Thursday, March 17, 2011

GTL Thursday: Everything else is gravy...

I know its time to beat that beat up...but I got something else on my mind just now...

I grew up spending Sunday mornings stirring the big pot of deliciousness on the stove...every 15 not to burn the thick meaty, rich, red GRAVY. While the stove simmered the mixture on a steady low heat, the smell of onion and browning meat permeated the whole house.

And yes, I just called it gravy. You wanna make somethin of it? You wanna be startin somethin?

The question of what to call the half tomato/ half meat concoction is a debate as old as time...tune as old as song. Gravy? Or sauce?

I know what I think. Gravy is a sauce made, in part, from meat juices. Therefore, this includes, but is not limited to, the beige buttery joy that is poured on Turkey, the bold brown brothy tastiness that smothers meatloaf, AND the red awesomesauce cooked with sausage, meatballs, and pork on Sundays.

Red sauce that is cooked sans meat is marinara.

Contrary to popular belief, I wholeheartedly recognize that my word is not the bible. There are lots of differing opinions out there...not only by non-ginzos, but also within the Italo-Americano community. So I did the logical thing...I wikipedia-ed the situation. Did you know that you could make a chocolate gravy (in Appalachian cultures) or Onion gravy (served on bangers and mash)? I had no idea. I want me some chocolate gravy like whoa...

Anyway, wikipedia didn't satiate my appetite on the great gravy debate. Thus, I decided to poll some my wolfpack to see what they had to say. Without further ado...

From my cousin, Mary:
I call the red sauce made with meat - GRAVY. The meatless sauce is in fact - SAUCE. I confess that when talking to non Italians I sometimes say tomato sauce for what is really gravy. It's like saying pasta instead of macaroni although in Italian the correct word is pasta....hmm.

From my dad, Enzo:
Hey Dani, gravy in the Italo American culture pretty much covers all the bases from Sunday (Ragu) to turkey and roast-a-beef, its all gravy.

From my wicked smart colleague and foodie friend, Michael:
I dunno. But in Asian cuisine they call many of their sauces "gravy" and nobody questions it.

From my sister of another mister, Bonez:
Growing up sauce was red and on pasta and gravy was for turkey. I think it will be like that forever for me. When I used to go to your house when I was little I was so confused that you put gravy on pasta...hahaha

From my paisano, Joe:
Gravy is put on meats like turkey, roast beef, chicken, etc…Sauce is put on pasta… or macaroni, but that is another debate entirely.

From my paisana, Melissa...who happens to be engaged to Joe:
Ugh macaroni is the elbow shaped and used by Kraft or in a “macaroni salad” with mayo. It is not pasta…it’s a disgrace. Also, what about an Alfredo with fettuccini and chicken and broccoli or something….people would say Alfredo Sauce….but there’s meat it in and it’s sort of beige ;-)

From my BFF, Chaci:
To me "gravy" as always been the brown stuff. Sauce has always been red sauce. I can see how people use gravy though. Gravy is a sauce produced by the fat or residue of meat. But - even when meat is in tomato sauce - it still feels like tomato is the main ingredient - opposed to gravies like turkey gravy.

From my long-lost friend, Ben:
My family has always called red sauce gravy. At some point (I am thinking the 50s), waspy middle America stole the phrase and made it seem as if it could only apply to the stuff that goes on turkey. But yeah, red sauce can be gravy.

From my lovely co-editor Kate:
Gravy is brown.
Or beige. Or greyish.

And lastly, a slightly longer explanation from my amico, Paul...who teaches Italian to middle-schoolers:
D: this is an easy one. I'll clear it up for you right now:

Any god-fearing, garlic-loving, ginzo/gumba/guido will tell you that GRAVY is the red stuff their Nonna makes and puts on pasta every Sunday after church. And Ang Festino, too.

True, it is additionally the term Americans use for turkey dressings (the brown stuff, which is nasty), but any Italian-American worth his/her salt knows that gravy is also a term used to describe what other Americans call pasta sauce/red sauce (or, "spaghetti sauce", which actually makes me shudder... I really don't like that one-- just a personal pet peeve).

It's still OK to call it "sauce", too, but to me that would suggest that it is not meat-based (for example, "marinara sauce", which has no meats, obvi).

I hope this has cleared things up. If somebody has been giving you trouble about calling it "gravy" instead of "sauce", let me know who they are and I will set things straight for you with them. Or just forward them this email with the subject line "suck it, gravy boy".


Well there you have it. Its a tie. 5 votes for sauce and 5 votes for gravy. What do you think guys? Are you getting on the gravy train? Don't can be honest...this is a safe space.


  1. I'm having a giveaway on my blog for a pretty ring from bobbins & bits if you'd like to check it out. :) x

  2. I'm with Kate-verbatim. Clearly, I'm not Italian. What you are describing sounds delicious...and like sauce to me. Hope we can still be friends. lol

  3. Danielle - love the distinction of with meat it's gravy. Therefore, my Sundays I make sauce, or marinara. sadly my Irish mom was the cook (i.e. jar of Ragu) and my Italian dad grew up on pasta and gravy in Queens and by adulthood had had enough of both. so I'm re-inventing for this generation of Italo-American, and will take your definitions to heart.

  4. @Bre--Haha...this made me laugh. Don't worry--I don't discriminate against sauce speakers...

    @The Zirp--we need a potluck like asap.