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How to Make Fond

In cooking, fond consists of the magical brown bits that are left behind when meat or vegetables are seared in a hot skillet, and is the basis for delicious homemade pan sauces. In soup-making, fond is part of the flavor layering process that helps you create a delicious soup without relying so much on salt. In this tutorial, you’ll learn what is fond and how to make fond for your soup.

The tasty browned bits leftover after searing meat, called fond.

While the focus of any soup recipe you’ll find on this site is to help you reliably create a scrumptious batch of soup, my background goal is always to help cooks and soup lovers build their toolkit of flavoring methods.

We know that the shortcut to an acceptable batch of soup is, of course, lots of salt. But, it’s just that: a shortcut. You can judge the effects of that shortcut just by cracking open any can of commercial soup from the grocery store and giving it a slurp: saltapalooza.

Such a soup tastes okay, but there’s always that low-level metallic twang in the back of your throat that indicates an overdoing of it all.

Salt is a critical component in flavoring a soup, for certain, but it’s not the only component.

Which is why we start most soups with some kind of aromatic vegetables or seared meat to create that base layer of flavor. But why ARE they so flavorful?

The answer is: heat, proteins, sugars, and time.

What is fond?

In French, fond means foundation or base. In general cooking, fond is used as the basis for a quick and delicious pan sauce for roasts and vegetables.

In soup-making, it’s the happy by-product of searing and creates an umami flavor layer, which will add loads of savory goodness to a soup recipe.

Fond is produced through the Maillard reaction (pronounced my-yard), where proteins and sugars react with heat to undergo numerous — and somewhat mysterious — chemical reactions. The result is a caramelized browning that our taste buds are hard-wired to love and crave.

What kinds of foods produce fond?

Although meat is the traditional start of fond, aromatic vegetables can produce fond, too, although most soup recipes don’t call for that level of focused cooking (and honestly, mine don’t either, as I try my best to balance time-savings and ease with flavor-production).

Making fond from vegetables is a more highly-attentive process because it’s far too easy to go from fond to burned in seconds. However, sauteeing aromatic vegetables long enough often leaves that gentle brown layer in the pan: that’s the start of the Maillard reaction and the resulting flavor boost.

Whenever one of my recipes calls for deglazing the pan, you know you’re producing fond as part of the flavor layer.

Meat, especially beef and pork, is more commonly used for producing fond, in terms of flavoring for soup, because a significant Maillard reaction is much more pronounced and easy to create without burning.

For this article, I’m focusing mostly on meat rather than vegetables. But any time you see browning in your soup pot — whether via aromatics or potatoes or mushrooms or beef or chicken — that’s fond.

How to Make Fond

Use the right pan

The development of fond requires a good bit of heat and sufficient and prolonged contact between the hot surface and the protein- and carbohydrate-packed food. This more or less rules out a nonstick pan or pot.

The best types of pot materials for creating fond are cast iron, enameled cast iron, and stainless steel. All of these materials can take high heat and create a grabby surface for meat and vegetables.

For most of the soup recipes you’ll find on this site, I use an enameled cast iron pot, which is my favorite material. It conducts heat extremely well, and clean-up is a breeze.

Use the right heat setting

Proper heat will depend largely on your stove and the sensitivity of its burners. Cooking shows often say “high heat” which, on my stove, is a death sentence for fond. Or for anything other than boiling water, for that matter. Lol.

Instead, I start with medium-high heat, a setting literally somewhere between “medium” and “high.” My stove burners have numerical markings from low and 2 (simmer) to 5 (medium) to high.

When searing meat on the stove for soup, I start with 5 — which is still pretty hot on my stove — and work my way to up 6 or 6 1/2.

A helpful gauge of heat is the water splatter test: preheat the pan and then pour or flick a little water onto the surface.

If the water immediately sputters and evaporates to steam, the pan is too hot. (Note that it’s not too hot for the perfect sear on a steak, but it is too hot for most soup ingredients.)

If the water droplets ball up and dance across the cooking surface before evaporating, it’s just right.

Dry and season the meat

Most meat comes out of its packaging with a significant amount of moisture. Moisture on a hot pan means steaming and boiling — which is not what you want.

Before adding meat to a hot pan, be sure to pat it dry with paper towels and do a quick seasoning with salt and pepper (and/or other spices, as called for in a recipe). Then add it immediately to the pan.

Sausage cooking in an enameled cast iron pan.
Using pork sausage to create fond

Sear all sides as best you can

Often for soup, you’re cooking small, spoon-sized cuts of beef (or crumbled sausage). This is usually faster all around, as the beef cooks more quickly, and you don’t have to wait for it to cool before slicing.

Plus, there are far more surfaces for browning! Beef strips and cubes can be a challenge to sear, though. Browning the first side is easy! It’s the remaining sides that get tricky. But just do the best you can.

Experiment using tongs or a wide spatula to turn and flip. And be patient. The Maillard reaction needs time to create those golden brown, crispy sides that leave behind the delicious bits of fond.

Deglaze the pot

Once the meat has browned and the pot surface is veiled in fond, transfer the meat to a heat-proof bowl and set aside. Now is the time to release those perfectly browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Deglazing fond with some red wine.
It’s amazing that this gnarly-looking surface will produce such deliciousness.

What liquids should you use to deglaze the pot? Technically, just about anything will work, even plain water. But this is a chance to add extra flavor to the soup with something a little more robust: red wine, soup stock, even coffee.

Wine is usually my preferred deglazing liquid because, once the alcohol burns off, the sugars left behind add body and substance to the fond.

Pour in the liquid, which will likely sizzle from the heat of the pan. Use the flat edge of a wooden spoon or heat-resistant silicone or rubber spatula to scrape the tasty browned bits into the liquids.

Deglazing the fond with some red wine, scraping up the bits with a spatula.

Keep cooking and stirring until the liquids have reduced and thickened a little bit. You’re ready to go!

From here, most soup recipes call for adding the aromatic vegetables to simmer in the reduction. Good stuff!

Fond FAQs

Why does fond turn dark brown?

That’s actually part of the complex Maillard reaction. The searing process creates a new set of pigmented molecules, called melanoidins, which are dark in color.

Is it fond or is it burned?

Here’s the simple rule: brown or dark brown is fond; black is burned. It can be tough to tell in the pan, but if things are looking a little charcoal-y and singed, it’s probably burned.

Don’t use blackened, burned bits because they’re bitter and will definitely taste overcooked and burnt-toast-y.

If you burn the fond — we’ve all done it, chin up, move on! — carefully wipe out the pan with a thick wad of paper towels and cut your losses.

What kind of spoon or spatula to use?

Traditionally, you’ll hear chefs talk a lot about using a wooden spoon to scrape up the fond. The key, though, is to simply use a material that is heat-proof and very sturdy but won’t damage the surface of the cooking vessel.

For example, a metal spatula could easily scratch the surface of an enameled cast iron pot. I avoid metal utensils as a rule. My go-to material is usually something silicone based, as it’s easy to clean and maintain. But don’t let me turn you off of chefs’ advice: there’s nothing wrong with a trusty wooden spoon!

So, the next time you make soup, spend a few extra minutes searing the meat and make a little fond, and discover what it does for your soups!

Karen xo

See fond in action: