Deglaze Your Way to Culinary Success

Deglazing, according to my young nephew, is licking the icing off his donut before taking a bite. The deglazing we are discussing here is altogether different, Gentle Reader, but every bit as fun. If you are not yet deglazing, you will find it elevates your cooking to a whole new level. I learned it at Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris when I spent a summer there a few years ago. I’ve since learned that nearly all French home cooks, as well as chefs everywhere in the world, use the technique.

So what does it mean to deglaze? Deglazing is simply using a liquid to release the caramelized elements of a meat or seafood dish from the pan, resulting in a sauce for the dish. Say, for example, you are going to roast a chicken. Before it goes in the oven, you rub it with a good olive oil, sprinkle it with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, put a pat of good butter on each side, and then put the whole chicken in a sturdy pan over medium heat on the stove top. You turn the bird to lightly brown it on all sides, being careful not to burn or scorch it or puncture the skin, and then you put it in the oven to finish cooking. Once the bird is cooked, remove it from the pan, put it off to the side on the serving platter, and lightly cover it with a sheet of aluminum foil to allow it to “rest”.

Now to the exciting part…the deglazing. At this point, the juice from the chicken, butter, etc., has caramelized and is stuck to the pan. Your goal is to lift these concentrated flavors from the pan and put them back where they belong—on your food! But how do you do that when the great flavor is stuck to the pan? First, skim off the excess fat, leaving about a tablespoon in the pan. Put the still-hot pan back on the stovetop over low heat, and add the liquid that you are using to deglaze (no need to measure, just use enough to cover the pan). Use a spatula to gently release the sticky caramelized bits, and voilà, you have just deglazed! Now heat up the liquid, allowing it to reduce and thicken to the consistency you want (At this point, you could make more complex sauces, but we won’t cover that here). Strain the liquid through a fine strainer or cheesecloth if you like, and for the crowning achievement, pour your newly-created sauce over the meat dish just before serving. This flavorful jus makes the dish absolutely succulent.

So what liquid to use when deglazing? You may want to start with wine, the same wine, in fact, that you will be serving with the meal. If you have marinated the meat, you want that marinade flavor to come through, so deglaze with water. Yep, plain old H2O does the trick. Sounds strange, but deglazing even with water unlocks precious caramelized flavors. Other liquids you can deglaze with include vinegar, citrus juices, stock… even milk. Just about any non-oil liquid works well.

Which meats to deglaze? All of them! Indeed, whenever I’m preparing meat and a pan is involved, I deglaze. Whether it’s a marinated pork loin, a free-range chicken, a juicy fillet of natural beef, a leg of lamb, or stuffed rabbit, the flavors made by deglazing are irresistible.

That’s it. You’ve got to try this. Experiment and have fun with it, and you will be a pro within your first try or two. Believe me…It’s more of a kick than licking the glaze off your old-fashioned donut.