What is a reduction?

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Reduction is an important tool in the kitchen used all the time in the creation of sauces, soups, and stews.  As liquids boil or simmer they evaporate, reducing down and thickening.

However, you’ve probably seen phrases like “red wine reduction”, “balsamic reduction” or “raspberry reduction” on restaurant menus.  Here it refers to a simple type of sauce, called “a reduction” that shows up a lot on menus as part of either savory or sweet dishes.  Usually a reduction contains only a few ingredients, and is prepared by simply cooking liquid down to the point where it reaches napper or even syrup consistency.  They’re actually very easy to make with only a little practice, and a great way to add flavor and moisture to your dishes.

Probably the most common reduction sauce is the “wine reduction” which can be as simple as simmering a bunch of wine  (often red) on the stove until it has thickened and its flavor has been concentrated.  Other common reduction bases include stock (often veal stock) and fine vinegars (for a kind of sauce called a gastrique).

Ways to dress up a basic reduction sauce:
• Sweat some very finely diced shallots in oil until tender, then deglaze with the liquid and reduce it.
• Use the liquid for your reduction to deglaze an empty pan where you’ve just cooked vegetables, beef, poultry or game meats to dissolve the flavorful fond.  Then reduce. This is also known as a “pan sauce.”
• Add fresh herbs on the stem (thyme and rosemary are probably the most common) or whole spices to the liquid while you’re reducing it, then discard them prior to serving.
• Strain your reduction prior to serving for a more fancy sauce, deliberately don’t strain it for a more rustic one.
• Add other liquids (vinegars, stocks, wines & juices) to your base for a more complex flavor.

Where to use a reduction sauce:
Grass-fed beef (particularly filet mignons and strip steaks)
• Any game meats (red wine and juniper berries are common pairings.  Sweeter game meats, like venison & wild boar, also pair well with berries.)
• Pork
Game Birds (particularly duck)
• Desserts that are chocolatey or creamy (usually wine reductions and gastriques)

The most common reduction mistakes and how to fix them:
• Letting the mixture over reduce- If your sauce has gotten too thick, you can add more of your base liquid and reduce down again.  However, if it has burned you need to throw it away and start over, because it’s probably bitter.
• Over seasoning- Remember, the more you reduce something, the more concentrated its flavor becomes.  Because of this, you should wait to add salt and pepper until the sauce is almost finished.  If you salt too soon, your sauce will be over salty at the end.  To fix it, add more of your base liquid and reduce again to dilute the salt’s effect.

Other Related Terms:
Au Sec

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