Why do it?
The encrusted pan juices and drippings leftover from a roast or a steak are known as a fond (the French word for "bottom"). The fond combines browned meat juices, caramelised starches from the marinade, and fat that has rendered out during the roasting time, a triple threat of umami, caramelisation and richness. Deglazing captures that flavour and restores it to the roast from whence it came.
The fond can be a pain to scrub off when it’s encrusted onto the pan, but the deglazing process removes it easily and puts it to good use, leaving a smooth spotless pan that’s a breeze to rinse off.
Choosing your tools
For roasting or frying the meat, go for well-seasoned cast iron or no-nonsense stainless steel. Don’t attempt this with a teflon pan. Food residue won’t stick and brown on teflon that’s in good working condition (if it does stick it’s time to change your pan).
Almost any liquid can be used to deglaze a pan, from the neutral and minimalist plain water favoured by avant-garde chefs of the 1970s, to fanciful liquors and fruit juices. Select something that will complement the flavour of your final dish. Stock adds flavour and body, and are usually a safe bet, while wines and liquors offer unique accent bouquets that must be paired with the flavour of the other sauce ingredients. Dairy is usually discouraged because there’s a chance of curdling. If you’d like to use it, first deglaze with water, before adding milk or cream, and be sure to cook it briefly.
Getting to work
- After putting the meat aside, place your frying or roasting pan on the stove. Follow your nose on when to deglaze - the fond should smell nutty and delicious, not smoky or charred. If it’s past the point of no return you’ll have to chuck it out.
- Turn up the heat and immediately pour cold liquid into the pan. This will suddenly lower the temperature, halting the browning process. As water flows into the tiny crevices between the crust and the surface of the steel, it begins to dissolve the fond. Scraping with a spatula helps to dislodge the fond more quickly and disperse it throughout the liquid. The boiling motion of the liquid accelerates this process, lifting the fond away from the pan.
- Turn down the heat and continue cooking until the liquid evaporates and the sauce has been reduced to the desired thickness.