Gravy Or Sauce? Stirring The Debate

Kitchen Chronicles v1


Sunday is gravy day. Not the brown gravy that you ladle on turkey or pool in a mound of mashed potatoes. I’m talking about red gravy – OK, sauce – burbling on the stove and filling the house with the promise of Sunday dinner.

Is it gravy or sauce? There was no question when I was growing up. My mother was a Pantalone. On Sundays, she made the gravy. My friends’ moms made gravy, too. But as my life took me beyond the Providence neighborhood of my upbringing – filled with first- and second-generation Italo-Americans – my use of the term gravy for tomato sauce brought puzzled looks. You put brown gravy on your pasta?

A quick Google search shows that the gravy-versus-sauce debate is spirited and ongoing. This much seems clear: gravy is usually a meat-based tomato sauce, cooked slowly for hours. (When the sauce has no meat, it’s a marinara, which comes from the Italian alla marinara, meaning “sailor style”.) A deeper search reveals that use of the term gravy to describe tomato sauce is peculiar to Italian Americans in the northeast United States.

On Sunday mornings, I walk across Peirce Street to St. Luke’s for the 10:00 service. The rhythms of the liturgy are familiar and comforting. Shortly after 11:00, I return home and head to the kitchen to begin a second weekly ritual.

I pour a bit of oil in the bottom of the pan. I add the diced onion, followed by sweet Italian sausage and, if I have it, steak or pork. I brown the meat and then pour in the crushed tomatoes and a small can of sauce. I add Italian seasoning, a bay leaf, ground pepper, a pinch of sugar or maybe a carrot to counter the acidity of the tomatoes. I stir, I cover, I simmer, and I wait…

Soon, the gravy’s heavenly aroma wafts through the house, connecting me to my mother’s kitchen, my grandmother’s kitchen, to the kitchens of Italian ancestors I never knew.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lori Grayson January 18, 2013 at 08:02 PM
I don't agree with this statement. The word is actually "gravy" if translated properly. My grandmother called it "sugo" which is gravy, "salsa" is the word for sauce. If we use your rational, why call Lasagna by its name, why not called it Pasta and meat casserole.
John Walsh January 18, 2013 at 08:15 PM
Thanks for the etymological support, Lori! Found this online while doing background for the post: http://bit.ly/9gCKrU – "The passage from sugo/salsa to sauce/gravy must have occurred when immigrant families settled into new neighborhoods in the US, and is, I expect, an Italian-American family/neighborhood tradition more than anything else. Some immigrants translated the Italian for what they put on their pasta as gravy, while others translated it as sauce, and the translations have been passed down through the generations, becoming law in the process. People get amazingly passionate over things like this."
Joe The Plumber January 21, 2013 at 11:13 PM
Very interesting. I think that is the best explanation yet!
Jack Baillargeron January 22, 2013 at 01:02 AM
There you go, can't argue with Grandma, unless you like a sauce pan off the head lol. Ok ok Gravey pan.
Jordan Sasa January 22, 2013 at 05:18 AM
I never call the stuff you buy in a can "gravy", I call it sauce. I only call it gravy when you make it yourself.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »