How to Make Reduction Sauces

January 21, 2007 28 Comments

How to Make Reduction Sauces

What’s So Great About Reduction Sauces

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.

Reduction Sauces

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.

How to Make Reduction Sauces

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

How to Make Reduction Sauces

Ingredients

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.

Last modified on Mon 7 April 2014 10:05 am

Comments (28)

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  1. D.Lo says:

    What an excellent article! Informative, and in the context of a wonderful event. Nice job!

    I just recently started culinary school (with hopes of making a career-change from the IT work I currently do) and have been following along with your blog. It is an excellent resource, with a good balance between technical proficiency and the home cooking. Keep up the good work!

  2. Chef Jimbo says:

    While sometimes it does matter which stock you use based on the protien, I do experiment with variations. I might mix a balsamic vinegar and chicken stock reduction with roasted asparagus over a filet mignon for an interesting combo. Or vegetable stock anytime you want to include veggies with the protien when serving. I use beef stock when using brandy or port and chicken or vegetable when using vermouth or sherry. Although I love the butter at the end, I rarely use it anymore and make sure that the herbs are sufficient to heighten the flavors.

  3. Tricia says:

    Brand new reader! Don’t even know what a blog is…so bear with me! (Bare or bear -? ha-ha).

    I keep reading recipes with Stock. How is that different from Broth? I found a can of “Stock” in the grocery store and it was like 4 times as much as broth.

  4. Fred says:

    Here is a no brainer that is great:

    Port, beef, & Shallot sauce
    Ingredients:

    ¼ cup olive oil
    4 cans beef broth
    2 cups tawny Port
    2 tablespoon tomato paste
    3 teaspoons dried thyme
    6 tablespoons unsalted butter
    2-3 tablespoons all purpose flour
    ½ mushrooms, sliced.

    Preparation:
    Toss shallots with oil to coat and season with salt and pepper.
    Save remaining oil to toss mushroom before sautéing.
    Roast shallots until they are deep brown and very tender, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.
    Sauté mushrooms.
    Meanwhile boil broth and Port in large saucepan until reduced to ~3 cups, about 30 minutes.
    Whisk in tomato paste.
    If preparing beef, add broth mixture to beef pan and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits.
    Transfer to medium saucepan; bring to simmer.
    Mix 3 tablespoons butter and flour in small bowl to form smooth paste; whisk into broth mixture and simmer until sauce thickens, about 2 minutes.
    Whisk in 3 tablespoons butter. Stir in roasted shallots and sautéed mushrooms. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

  5. Chef Ricco says:

    I think it’s time too talk about everyones feelings about the cloning of meat that is going too hit the main stream american soon.

  6. sulu-design says:

    Thanks so much for the tips. I’ll be making a balsamic reduction to drizzle over an appetizer next week and your advice has been very helpful.

  7. chef mcd says:

    A FLAVOURFUL LIQUID REDUCTION!!!

    This website is fabulous. I never fully understood the power and art of reduction sauces until now. Thank you so much for the tips!!!

  8. Mike Kazmark says:

    Excellent article on reduction sauces. My wife was wondering if you have had success with lemon or blueberry reduction sauces or wine reduction sauces and what other ingredients you used to make them? Thank you!
    Mike Kazmark
    http://www.bestpastarecipes.com

  9. Ray says:

    I’ve only recently started cooking. I found your site and used it as my primary source for any techniques that I was interested in, as well as any information in this area.
    The bottom of my pan is black when I saute something making my reductions too dark/burnt. They taste pretty good, but they do not look as nice as the ones that I see on TV. I wil continue to try. I have even considered taking a saute, reduction, pan sauce class sometime in the future. In the mean time I will keep reading your site and keep on trying. At 52, I wish that I would’ve discovered cooking a long time ago. Thank you for all that you do.
    Sincerely.
    Ray

  10. Brenda says:

    As I write this my white wine reduction is reducing. I’m baking my chicken with a rub of rosemary, garlic, butter and paprika so I sacrificed a piece of chicken for the reduction! I have book marked this site. It’s great!

  11. noni says:

    i am looking for an actual book,..not an e-book (i want something to wrap up) on reductions….how to make , what goes with what etc for my husband for xmas..any suggestions?

  12. matt says:

    right on man. that was straight to the point i will book mark this page…thanks

  13. Cindy says:

    I am looking to make a sauce out of Jagermeister – a cordial liquer. I know that it might sound strange to anyone that is familiar with the drink..but I own a restaurant/bar and we are the biggest retailer of Jager in the state and I truly believe that something delicious can be derived from it in a cooking sense. Can anyone suggest any other herbal/spice that would compliment this reduction? Would be using it for a sauce for steak or wings! Thanks for any positive input!

    Cindy, I found this interesting recipe for Venison steak with black currant,wild mushroom and Jagermesiter sauce that might work for you.

  14. RG says:

    Cindy, I’m pretty sure you can make a decent sauce with most cordial liqueurs if you use them to deglaze your sauce pan. What are the flavors associated with Jager? Knowing that will help decide what other ingredients would work with it.

  15. Susan says:

    I’m not seeing any response on the Jager. I’m looking to do the same thing with Chambord for a dessert. This is a chilled recipe using frozen &/or fresh raspberries. Can anyone help? The flavors are raspberry and pineapple mixed with mascarpone cheese and other yummy and complementary flavors.

