The simplest sauces are gravies made by thickening drippings that collect in the bottom of the roasting, braising or frying pan when preparing a roast or other cut of meat. The drippings, or Jus, are prized by serious cooks everywhere.
There is no “Au” in Jus
Jus is simply the flavourful pan juice left from roasting, frying or braising a piece of meat. “Au Jus” is simply French for “With Jus”! There is no such substance as “Au Jus”! Thank you. Now back to our regularly scheduled tutorial…
The simplest sauce of all is simply the Jus itself, poured over the meat it came from. You can enhance the Jus by pouring off any excess fat and simmering for a few minutes to drive off some of the water and concentrate the flavours. Of course, you’ll always want to taste it for seasoning (salt and pepper) before serving.
But that’s just the start of what you can do with pan Jus!
Jus au Lié
Add a simple thickener to pan Jus to make a classic Gravy. This is formally referred to as a “Jus au Lié”. First, pour off any excess fat from the Jus. You’ll want to leave a tablespoon or two of fat or oil to help form the sauce. And remember: Fat is flavour!
Dissolve a tablespoon or two (depending on how much Jus you have) of flour or corm starch in a few tablespoons of cold water, stirring until all the lumps are gone, and then pour it into the hot Jus. Pour in a bit of the mixture (which Chefs call a “slurry”) at a time and stir constantly. The Gravy will thicken quickly. Be sure not to add too much thickener, or your Gravy will be pasty in texture and you’ll never be able to cook the starchy flavour out of it. Normally, it takes 15 to 20 minutes to cook the starch out of a flour-thickened Gravy to produce a properly finished sauce.
Deglaze like a Pro
The next level of enhancement you can confer on a Jus au Lié involves a classic French culinary technique called “De-glazing”. Sounds fancy, but it’s really as simple as adding some liquid to the roasting pan, before thickening, and stirring with a wooden spoon to loosen all the wonderful brown meaty bits and fatty deposits in the bottom of the pan. This stuff is officially called “Fond” but, as celebrity Chef Michael Smith is famous for saying, it’s really concentrated “Brown Flavour”!
You can use plain water to De-glaze, but de-glazing is a great opportunity to add flavour and volume to your Gravy. Many Chefs routinely de-glaze with Wine, Fortified Wine (eg.- Sherry, Brandy, Port), Beer, or Spirits. In fact, de-glazing with alcohol is a traditional component in the sauces that accompany many classic dishes. If you don’t want to use alcohol, Fruit Juices, Cola (especially in Chili and BBQ Sauces) and other flavourful liquids can be pressed into service.
You can also increase the volume of your basic Jus by adding a complementary stock. For instance, you could deglaze the pan in which you cooked your steak with a splash of Red Wine, then add some Beef or Veal Stock to produce a useful volume of sauce from a pan that started with a lot of Fond in the bottom but very little of its own liquid.
The three most important rules to remember when making Jus au Lié or full-fledged Gravies are: Always de-glaze the pan, never over-thicken and, always taste for Salt and Pepper before serving!
A word about Glazes
You’ve probably heard of Glazes and Demi-Glazes (Glaçe and Demi-Glaçe in French), probably in fancy restaurants. Well, Glazes are simply meat Stocks that have been simmered for some time to drive off some or most of their water, concentrating their big Brown Flavours.
The process of driving off the water in a Stock, Sauce or Soup is officially called “Reduction”. After all, we’re reducing the volume.
A classic Glaze is just a relatively large volume of stock simmered until it has lost most of its water content and has been reduced to a thick, rich, syrupy consistency. Sheer mouthwatering delight!
A Demi-Glaze is simply a relatively large volume of stock reduced to one half, or slightly less, of its original volume, significantly concentrating its flavours.
Glazes and Demi-Glazes are specified as sauce components in many classic recipes. And those dishes are just not the same without them!
Just the beginning
Learning how to refine and enhance your family’s favourite Gravies is just the beginning. When you’ve mastered the concepts of Deglazing, Thickening and Reduction, you’ve opened the door to a whole world of sauce experiences!
In coming installments of our Sauces series, we’ll show you how to master the classic Mother Sauces and all the Daughter and Child sauces that come from them. In Sauces Part IV we’ll start off slow and simple with basic Béchamel, also know as “White Sauce”.
~ Maggie J.