How to Make a Simple Reduction Sauce
A reader wrote to me to say that he cannot make a reduction correctly. He said that it never reaches a saucy consistency unless he uses a slurry or a roux to thicken it. He wants to know if he is missing something.
I love reductions and reduction sauces, so several years ago I read everything I could find about how to make them, and now I can make a really good reduction. The most important things to remember about reductions are that you have to start with a flavorful liquid.
You can reduce water all day long and never end up with a sauce, right? Also, the texture of a reduction is generally thinner than a roux or slurry-thickened sauce. A reduction will just coat a spoon--think the consistency of real maple syrup or cough syrup.
The Difference Between a Simple Reduction & Reduction Sauce
A simple reduction is made by keeping a flavorful liquid or mixture of liquids at a temperature that will allow a lot of the water to evaporate, leaving behind a syrupy sauce and concentrated flavor.
They are very easy to make. You simply 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.
Simple Reduction Sauce
- fond from searing beef or lamb
- 2 teaspoons cooking oil or bacon fat if no fat is left in the pan
- 1 small shallot minced
- 1 cup red wine full bodied
- 1 cup beef or veal stock
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon butter cut into small pieces
- 1 tablespoon fresh herbs minced, thyme and rosemary work well here
- Remove the meat from the pan. Cover with foil to rest.
- Add the oil or bacon fat to the hot pan, if needed, along with the shallot and wine.
- Cook, scraping the bottom of the pan, until all the fond is released and the shallot is soft.
- Continue to cook until the wine is well reduced. The mixture should be very syrupy and thick, and there should be no more than ¼ cup left in the pan.
- Add the stock and simmer again until reduced by at least half.
- Remove from the heat and taste for seasoning. Do not season before reducing, because your sauce will be too salty.
- Add a little salt and/or pepper if needed.
- Swirl in the butter, a bit at a time. Adding this fat is an optional step, but it helps to make the sauce silky and tends to round out the flavors.
- Swirl in the herbs right before serving.
My Top Choices for Demi Glace
Online Sources: Demi Glace
For those of you who do not want to make demi glace at home.Demi glace is the most important ingredient for making classic "restaurant quality" brown sauces. All the great French brown sauces use demi glace. But it can also be used in soups, stews and braises. It's something you can make at home but it takes a long, long time to do it right and if you make one mistake, it can easily be ruined. Lucky for us, there are now some great sources for commercial grade demi glace and I want to share a few with you now. Everyone has their preferences so I suggest you give each a try to find out which product you like best.
Savory Choice's Demi Glace
More Than Gourmet's Demi Glace Gold
I too always had problems (time wise) with reductions. Always takes longer than specified in a recipe. Your post reads, to let the liquid (simmer?) for several hours till reduced. Yet the recipe says the cook time is only 15 minutes. I'm confused.
The Reluctant Gourmet
Cathleen, I was trying to describe, and not to well as I can see, the difference between a simple reduction which can take hours and a reduction sauce that typically takes 15 minutes or less. Sorry for the confusion and thanks for bringing this to my attention.
I've recently started cooking and your website and posts have been very much invaluable.
I've been messing around with simple pan sauces (as demi glaces sauces are a bit daunting), and realized that chicken stock and broth aren't the same things, and perhaps that's why my sauces are going from thin to gritty-pasty, skipping right over smooth and syrupy.
I was wondering if the veal stock recipe you use needs to be adapted (rather than just scaled down) for use in a crock pot. I can't seem to find anything better than "better than bouillon" in my budget as far as store bought products go, and i feel relatively safe leaving a crockpot unattended for 12 hours to make my own chicken stock for pan sauces and beef stock for reducing into a glace.
G. Stephen Jones
Sidd, I have never even tried making a stock in a crock pot. Is it even possible? I don't think there is enough heat to make a proper stock or reduce a stock down to a glace but if you do give it a try, please let me know your results. I have read Better Than Bouillon is a good cost effective stock but why not just make your own in about an hour with the leftover carcass of a roasted chicken. We made a whole bunch of turkey stock using the carcass and leg bones that we'll use for soup, risotto, sauces. If you are interested in learning more about the difference between chicken stock and broth, please read my post http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/is-chicken-stock-the-same-as-chicken-broth/
I would like to know the differences between a pressure cooker, a slow cooker and a crock pot.
The Reluctant Gourmet
Charles, I think of a slow cooker and crock pot being one in the same. Crock Pot is a commercial brand of a slow cooker. Basically, a slow cooker is "a large electric pot used for cooking food, especially stews, very slowly." Check out my post on crock pot or Dutch Oven. A pressure cooker is a horse of a different color.
A pressure cooker is "an airtight pot in which food can be cooked quickly under steam pressure" and you can read more about them on my Pressure Cooker post.
Hope this helps.
Not sure if you are still monitoring this post but thank you for posting this. I have been looking on line for the procedure for making a reduction and most of not all of the posts are ways to short-cut the process, which is definitely NOT what I wanted. In regard to this particular procedure, at what point would you add mushrooms? would they be fresh of dried? and what type would you recommend? Thank you!
G. Stephen Jones
Hi Richard, thanks for reaching out. I add mushrooms right after I deglaze with wine and scrape the fond from the bottom of the pan. Mushrooms contain a lot of water and it will release when cooking. As I reduce the wine, the mushrooms will release their liquid and then I reduce both. That's how I typically do it but that doesn't mean it is the only way. You can experiment with adding mushrooms when you add the stock and see which way you like it best.
Great post. Really helpful information. Thanks.