How You're Not Using the Best Part of a Sunday Roast

March 26, 2013

Sunday Dinners comes to us from our own chef/photojournalist/farmer/father figure Tom Hirschfeld, featuring his stunning photography and Indiana farmhouse family meals.

Today: The best part of a roast chicken (or beef or pork) dinner? Meet pan juice jelly -- and 5 ways to use it.

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We all know gravy or pan sauce in large quantities might be good for our soul, but it isn't so good for our heart health. After all, we are doing nothing more than adding flour or cornstarch to the fat in the bottom of a roasting or sauté pan to thicken it and adding back some stock, wine, or cream for volume.

So we have deemed it less healthy, which to me means it is an occasional treat, and as such we reserve serving gravy for holiday feasts or occasional celebrations, and rightly so.

So why then when I look into the chicken-less roasting pan that held tonight's dinner only a short time ago and I see those beautiful glistening juices that are on the edge of coagulating do I feel like I am throwing the baby out with the bath water?

Don't get me wrong -- I am no health nut. In fact, I have this beautiful physique that could make me the poster child for a Bittman campaign on obesity. I am sure it goes back to my "waste not, want not" way of thinking. Nevertheless, all this made me think. 

When I make my own stock, I always cool it down, put it in the fridge and then the next day I lift the disc of fat off the top. I know the stock is pretty fat-free, although I haven't calculated it and I have no idea how to do so, but it has to be pretty lean. I also know it has very little salt because I didn't add any.

So looking at it in this light, I started refrigerating the remains in the roasting pan and, the next day, I remove all the fat cap and what is left is the reduced, intensely rich jelly. I use a rubber spatula and scrape all the jelly up and into a small Ball jar.

I have already made a plan for its use -- did so before I even roasted the pork, beef or chicken -- so I know when I store it in the fridge it will be used up in a day or two. I could freeze it, but I don't like to collect things like this and my motto is use it or lose it.

The jelly is infinitely better than bouillon cubes or stock base and can be used in all sorts of ways. Sometimes I like the jelly to have lots of debris (meat bits and spices) and other times I don't, but it is easy to heat and strain if you need to, just before you want to use it. While you don’t have to, I often try to keep in mind the flavors of what I roasted with the flavors of what I am going to make with the pan juices, just to make sure they coincide.

Pan juice possibilities:

  • Of course it is always good to use the pan juices in soups. Added to the broth, it can give a flat soup the kick it needs.
  • Pasta or noodles of all kinds.
  • For chicken pan juices: Make a simple fresh lemon juice and olive oil dressing with salt and lots of freshly ground pepper, take a couple big handfuls of baby Bibb lettuces, and toss them with the dressing. Just before serving, heat the pan juices and drizzle over the salad for a “healthier” wilted salad.
  • For beef: Grits and Debris. Make a bowl of grits, pour on the warm pan juices, and top with a fried egg.
  • For pork: Ramen noodles.

Chicken, Black Olives and Lemon with Spaghetti

Serves 4

Extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
2/3 cups chicken stock
2 to 3 tablespoons defatted pan juices from roasting chicken
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
12 or 16 ounces box spaghetti
1/2 to 2/3 cup black olives, I like California black olives for this
1 1/2 cup chicken, cooked
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
Parmesan cheese

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Tom Hirschfeld 

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Pam
  • Aeongrl
  • ChefJune
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Father, husband, writer, photojournalist and not always in that order.


Pam September 14, 2016
Hey Ya'll....I have a question. I made some country style pork ribs last night and have A LOT of the juices and lots of onions left over, Is it ok to freeze this together and use it later? If not, what could I do with it so it won't go to waste....?
Aeongrl April 18, 2013
The best part of roasting anything is what's left in the pan. Unbelievable concentrated flavors. I'm so happy there is someone out there who gets it and is sharing the love. Thank you
ChefJune March 27, 2013
You'rre making me hungry! I've been a fan of the pan jelly for decades. We love a pasta "sauce" of sauteed onions and mushrooms with pan jelly from any roast you can think of. (In our house, chicken happens most often.)
thirschfeld March 28, 2013
I am sure glad I am not the only one who likes pan jelly! And I am always glad to make you hungry.
the M. March 26, 2013
I like your suggestions for using the pan juice jelly-chicken nectar, as it were. I'm thinking you could also make use of the fat cap you remove and render it-Michael Ruhlman has a post on doing this, which I'd like to try sometime. )
thirschfeld March 28, 2013
All you would have to do is simmer the fat until the water/jelly that is in the fat evaporated and it would be rendered.
AntoniaJames March 26, 2013
One of my favorite cardio-bombs (meaning I enjoy it about twice a year) is to drizzle herb-fragrant pan juices over an omelet. Pure luxury. Sometimes -- typically when the boys are home, so the pan sauce disappears in one sitting -- I'll scrape out a tablespoon or so of what's left the pan after dinner, often adding a tablespoon or two of water, to make sure I get it all, and put it in a small jar, just for this purpose. I've been known to "reserve" (or is it hoarding?) a tablespoon or two of the melted-down, pan-juice heavy onions I typically put in the skillet with my roasting chicken, for the same purpose. ;o)
thirschfeld March 26, 2013
Oh, I like the sounds of the omelet!
Rob F. July 26, 2020
Great idea! Have some lovely garlicky roast chicken jelly but didn't know what to do. It's too hot here for soups but having it with breakfast omlettes is a good plan.
amysarah March 26, 2013
The pan juices from a roast are gold, a shame to toss. My great grandmother, a Hungarian immigrant who lived on a shoestring, was famous for feeding a family of 6 for several nights with one chicken. The first night she'd roast it, stuffed to extend, and after that she of course used the carcass for soup. But she also apparently mixed the roasted pan remnants with egg noodles as the center of an entire other meal - delicious by all accounts. Also along these lines, in Claudia Roden's Book of Jewish Cooking, there's a great Venetian pasta recipe - Nigella Lawson has a version, but I'm not sure in which book. Anyway, it's made with roast chicken, pine nuts, currants, etc. I've often improvised a frugal version of it to use up scant leftover roast chicken scraps (must be in my DNA); its flavor comes mainly from the pan juices. Really good.
thirschfeld March 26, 2013
See, a big bowl of egg noodles and chicken jelly is divine.