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
- 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.
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