How Do I Make A Restaurant Quality Reduction Sauce
Last night, my wife and I were privileged to attend the first Lemon Ball to support 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 dreamed to raise millions of dollars so doctors could find a cure by selling lemonade, starting with a stand in her front yard.
Suppose you don't know Alex's story. In that case, I highly recommend you visit Alex's Lemonade Stand website and read 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 heartwarming.
The foundation honored Billy King, President and General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, who became a close friend to Alex when she had 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, 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 fat (usually butter) and flour, although some people use simple flour and water.
Another popular thickener is cornstarch mixed with a bit of 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 it would not taste the same.
With restaurant goers demanding lower calories and less fat in their food but still wanting it to taste special, chefs turned to reduced 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 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 reduction 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.
A simple pan sauce is another basic reduction sauce I make a lot at home. Here's where you saute, let's say a chicken breast in a saute 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 or demi glace
How much stock should you add?
Start with two cups of stock if you want a cup of sauce. Basically, you will reduce whatever liquid you are using by half. If you think the sauce should be thicker, continue cooking it down until it reaches your desired consistency.
Chefs or cookbooks often 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 sauce sticks, it's ready. If you reduce the sauce too much, add a little more stock.
You can read my full description of making pan sauces, but here's a simple recipe for making a quick reduction sauce at home.
The Difference Between A Simple Reduction Sauce & a Reduction Sauce
A simple reduction is made by keeping a flavorful liquid or mixture of liquids at a temperature that will allow much water to evaporate, leaving behind a syrupy sauce and concentrated flavor.
They are very easy to make. You leave a pan of liquid, like Port or balsamic vinegar, over very low heat for several hours or until the volume is reduced by about ¾.
So, if you start with 2 cups of liquid, your final reduction should measure around ½ cup. If you like your reduction a bit thicker, reduce it some more. Just don't let them boil because your reduction can become bitter. These types of reductions are great for garnishing a plate, drizzling on a cheese plate or fruit or as the base of a vinaigrette.
A reduction sauce is a sauce that is made from the fond left in the pan after cooking a protein; usually some aromatic vegetable such as onion, shallot or garlic; a bit of acid in the form of wine, fruit juice or vinegar; and some stock. The volume of the sauce is reduced through simmering to encourage rapid evaporation.
That definition sounds a little complicated. Here's a basic recipe for a red wine reduction sauce that might help to clear things up.
How to Make Reduction Sauces
- 2 tablespoons butter or 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 stock beef stock 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
- 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. Serve with your favorite protein.
Some of My Favorite Sauce Recipes
My Top Choices for Demi Glace