To use a liquid to dissolve food particles and caramelized pan drippings after cooking something else, usually via searing, roasting, or sauteing. The liquid allows the caramelized bits stuck to the pan, referred to as the “fond” to release, adding flavor to sauces, etc.
How to deglaze (a pan)
Turn the heat to high. Remove the previously-cooked items from the pan if they are at risk of burning (often the case with meats). Pour in your deglazing liquid – enough to cover the bottom of the pan by at least 1/4 inch. It will boil rapidly. Use a spoon, spatula, or whisk to scrape the fond off the bottom of the pan. Let the liquid reduce, usually stirring, which will concentrate the flavors and cook off the alcohol if your liquid contained any.
Fats and deglazing
The fat remaining in the pan after the previous cooking operation is an important consideration when deglazing. If there is a significant amount of fat left in the pan, it will prevent good deglazing, and make an unappealing mess. There are two options: make a roux, or defat the pan.
If you want to make gravy, make a roux. If you want to create au jus, or a similar pan sauce, defat the pan.
You can choose from many liquids to deglaze a pan. Any low fat (aka, water-like) liquid will work. Choose one that will bring the flavor you want to your sauce or gravy. The most common options do not burn with high heat, though milk is a common choice for country-style gravy (as in sausage gravy for biscuits and gravy 🙂 )
Common Deglazing liquids:
- Water (but it doesn’t add any flavor…)
Equipment Concerns for Deglazing
Avoid nonstick pans
You can deglaze many types of cooking vessels. Most commonly, you’ll use a skillet or saute pan. But roasting pans, sheet pans, dutch ovens, sauce pans, and others are often used. The important thing to remember is to avoid nonstick pans.
The point of deglazing a pan is to incorporate the flavorful fond into your dish. That means you have to have flavorful, carmelized bits stuck to the pan. Obviously, nonstick pans make that impossible. You also risk damaging the nonstick coating, particularly if you use a metal spatula or similar, to deglaze the pan.
So, stick with a traditional pan. The best options are usually stainless steel, cast iron, or carbon steel.
What to scrape with
Once you have a pan to deglaze, you need something to scrape it with. The most common choices are a spatula, a whisk, or a wooden spoon or wooden spatula. I usually go with whatever tool I needed to use before deglazing, or will need after (eg, whisk if I need to whisk a sauce, a spatula if I needed it to brown onions).
In general, I prefer a metal spatula with a flat front edge, and round corners. My favorite is the Dexter S825 1/2, but that seems to not be available anymore. The S242 1/2 looks pretty close. The sturdy, yet slightly flexible, stainless blade that is flat across the front to helps scrape the fond effectively, while also working well for other spatula tasks. The rounded corners help protect the seasoning of cast iron pans. In addition to working well for deglazing, using one regularly will help enhance the smoothness and easy release of foods on cast iron pans.