If you’re in the habit of making saucy recipes, you’ve probably encountered instructions that tell you to “reduce liquid by half” or “simmer until the sauce has reduced by one third.” But unless you’re pouring your sauce into a measuring cup at regular intervals, the rate at which your sauce is reducing and the amount it has reduced by can be hard to gauge. Tilting the pan can help you eyeball it, but that’s still a guesstimate. To more accurately measure your sauce as it’s reducing, you need a wooden chopstick.
Just grab a chopstick—the wooden kind that often comes with takeout—and dip it straight down into the unreduced sauce. You want that stick to be completely vertical, and you want it to touch the bottom of the pan. Use your fingers to mark the depth by placing their tips just at the surface of the sauce. Pull the chopstick back out, then mark where your the tips of your fingers are with a pencil (this is why you want a wooden chopstick).
Continue simmering your sauce, inserting the chopstick occasionally to see where the sauce hits it in relation to your original marking. If your recipe tells you to reduce by half, keep cooking until the liquid line hits halfway in between the tip of the chopstick and your pencil marking. If it says “reduce by a third,” then cook until it is 1/3 of the way down the chopstick. You get the idea.
This trick works best with a decent amount of sauce. If you’re reducing a small amount of pan sauce in a large sauté pan, your stick isn’t going to have much depth to work with, but it works like a dream if you’re working with anything over half a cup in a small sauce pan. If you want to get really technical, you can pre-mark the halfway (or third-of-the-way) point before you start simmering, just to completely take the guess work out of it. That may seem like overkill, but precision is the best friend of accurate, reproducible results.
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