Deglazing sounds like fancy chef talk but is actually super simple, and it’s an essential tool to have in your toolbox.
As you pan-fry or saute things, little bits of food get stuck to the bottom of the pan. Deglazing is the process of getting them unstuck by adding liquid to the hot pan.
Why do we care? Well, that brown stuff, which is called fond, is often full of flavor, so getting it off the pan and back into your recipe can be beneficial for that reason. Also, if it stays stuck there, it can burn, which is not usually helpful flavor-wise, and also not fun to clean up later, so that’s another reason.
The type of liquid you use isn’t super important, it’s just gotta be wet. For example, water, broth, wine, or tea will work (but stay away from things like milk or oil).
You want to add enough liquid that it doesn’t all boil away instantly, and it’s pretty easy to eyeball this if your recipe doesn’t specify a measurement. Just try not to add so much liquid that it stops sizzling; start with a small splash, because you can always just keep pouring. Once you add the liquid, scrape the bottom of the pan with your spatula or spoon. Et voila! Pan deglazed.
It’s easiest to see how effective this technique is with nothing else in pan, but it still works with other ingredients on top (think stir fry, not soup). Just make sure to stir and scrape everything around thoroughly, since you won’t be able to see the bottom as well.
Bonus cleaning tip!
Deglazing is usually done mid-recipe for the reasons mentioned above. However, it can also be used as a cleaning technique. If I’m done sauteing, I often take the finished food out, and then deglaze the pan with some water before turning off the heat and setting the pan aside to cool. This makes washing the pan later much easier because you’ve already loosened up any burned-on material.