Johnny Meatballs's picture
March 25, 2012
Gravy & Sauce - The Final Word

As the owner of Johnny’s Meatballs In Sunday Gravy, people occasionally ask me why I don’t call my product “Johnny’s Meatballs In Sunday Sauce.” This usually comes from folks who don’t believe that gravy can be red. I know, it’s an age-old debate that will never end, but I will attempt to offer one final take on this topic here…


I’m from New Jersey but anywhere in America, the red stuff we Italian-Americans cook can indeed be called gravy or sauce. Yes, it can be called both, depending on how it’s made. See obviously gravy is an American word so that’s why the term is not used in Italy. But this topic is really not about culture or who is more Italian or Italian-American because of what they choose to call it. It doesn’t matter if you are from Rome or from Brooklyn or Nebraska.

The early immigrants who first starting calling their Sunday specialty “Sunday Gravy” did so as part of the assimilation process, and the following generations continued that. Some decided to call it sauce though. As I said, this was because gravy was a word they never used in the old country. Why “Sunday Gravy” is still a “niche” term and hasn’t really caught on across the U.S. is a mystery to me. Hopefully nationwide distribution of Johnny’s Meatballs In Sunday Gravy will change that!


Today, I’m explaining this from strictly an American cooking standpoint. I consulted a trained chef on this matter and he told me that the following cannot be disputed: the culinary term for any sauce that is made with meat drippings or any sauce that is made with meat or meat bones – cooked long and slow – is gravy. Whether the meat used is turkey, roast beef, pork, meatballs, sausage or braciole – bottom line is – when there is meat, it’s a gravy.


Gravy can be red, white, brown, gray, any shade of the spectrum...The color changes when we add other ingredients to the stock but the concept remains the same. Turkey gravy is flavored from the bird and all the bones (and usually a “mirepoix” of vegetables) but we still have to add liquid. Our Italian-American gravy is flavored from meatballs but we add crushed tomatoes to it which is the liquid. Just because one is brown and one is red doesn’t change the process or the concept. In the Deep South they have a white gravy made with crumbled sausage that they eat with biscuits. There is also red eye gravy made with bacon. Again – the color makes no difference.


Ok, don’t tell me you always need a roux to start a gravy because you don’t. But let’s just say you did. Well, the roux made from flour and butter for the Thanksgiving gravy is directly paralleled when we fry tomato paste in the pan of oil we used to fry the meatballs in. Argument closed.


So some people say they pour their gravy on top of mashed potatoes. Last I checked, pasta / macaroni is a starch. Again, same concept. In both cases you have thick sauces flavored from – and eaten with meat – with a starch on the side!


Let me make it clear, when there are no meatballs or meat in the pot, it is definitely sauce. When it’s just tomatoes and garlic and spices, you have sauce (marinara). Also keep in mind, sauce flavored from shellfish or any seafood is sauce. There is no shrimp or crab gravy. Pesto sauce is sauce. Pizza sauce is sauce. But Johnny’s Meatballs are always in Sunday Gravy, my friends!

I’m sure I will never be able to change anyone’s minds here and this will always be a HEATED subject. I don’t quite know the reason though. I never see people bickering about whether something is a stew or a soup! Somewhere along the line this became some sort of cultural debate instead of what it really is – a culinary one. I hope I was able to at least make some valid points to support the reasoning behind one choosing to use the “g” word.

I say, as long as it’s made right and made with love, that’s all that really matters!


nikki's picture
March 26, 2012
west palm beach, Florida

Where I come from Sunday macaroni and meatballs is served with sauce. Not gravy. In Italy pasta is served with "sugo" (sauce) not gravy or "salsa".

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