Saturday, February 8, 2014

That Other Meat Sauce

We did a classic Italian bolognese sauce not too long ago, which reminded me that I’ve actually never posted a basic, Italian-American meat sauce. This sauce goes by many names, including Sunday sauce, since that’s the day it’s traditionally made, but for me growing up, this was just called “sauce.”

This is one of those primal recipes that always follows the same procedure, yet almost never contains exactly the same ingredients. I was raised on a blend of beef, pork, and chicken, but any and all leftover proteins can, and must, be added to the pot.

Meatballs are a great choice; as are things like pigs feet, neck bones, and other similar cuts. The tougher the meat, the better it’s going to be in this sauce. Besides playing meat roulette, I’ll also switch different herbs like basil in and out, as well as include the occasional season vegetable.

You can also vary your results here with different tomato products. I went old-school and hand-crushed whole plums, but you can also use crushed or pureed tomatoes as well. The finer and smoother the tomatoes are processed, the thicker your sauce will be, so keep that in mind. Speaking of tomatoes; yes, it is much better to caramelize the tomato paste with the onions before you add the San Marzanos, but I didn't because Grandma didn't, and also, I forgot. 

As long as you cook the meat long enough, and season thoughtfully, there’s really no way this sauce isn’t going to be great. So, while you may not have grown up in an Italian-American home, with this comforting sauce simmering on the stove every Sunday, your family still can. I hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 6 portions:
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 beef shank
2 pounds pork ribs
2 bone-in chicken thighs
1 diced onion
6 cloves garlic
3 (28-oz) cans San Marzano plum tomatoes, crushed or blended smooth
(Note - any canned tomato product will work. Try with pureed or already crushed tomatoes and save a step)
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 cups water, more as needed
2 tsp salt, or to taste
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tbsp chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


kinjun ranger said...

Happily today is Sunday. Thanks Chef John as always, we will enjoy.

jdupre7877 said...

Chef there any benefit to adding in the tomato paste after you sweat the onions and cook another minute or two before you add in the crushed tomatoes? Others have claimed that this caramelizes and intensifies that tomato flavor.

Chef John said...

Yes! It is better to caramelize the tomato paste first, and you'll see us do that in many videos. I didn't here because my grandmother never did, and also, I forgot to. ;)

Monica Smith said...

I plan to stick with your faster pasta am meat recipe as I am out of home made and this recipe is too much. Also have a freezer of venison sausage. Thanks for inspiring tonight's dinner.

truthspew said...

I love throwing chunks of Peperoni in there too. Something about braising it in tomato makes it totally awesome!

cookinmom said...

Naked nuckles!

PhillyBear said...

Bravo, Chef. Nonna would be proud!

Gym said...

Can a pressure cooker be used for this? Cut the time to maybe an hour?

Jeremy Hale said...

Hey Chef, question for you. When you made your chicken stock video you emphasized how the meat used to make it wasn't worth keeping as the flavors had all left the meat and went into the liquid. How is this any different? I only ask because I've noticed when I make italian sausages and leave it to simmer in the sauce, the sausages always taste flavorless in comparison to just grilling them up and adding them at the end.


Chef John said...

Gym, I'm sure a PC would be faster, but it's not part of the ritual for me.

Chef John said...


The diff is that the bones in stock cook in plain water for a long time and all the flavor is extracted.
Here the sausage is simmer for an hour in a flavorful, seasoned liquid. Sure some flavor goes from the meat to the sauce, but that's the idea!

BBQChick said...

After all the recent news out of Italy about the toxic dump sites where lots of San Marzano's are grown, does that give you pause about using them?

Ed Adams said...

Thanks Chef John. Once again you have turned me into a "world-class" chef to the people that really

Don't Ever Stop.

edward said...

I don't think I've ever made anything so simple yet so delicious. Simmering for hours on a Sunday afternoon, I keep having to shoo away the neighbors. Surprised this recipe didn't get more posts. Thanks from Colombia. PS I was thinking about translating some of your recipes into Spanish, then you could be SeƱor Chef Juan.

Daniel Edwards said...

CHEF JOHN! What line of cookware is your stainless steel? Are you All-Clad or Cuisinart? Does it make a difference?

Daniel Edwards said...

CHEF JOHN!??? What line of SS Cookware do you use? Is that Cuisinart or All Clad? Does it matter?

Chef John said...

I use both. All the top brands are about the same.

Min Kim said...

I've done similar recipes over the years. My favorite cuts to use are short ribs and oxtails. Both braise beautifully while holding up to a long simmer. Extra sauce gets thrown in the freezer for my next lasagna.

Joe T said...

My favorite part about this recipe is that it the meat always comes out perfect every time I make it. I have trouble with slow cooking meat with other dishes as it dries out on me, but never with this dish. Awesome braised meat every time. The other thing is that this recipe make a lot of food, but it almost seems to get tastier after a day or 2, the leftovers are even better than the original.

Larry Flynn said...

Just followed this "process". Used chix thighs, pork ribs, and..... about 5 oz of london broil. Braised them all and I must tell you that the london broil was AMAZING! The sauce wasn't bad either ;). Thanks Chef John!