Deglazing is a fundamental cooking technique that is used to make sauces and gravies. Deglazing also infuses additional flavors into your food. Deglazing should not be done in a non-stick pan because an acidic base will not amalgamate properly and the food will not brown as well as in a cast iron or carbon steel pan.
When you sear a protein, such as fish, meat, or vegetables, there are brown bits left under the protein once the protein is cooked. In classic French cuisine, these bits are called “fond” and are removed and added to the dish or used as a gravy or sauce. Deglazing a pan is the process of adding a liquid, called a base, to the fond and swirling it around until all the fond is mixed with the base. You can also deglaze by adding celery or other vegetables that will lift the fondness and incorporate the flavor into the vegetables. This makes a delectable side dish.
Deglazing is best in cast iron and carbon steel because of its ability to retain heat. Deglazing in a non-stick does not work because fond does not form in a non-stick. Non-stick has many purposes in the kitchen, but deglazing should only be done in carbon steel or cast iron. A well-seasoned cast iron pan will add additional flavor to the dish beside the fond. With a few easy steps, flavor can be kicked up a notch because of deglazing and the flavor from a well-seasoned cast iron skillet.
Steps For Deglazing a Cast Iron Skillet
1. Sear your protein
The first step in the deglazing method is to sear your protein in the cast iron skillet. This allows the fond to form and heats the skillet.
2. Remove the protein from the skillet
Once the protein is cooked to the desired temperature, remove the protein and start the deglazing process. Proteins are best served after they rest for a few minutes. Deglazing allows your protein to rest as you deglaze the skillet. If a thin sauce is desired, pour out additional fats or oils left in the skillet.
3. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the base
Removing the skillet from the heat momentarily ensures the fond doesn’t burn. The base adds a boost of flavor.
4. Place the skillet on medium heat and scrape the fond with a spatula or wooden spoon
This is where the magic happens. Scraping the fond while the base heats up allows the flavors from each to marry. Plus, the seasoning of the cast iron mingles in as well to produce a powerful flavor. Scrape the skillet until there are no more fonds. This only takes a couple minutes.
5. Thicken the sauce (optional)
If you desire a thicker sauce, now is the time to thicken your base. You can use flour or make a roux and add it to the base.
6. Whisk the sauce until desired consistency is achieved
Whisking the sauce mixes all the flavors into a balanced sauce. The sauce can be served as a side dish or as a finishing sauce for the protein.
Taste the sauce and add additional flavors from herbs and spices until the correct flavor is achieved.
What Can You Deglaze a Cast Iron Skillet With?
The deglazing method is used to impart flavor to dishes. As such, broths and wine are generally used for deglazing. However, any liquid can be used to deglaze such as apple juice, lemon juice, or even vinegar. Plain water should not be used to deglaze a skillet because it doesn’t add flavor and can diminish the flavor of the fond. You can use water that has been cooked in another dish, such as beans, to deglaze with.
It is commonly stated that acidic juices should not be added to cast iron because they can strip the seasoning and a metallic taste will transfer to the food from the cast iron. This isn’t necessarily true, so long as the cast iron skillet is well seasoned. If the skillet has a high level of seasoning, no damage should incur to the skillet and no unwanted flavors will transfer to the food. However, if you introduce acidic juices to the cast iron, it should be reseasoned after the deglazing process.
Wine, vermouth, sherry, and stock are the classic deglazing bases. These liquids pair nicely with proteins, especially steak. An alternative to white wine is lemon juice. Lemon juice adds a tanginess similar to white wine and pairs nicely with fish or vegetables. Dilute the lemon juice with equal parts of water so that it does not overpower the flavor of the protein.
Beer is another deglazing option. It’s not acidic like wine or lemon juice but imparts a nice flavor to the dish. Beer pairs nicely with chicken, vegetables, and fish. Different beers will impart different flavors to the dish, so a little homework is required before choosing the right beer for the dish you are preparing.
Will Deglazing a Cast Iron Skillet Remove Its Seasoning?
Deglazing will not remove the seasoning from a cast iron skillet if the skillet is properly seasoned. Acidic bases such as wine, lemon juice, or sherry are risky but can be done. The skillet must be seasoned properly and the temperature of the stovetop during the deglazing period must be monitored. If the temperature is too high, the acidic liquid can be scorched into the skillet and it will need to be stripped.
Broths are perfectly safe to deglaze in. A good idea is to practice deglazing with a broth before experiencing with acidic juices. Simply saute an onion and deglaze the skillet with chicken or beef broth to learn the method. Once the method goes smooth, deglaze with an acid. A cast iron skillet should be reseasoned every time it has been deglazed no matter what base is used.
Deglazing as a Cleaning Method
Deglazing is a great cleaning method. Not only does deglazing give you a nice pan sauce, but your cast iron will also come clean without adding soap to it. The easiest way to clean any cast iron is while it is hot. By deglazing it, you get the added bonus of a finishing sauce.
If the cast iron cools completely it will have to be scrubbed and dish detergent may be needed. While not as harmful to the skillet as some might think, it is always a good idea to clean cast iron with nothing more than water if even that.
While the skillet is still hot, add a base to the skillet and deglaze it. Once the pan sauce is removed, the skillet should be clean of all food debris. Wipe up any excess with a paper towel (hold the paper towel with tongs). Add your seasoning oil and season the skillet using your preferred method. Just like that, you have a wonderful sauce and a clean and reseasoned cast iron skillet.
My name is Jason Phillips and I cooked for many years, primarily aboard Merchant Marine vessels and in fast-paced commercial kitchens. My passion for culinary arts led me to attend a culinary arts academy in 2019 where the instructor piqued my interest in food and beverage writing.