    Hi Susan, it sounds like a recipe I found at Epicurious for Coeur à la Crème with Raspberry Sauce by Patrick O’Connell from The Inn at Little Washington Cookbook.

  16. Greta Shelley says:

    Interesting comments, I did not know this blog and found it by clicking on something else. It’s all ready in my bookmarks so you will see me back soon.

  17. chef brandon says:

    what temp do you cook down reduction and how would you make a citrus reduction?

    Hi Chef Brandon, funny questions coming from a chef. I’m usually asking you guys these questions. When I’m making reduction sauces at my house, I usually bring the sauce to a simmer which can range from 180 degrees F to 211 degrees F depending on the altitude. I’ll work on a citrus reduction article and post it soon. – RG

  18. chef brandon says:

    thank you for your help

    you are welcome chef – RG

  19. Sonja D says:

    I am trying to find a good recipe for Solomillo al Cabrales (from the Asturias region in Spain) after trying a recipe at a local restaurant. Unlike the recipes I find online, the recipe I had at the restaurant was made with a Rioja reduction sauce. Does anyone possibly know of a good Rioja reduction sauce using a non-expensive wine?? I don’t know much about wines, and am nervous to try the recipe without an idea of the kind of wine I am looking for. Thank you!!

    Hi Sonja, I did a search for this dish and it looks incredible. I will have to pick up some Cabrales cheese and give it a try. Making a good reduction sauce is easy. Read my post How to Make Reduction Sauces to learn the basics. Then all you need to do is fine a decent Rioja wine and you are all set.

    Finding the wine should be easy. Just ask your local merchant for some suggestions for a good Rioja wine and find one in your price range. Remember, you don’t want to cook with wines you wouldn’t want to drink. Why spend the money on a good piece of meat, the time to prepare it and then use a cheap inexpensive wine to cook with. I’m not saying break the bank, but there are plenty of reasonably priced wines that work for this recipe. If you are uncomfortable asking the wine merchant, do a quick search on the Internet for “Rioja wine” and you will learn everything you need to know. Be sure to let us know how your meal turns out. – RG

  20. Diana says:

    I just had scallops with a sherry reduction sauce at one of my favorite restaurants. I’d love to duplicate it for a Christmas dinner party this Friday. Do I make the sauce then put the already sauteed scallops back in the sauce? or spoon the sauce over the already sauteed scallops? Any other tips? DD

    Hi Diana, preparing scallops with a reduction sauce is fast work. You want to cook the scallops to perfection which means don’t overcook them and then quickly make the sauce and spoon them over scallops. Saying that, I have read many recipes that say under-cook the scallops a bit and then finish them in the sauce or reheat in the sauce. I think the first way is better and presents cleaner especially with a sherry reduction. If you were making a cream sauce, I might opt for the second way. – RG

  21. Marie G-Huber says:

    I just made a raspberry vinaigrette reduction with a touch of “Pittsburgh Sport Sauce” (a blended habanero, roasted red pepper). It turned out really good.
    This reduction I will drizzle over salmon.

    Interesting Marie – thanks for sharing. – RG

  22. Jimmyk says:

    Thanks for the recipe, As I type, I’m reducing a local Wisconsin white wine. I’m using the remnants of the trimmings of chicken breast as my base. So far so good. Will be added to my baked version of chicken cordon bleu.

    Hey Jimmy, sounds like a great idea. – RG

  23. Summer says:

    Love your site! I was trying to figure out how to reduce apple juice as a sauce for cinnamon apples. I used some of your general advice about reductions – mine didn’t have wine or stock, but it turned out fantastic.

    Hi Summer, great to hear you had good results. Thanks for letting me know. – RG

  24. Gareth says:

    Hi! I’ve been teaching myself a lot of cooking techniques lately and I really love this site. I tried making a reduction sauce with apple cider and some fruit juice – that was all I had available – and it becomes more like an incredibly sweet syrup, but still really tasty. I’ve found that if I don’t use a thicker liquid like stock, it has to be reduced down far more than halfway or it’ll still be too liquid – but I suspect the end result is a little healthier.

    Hi Gareth, the stock really isn’t a thickener. In fact, if you add a stock you will have to reduce the sauce even longer but it is well worth the effort. You could make a roux to thickener it more quickly but I prefer to just let it reduce. – RG

  25. Darlene says:

    Thanks for the blog ! I hope to go to culinary school one day and spend my nights looking up recipes and how to s this was very helpful ! i used to think that reductions where very fancy complicated things! but im confident that I can do one now XD

  26. Peter Ellis says:

    I am very moved by Alex’s story. Somehow making a good sauce doesn’t seem that important any more. But thanks for sharing (as they say). Peter.

  27. Chef Ryan says:

    @Tricia,

    Kind of an old post, but the difference between stock and broth..

    Stock – Made from using the bones/trimmings

    Broth – Made from using actual meat, making it a bit richer

    They’re both still made with the standard onions/celery/carrots but are pretty much interchangeable in any recipe.

  28. Charlee says:

    Been making reduction sauces for a week while now but have now added raspberry balsamic and OMG! fab results with sausages, lamb, beef or venison, with also a big splash of red wine…….yummy!

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