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I'll make a steak or something on the stove and then try to make a pan sauce out of the fond. Add a little wine and other fun ingredients and then I try to reduce it a little bit. 90% of the time, it seems to burn before it reduces to a sauce like consistency.

How can I reduce a pan sauce without it burning?

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Have you added any thickeners (e.g., flour or cornstarch)? – derobert Feb 28 '12 at 23:40
@derobert - most of the time, no – rfusca Feb 28 '12 at 23:42
up vote 5 down vote accepted

A couple things:

  • make sure you're removing enough of the fat from the pan. Too much fat will keep the sauce thin (and will also tend to separate out afterwards). Also, fat will not evaporate—if your remaining liquid is fat, the temperature will rapidly rise, and very quickly things will burn.
  • depending on what you're adding, you may need to use a thickener. There is a reason three of the five mother sauces have roux. (Hollandaise has egg, which thickens, Tomate has tomato which has lots of pectin, which also thickens, so those two don't need it). A good stock or broth has plenty of gelatin, which will thicken especially upon cooling.
  • When you add your deglazing liquid, you need to thoroughly scrape up the fond and stir it in.
  • Keep stirring, especially towards the end when its somewhat thick. Also especially if your pan has hot spots.
  • Turn down the temperature. This should go without saying when things are burning. Some heat helps with deglazing, but after that you don't actually need anything more than a low simmer — higher evaporates faster (important, since the meat is often resting & cooling) but not burning the sauce is more important.
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I would advice to stir more. I never had your problem, but I also like to stir a lot. Try to scrape the fond of the pan as well. If this doesn't help, I should lower the heat a bit (although you do need a high heat).

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And stir with the proper tool. Many people stir with a round wooden spoon, which is nonsense. You need a spoon or spatula with a flat edge. – rumtscho Feb 28 '12 at 23:10
I stir with a fork. It's very handy to get the fond loose. – Mien Feb 28 '12 at 23:25
You don't really need high heat once you've deglazed, its just nice for getting the sauce done on time. Especially when you've got your protein resting and cooling—the sauce needs to finish before the protein is cold. – derobert Feb 28 '12 at 23:59

Along with stirring frequently, make sure your pan size isn't too big. You want to make sure that the sauce is not too shallow in the pan. If you notice that it's coming up to a boil quickly and frequently, lift the pan (remove from heat) for 15-30 seconds and put it back down. The key to a good sauce is to never let it come to a full boil.

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