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3 Variations on Pan Sauce for Weeknight Chicken

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Stock is one of the building blocks of a well-stocked kitchen (and pan sauce), so we've partnered with Progresso Cooking Stock to share recipes that will get you through the holidays.

If sauces were coats, pan sauce would be the stylish light jacket for your chicken: It's a quick solution that can be thrown on at the last-minute as you’re heading out the door; one that can perk you up just enough to step out confidently. This is because impromptu pan sauce, seemingly effortless and classic, is one of the true reflections of what you really have in your fridge on any given day. 


More often than not, we find ourselves on a weeknight, searching through the dregs of the crisper to find a nub of carrot here, a half a lemon there—parsley and rosemary leftover from the weekend, some stock, or a third of a jar of capers looming in the door. And while it may feel easy to let them expire, or toss a sort of sad-looking bag of mushrooms into the compost, it takes little more than five ingredients (sometimes less) to turn these bits and bobs into a perfectly good, non-boring chicken dinner in very little time. And just like that: pan sauce, right in the same vessel you’ve cooked the chicken in (we suggest leaving the chicken in while you make the sauce to add more flavor to the meat).

So once you’ve gone shopping in your pantry and grilled some chicken breasts (or thighs), here are a few variations on one of our favorite back-pocket dinners.


1. Rich and Herby
Ingredients: Shallot, butter, red wine, bay leaf, thyme, stock


Method: Sauté a thinly-sliced shallot in a tablespoon of butter. When the shallot becomes soft and is beginning to caramelize, add a few sprigs fresh thyme and a bay leaf. Cook for a minute or two, and then add a 1/2 cup stock and a 1/2 cup dry red wine. Reduce the liquid by half and then whisk in one additional tablespoon of butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Creamy and Earthy
Ingredients: Butter, garlic, mushrooms, rosemary, stock, cream


Method: Sauté a cup of chopped mushrooms in some butter. Cook them until they begin to brown and soften, then add a clove or so of chopped garlic and some finely chopped fresh rosemary. Cook until the garlic is starting to brown, and add a 1/2 cup of stock and a 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Cook, reducing until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Sharp and Lemony
Ingredients: Butter, white wine, stock, lemon, parsley, capers


Method: Melt a tablespoon or so of butter in the pan and heat it until it foams. Add a couple tablespoons of drained capers, cook for 2 minutes, and then deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine. Cook until the wine has almost evaporated, and add a cup stock and the juice of half a lemon. Toss in a few tablespoons of chopped or torn parsley, cook the sauce, and reduce it until it coats the back of a spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

These sauces are just guidelines, baselines to get riffing off of—you can sub in just about any fresh herb, different wines, spices, or fats. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that the finished sauce should coat the back of a spoon, leaving behind a clean line when you drag your finger across. Now go on and dress up your chicken—just don’t toss on too many layers.

Caper and cream photos by Melina Hammer; butter, garlic, rosemary, and mushroom photos by Mark Weinberg; all others by James Ransom

We've partnered with Progresso Cooking Stock to share recipes that will get you through the holidays. Learn more about the simple ingredients that go into their stocks here.

Tags: pan sauce