Kitchen Intuition: Reduction sauce

Authored By aliceodea

I hope everyone had a lovely holiday and that you’re enjoying the leftovers! Now that Thanksgiving is over, I want to get back to sauces, and this is one that could end up being quite handy for other special meals throughout the season. It’s a reduction sauce, and it comes with a story.

In the spirit of the season, there are two things I am very thankful for that are relevant to a reduction sauce. One is this column, because I’ve gotten to explore some topics that I might not have visited on my own, and I’ve also had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with readers that I might never have met if I weren’t writing. I appreciate your comments and emails so very much. The second thing is my neighborhood in downtown Chattanooga. I’ve lived in many places, but my nine years in Highland Park have been unique in that I’ve not only gotten to know my immediate neighbors, but also people down the street and around the corner and all the way on the other side of the neighborhood. It’s a friendly place, and people get out and mix with each other more than any other place I’ve ever lived.

After I first wrote about sauces and my intention to spend some time this autumn researching them, I was approached by my neighbor Olivia. We’d met at neighborhood meetings and events before, though we’d never really had a chance to chat all that much. But she had read my column and asked if I might be interested in seeing how she makes reduction sauces. I was thrilled with the idea, but it took a little while for us to get our schedules to line up and then hatch a plan. We decided to collaborate over a meal in which she would make lamb with a mustard-wine reduction. My husband and I contributed some greens from our farm share and bread for the side, along with a couple of bottles of wine and a sprig of rosemary from our yard for flavoring the pot.

The preparation of a reduction sauce is surprisingly simple. It’s also fun, because this is something that you can largely make up as you go along. For this particular sauce, we heated some oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and sprinkled the lamb with salt and pepper. Then, we seared it for several minutes on each side, until it was cooked to a nice medium rare. At this point, we moved the lamb to an oven-safe plate and set it in a warmed (set to the lowest temperature) oven. This freed up the skillet for sauce.

What was left in the pan was a nice combination of oil, lamb drippings, and some tiny pieces of meat and caramelized bits that were stuck to the bottom of the skillet. To that we added a bit more oil and minced garlic and let it sauté for just a few minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen the morsels that the lamb had left behind (a process known as deglazing). We stirred in about a cup of broth, let it reduce down a bit, added about a cup of wine and again let it reduce. Next, we slowly brought the sauce to a low boil and simmered for a few minutes, letting some liquid evaporate and the sauce thicken. And, finally, we stirred in some mustard, a few small pieces of rosemary, a small glug of heavy whipping cream and a couple or three tablespoons of butter. We returned the lamb to the skillet, added a clove or two of smashed garlic and let everything simmer for another few minutes until it was all warm and juicy.

This is a sauce that you can make with just about any kind of meat-beef, poultry, game or even fish. Just save the drippings and juices that are left over after cooking, whether you do it on the stovetop or in the oven. Add a liquid (some possibilities include water, stock, vinegar, wine or vermouth), and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan while bringing it to a slow boil and letting the sauce reduce by about half. Then, stir in some fat or cream. Other flourishes to consider are aromatics like garlic and onion; thickeners like flour, cornstarch or arrowroot; and spices. You could even skip the meat and start with the liquid-just cook that down and work from there. This is maybe the easiest and most flexible of the sauces.

Our meal turned out to be fantastic. Olivia decided to cook the greens in another impromptu sauce made with mushrooms, broth and cranberries, cooked down until it coated the greens. We poured the meat sauce over the lamb, but also had bread on the side for mopping up every last little drop. The food was incredible, paired nicely with the pinot noir and syrah, and we lingered over wine and delightful conversation.

Everything was easily prepared in less than an hour with little fuss, all while having a wonderful time socializing in the kitchen. The whole experience was a treat, from the delicious food and valuable learning experience to getting better acquainted with a lovely and creative neighbor. I hope to find more opportunities for collaborations in the future!

Alice O’Dea has lived in Chattanooga for over 20 years, but was raised among the mucks and dairy farms in rural western New York. She didn’t really learn to cook until midlife. When she’s not puttering around in the kitchen, she enjoys running, cycling, traveling, photography and trying to get food to grow in the backyard of her Highland Park home. You can email her with questions, suggestions or comments at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.