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In cooking, drippings or pan juices are the juices that accumulate at the bottom of the pan when you are roasting, frying or sautéing meat. You will sometimes see the word drippings applied to other foods that secrete liquid when being cooked. Meat juices tend to have an extremely concentrated flavor, and are quite useful in making sauces or gravy that will go with the meat you’ve cooked. It's a combination of meat blood and excess fat that drops from the meat as it is cooked.
If you do plan to make gravy or sauce from pan juices, it’s a good idea when you’re roasting meat to accumulate as much of the drippings as you can. It can help if you place the meat on a rack above the pan or set in the pan, so that the cooking meat doesn’t reabsorb the drippings or block them from dropping. Using a rack will help you yield the most juices, resulting in lots of flavor for gravy or sauce.
When sautéing you clearly can’t sauté on a rack, but still, you can accumulate a fair amount of meat juices. You’ll note that the areas of the pan that have been covered by the meat are often brown and thick, and almost hardened. Don’t discard this part, as it is not burned, and will actually contain the most flavor. When making gravy or sauce, you merely add the liquid of your choice, like wine, water, or broth, over heat, and scrape these harder dripping areas. This will loosen these flavorful bits, which then can be incorporated into a gravy or sauce by whisking vigorously.
Some people also like to use the juices in the pan, since they do contain oil, to sauté other ingredients that will be combined in a dish. Again you may want to loosen the drippings with a little bit of liquid. For instance if you’re making chicken piccata, after you’ve sautéed the chicken, you can add mushrooms and other vegetables into the pan drippings to be quickly cooked and take on the delicious flavor of the dish.
Drippings do contain a lot of fat, since fat when exposed to heat tends to melt to a degree. Using pan juices is thus not without its faults even though it has many tasty virtues. When you cook low fat meats, or skinned meats, you’ll have fewer juices, but they’ll generally be lower in fat, and are mostly composed of the blood and moisture of the meat exuding during the cooking process. This can still be wonderfully flavorful, and make for good sauces and lower fat gravies.
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