100 Techniques

Technique #15: Make Great Pan Sauces for Simple Chicken Cutlets

Remember one thing: Don’t wash that skillet!

Published Oct. 17, 2023.

This is Technique #15 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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Take everyday chicken cutlets from boring to brilliant by remembering one thing: Don’t wash that skillet! Instead, use all those stuck-on browned bits from sautéing the chicken to create any number of restaurant-quality sauces in less than 10 minutes.

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Use Pan Sauces to Customize a Simple Protein

Pan sauces are so named because you make them right in the pan after searing a protein. Those browned bits left in the pan, called fond, are chock-full of flavor. Knowing how to use them to make a quick pan sauce is a surefire way to ensure that sautéed super-thin cutlets can be treated a different way every night. (Though this technique can be used with nearly any protein, we especially love it for chicken cutlets.)

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Fond, Flavor, and Emulsification Are the Keys to a Great Sauce

Pan sauces typically begin with the fond and fat left behind in the skillet after sautéing a protein. Since boneless chicken cutlets are so lean, sometimes we supplement with a little oil to get started. And while we often call for a nonstick skillet when sautéing so that the flavorful browning sticks to the food rather than the pan, a regular stainless-steel skillet is your secret weapon here. This is one instance where it’s fine if that flavorful browning stays in the pan.

Add aromatics, such as garlic or onion, to the skillet and sauté. Then pour in a liquid—usually broth and/or wine—and stir to loosen all the stuck-on bits, a process known as deglazing. Then, let the liquid reduce to achieve a thicker consistency and to concentrate the flavors. We’ve also found that adding an acidic ingredient—such as lemon juice, mustard, wine, or vinegar—near the end of cooking the sauce provides a blast of bright flavor. Add other flavorings, such as fresh herbs, at the end for nuance. Finally, sometimes the pan sauce is enriched by whisking in a bit of chilled butter, which gives the finished sauce a luxurious texture.

Watch our technique in action in this video.

Step by Step: How to Make a Great Pan Sauce for Chicken Cutlets

Though we used skinless chicken breasts in this example, feel free to apply this step-by-step technique to any lean, quick-cooking protein and build the sauce with whatever you have in your pantry for a convenient weeknight meal.

Step 1: Trim

To make cutlets, cut trimmed chicken breasts horizontally into 2 equal pieces.

Step 2: Pound

Cover chicken halves with plastic wrap and use meat pounder to pound cutlets to even 1⁄4-inch thickness.

Step 3: Cook Meat

Cook cutlets in hot skillet without moving them until browned. Flip cutlets and continue to cook until second side is opaque. Transfer to oven to keep warm while preparing pan sauce.

Step 4: Deglaze Pan

First cook sauce aromatics such as shallot in fat in skillet, then stir in liquid and other sauce ingredients and bring to simmer, scraping pan bottom to deglaze.

Step 5: Add Juices

Simmer sauce until thickened. Stir in any accumulated chicken juices from sautéing cutlets.

Step 6: Add Butter

If recipe calls for it, whisk in butter off heat, 1 piece at a time, until sauce is thick and glossy.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Apply your newfound knowledge of cooking both the protein and the sauce to any of these recipes.


Sautéed Chicken Cutlets with Mustard-Cider Sauce (Chicken Paillard)

Sautéed super thin cutlets are satisfying midweek fare, except when they are tough and dry. We set out to put this classic dish back on the Tuesday-night dinner menu.
Get the Recipe

Sauteed Chicken Cutlets with Lemon, Caper, and Parsley Pan Sauce

We rework classic French pan sauces to reduce the fat and punch up the flavor of chicken cutlets.
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Sautéed Chicken Cutlets with Porcini Sauce

These chicken cutlets take on the flavors of an hours-long braise in far less time, making this dish possible any night of the week.
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Sautéed Pork Cutlets with Mustard-Cider Sauce

Searing prepackaged scaloppini usually guarantees two things: bland flavor and leatherlike chew. For a version that was a cut above the rest, we had to revisit the butcher case.
Get the Recipe

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