We know a perfectly cooked venison steak doesn’t need anything else, but sometimes we just want to indulge. The best way to do that is with a simple pan sauce in the same skillet that you’ve cooked your meat in. It’s an easy way to dress up dinner without laboring over an elaborate recipe.
Use this step-by-step guide to understand the elements of making a pan sauce without a specific recipe. The ingredients and the amounts are just suggestion and you should feel free to adjust everything to your personal taste. Now is a great time to get creative and have some fun.
Step 1: Sear Your Steaks
Grilled steaks are great, but venison seared in a skillet is even better. This method creates a better crust and delicious fond, the foundation of a pan sauce. Fond, or as Steve likes to call it, “cracklings,” are the browned bits left at the bottom of a pan after cooking your meat. These drippings add intensely rich flavors to your sauce.
Step 2: Add Flavor
After you’ve seared your steaks, allow them to rest. Decrease the heat to medium. Assuming nothing is burned, leave the oil and fond left behind in the pan. Now you’ll add the aromatics. These ingredients enhance the overall taste the sauce and fill the kitchen with their delicious aromas. They can include finely chopped shallots, garlic, celery, ginger, or peppers. Choose one or two of these and add roughly two tablespoons to the pan. You can also include a sprig or two of woody herbs, such as rosemary or thyme.
If you want to add mushrooms to your sauce, the best time to do it is now. You’ll want to brown a handful of chopped mushrooms first before adding the liquids. Otherwise, you’ll end up with lackluster, rubbery mushrooms.
Step 3: Deglaze with Liquid
Once the aromatics are soft, it’s time to deglaze. Deglazing is a culinary term used to describe the use of a liquid to lift fond from the bottom of the pan.
You’ll want to use quality venison or beef stock, preferably homemade. A good broth adds a silky texture and meaty flavors, but that alone can sometimes taste flat. To add dimension, I like to include spirits or vinegar. Liquor and wine add nuanced aromas and a little bit of acidity. My favorites are cognac, bourbon, and red wine. Use a 1:8 ratio of liquor to stock, or 2 tbsp. to 1 cup of stock. If using wine, you can use up to a 1:2 ratio, or 1/2 cup of wine to 1 cup of stock.
When pouring into the pan, be aware that the alcohol will light on fire if you’re using a gas range. If flambé doesn’t excite you, turn the burner off when pouring in the booze and let it burn off before turning the heat back on.
If you don’t drink alcohol, you can add a splash of vinegar to brighten the sauce. I use either balsamic or red wine vinegar. Do this in small amounts, about 1-2 tsp. per cup of stock.
Step 4: Reduce
You want to get the most amount of flavor from your liquids, and the best way to do it is to simmer the sauce until it has reduced by about half. This will concentrate the sauce, a great way to enhance bland and watery store-bought stock. In such instances I’ll even double the amount of stock to reduce it down: instead of taking 1 cup of stock and reducing it in half, I’ll use 2 cups and take it down to half a cup. If you try this trick, make sure you’re using unsalted stock so that the sauce doesn’t become too salty.
Step 4: Finish with Fat
Now it’s time to balance the liquids’ acidity and wild game’s leanness with a little bit of fat. You can whisk in a tablespoon or two of cold butter to finish or use heavy cream for a creamier, thicker sauce if that suits you better.
Step 5: Taste and Season
Now is the time to test the waters. You can season with a pinch of sea salt or try a different salty component like a splash of Worcestershire or soy sauce. Other ways to season include fresh parsley and chives or a pre-made spice blend like Hatchet Jack Mountain Berry Steak Rub.
You can put these steps into practice and create your own pan sauce without a recipe. If you’re not ready to dive in just yet, you can try some of our other recipes. Mushroom Stuffed Venison uses the eye of round finished with a rich cognac and mushroom sauce. The sweet and boozy Duck á la Bourbon is a delicious spin on a French waterfowl classic.