Cooking Tips · Techniques

Fond – French for Flavor!

If you cook very much, you are sure to run across many culinary terms that are French in origin. One such word is “fond”. The literal translation of “fond” is “bottom” or “base”. However, I like to think of “fond” as “flavor”. What it is and why it is so important in cooking is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

Image by Felix Wolf from Pixabay

In reality, fond is what we call the browned bits that remain in the pan after sautéing or roasting meat or vegetables. These little bits are concentrated flavor that you don’t want to throw away. Instead, you want to incorporate those into the dish you are making.

Fond is formed when proteins are exposed to heat and result in a brown and crusty exterior. Chemists call this process the Maillard reaction, which is a reaction between a sugar and an amino acid. (This is different than caramelization, which only involves sugar.)

To encourage the development of fond, there are a few things you can do. First, use the right kind of pan. Generally, you want to stay away from non-stick pans. You won’t develop as much fond. Also, searing meat/vegetables require a high heat, something that is not recommended for non-stick pans.

Another point is to make sure your food is not crowded in the pan. Otherwise, your food will steam rather than sear, inhibiting fond formation. Finally, make sure your food is dry, that the pan/oil is hot and don’t move the food around too much. Allow it to sit and brown. If your food sticks when you try to flip or move it, it is not ready. Let it cook a bit longer and it will release itself and leave behind great fond.

The way to incorporate the bits of fond into a sauce is by a process called “deglazing”. Deglazing involves adding a liquid to the hot pan. Using a tool that won’t hurt your pan, scrape the fond off the bottom of the pan into the liquid.

To turn this into a great pan sauce is quick & easy. After searing your meat, take it out of the pan and set aside. Pour out any excess grease or oil. Although not necessary, it is nice to add some aromatics or spices, such as minced shallot, garlic, cumin, or paprika. Cook over medium heat until the aromatics just become tender and the spices bloom, scraping up the brown bits. Now, add the liquid of your choice – water, broth or wine – continuing to scrape up any remaining fond. Cook until the liquid is reduced into a sauce-like consistency. Some chefs will start with wine, cooking it until it is almost evaporated and then add broth, cooking until it is again reduced. Off the heat, whisk in a pat or two of butter for richness.

One final advantage of deglazing your pan is that it is a great way to clean the pan – much better & easier than scraping it off and sending it down the drain!