or beef stock.
How much stock should you add?
If you are looking for a cup of sauce, start with two cups of stock. Basically you are going to reduce whatever liquid you are using in half. If you think the sauce should be thicker, continue cooking it down until it reaches your desired consistency.
You will often hear chefs say or cookbooks describe reducing a sauce until it is "thick enough to coat a spoon." All this means is you dip a spoon in the sauce, and if the sauces sticks, it's ready. If you reduce the sauce too much, just add a little more stock.
You can read my full description on making pan sauces on my web site but here's a simple recipe for making a quick reduction sauce at home.
Pan Reduction Sauce
This sauce is made right after you finish cooking the meat, chicken, fish, etc. You remove it from the pan and keep it warm until the sauce is done. Some chefs will undercook the meat and finish cooking it in the sauce.
- 2 tablespoons fat - butter, oil or some combination. If there is leftover fat from what you just cooked, use that.
- 1 shallot, minced
- ¼ cup wine (red, white or port depending on what you are cooking)
- 1-cup chicken, beef or vegetable stock (again depending on what you are cooking)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs (again depending on what you are cooking)
How to Prepare at Home
Remove the meat from the sauté pan; pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat (add fat if you need to). Remove the pan from the heat; add wine to deglaze the pan while scraping any bits stuck to the pan when cooking the meat.
Place the pan back on the heat and immediately add the shallots letting them cook while the wine reduces to an essence. Be sure to keep stirring so the shallots don't burn and the bottom of the pan is clean.
Once the wine is almost completely cooked off, add the stock. Reduce the stock by at least half and more if you want the sauce thicker.
Taste and season with salt and pepper. Many professional chefs will add pats of butter at this point to give the sauce more flavor and that velvety shine and smooth texture. This is great but it sort of defeats the purpose of making a reduction to reduce fat and calories.
Add the finely chopped herbs and serve. That simple and delicious.