This Pan Sauce Uses the Entire Lemon (Yes, Even the Pith)

Using every bit of the fruit makes for the most complex flavor.  

Published May 31, 2022.

Everyone loves a classic lemon pan sauce. It’s punchy. It’s got some savory backbone from fond in the pan, aromatics like shallots or garlic, and a splash of wine. And it’s especially nice when it’s buttery, since a little lushness can round out lean proteins like white-meat chicken and seafood. 

But I dare say, it’s not all that lemony. Not in the way that it could be. Because while most recipes lean exclusively on the juice’s brightness, the fruit has a lot more to offer than just acidity. In fact, if you want to capture all of a lemon’s complexity, you need to use the whole fruit—zest, pith, and all.

Sign up for the Cook's Insider newsletter

The latest recipes, tips, and tricks, plus behind-the-scenes stories from the Cook's Illustrated team.

Why a Whole Lemon Makes for the Best Flavor

Citrus zest is loaded with aromatic oils; strip it off and add it to your food, and you’ll tap into some spicy-sweet, seriously floral fragrance. Include a bit of the cottony white pith with it, and you’ll harness the distinct bitterness that develops in citrus when acid and enzymes in the zest and pith react with one another. 

How you incorporate the various components also affects lemon flavor. Waiting to add the zest and juice to the sauce until after it has reduced will avoid cooking off their volatile aromatic compounds. Slicing part of the lemon and browning it in butter will enhance its fragrance by forcing oil out of the skin (intact peel can take more heat than grated zest); mellow some of its bitter-tasting limonin by destroying the enzyme that helps create it; and coax out sweet, round nuttiness that will make for an exceptionally complex-tasting garnish.

Utilizing all the good science I’ve learned about citrus flavor is how I shaped this pan sauce, which might be the lemonieset you’ll ever taste. 

How to Make the Lemoniest Pan Sauce

Makes about 2/3 cup, enough to sauce 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of protein

  1. Grate zest from half of 1 lemon. Halve fruit crosswise and juice zested half. Measure out 2 tablespoons of juice. Slice unzested half into 4 ¼-inch-thick rounds. Discard cut end.
  2. Cut 3 tablespoons butter in ½-inch cubes and transfer to small bowl. Sprinkle cubes with 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour and toss until cubes are fully coated and no loose flour remains in bowl; refrigerate until needed. 
  3. Cook proteins (chicken or seafood work well) in 12-inch skillet. Wipe out any fat from cooking proteins. Return skillet to medium heat and add lemon slices and 1 more tablespoon butter
  4. Cook, flipping slices occasionally, until lightly browned on both sides, about 3 minutes. Transfer lemon slices to cutting board.
  5. Add 1 clove minced garlic to skillet and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in ⅓ cup dry white wine, scraping up any browned bits, and increase heat to medium-high. Bring to rapid simmer and cook until wine is mostly evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 1½ cups chicken broth and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to ⅔ cup, 6 to 8 minutes longer.
  6. Reduce heat to low and stir in reserved lemon zest and juice. Whisk in floured butter cubes, a few at a time, until sauce is thickened to consistency of heavy cream, 1½ to 2 minutes. Off heat, stir in 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cut browned lemon slices in half and scatter over proteins. Spoon sauce over proteins and serve.


This is a members' feature.