That beautiful gravy you pour on your Thanksgiving turkey might also be a sauce. But wait, isn’t tomato sauce also called gravy?
The Short Answer:
Yes, gravy is a kind of sauce.
The Long Answer:
As an Italian American, I’ve been hearing the word gravy consistently throughout my entire life. Gravy was both the brown or tan dressing made from meat or poultry drippings, as well as the red sauce served on Sunday nights along with meatballs, sausage, and pasta.
That got me wondering as to the nature of gravy and whether not it could actually be considered a sauce. Is there a definition of gravy as opposed to sauce? Writing this blog for over a year now, I should have known the answer to the question. Of course, it is specifically defined.
Sauce is a French word, taken from the Latin word “salsa,” which means “salted.” Sauce is defined as a relish meant to make food more appetizing. They’re either liquid or semi-liquid and are meant to alter, enhance, or otherwise change the look, smell, and taste of a food. Hot sauce would be a great example. In times long gone, refrigeration didn’t exist, so meat, fish, and poultry would spoil quickly. Sauce was created to enhance the flavor of a food in the face of decay. Some common sauces include honey mustard, ketchup, or cranberry sauce.
Gravy is a sauce, but one that is specifically made from meat juices. Gravies are usually combined with some form of liquid, like chicken broth, milk, wine, or beef broth, before being introduced to a thickening agent like flour or cornstarch. Some gravies are nothing more than the congealed juices that drip off of cooking meat. Gravies are usually poured over the meat or poultry that it was made from. For example, on Thanksgiving, you’d enhance your turkey with gravy made from that turkey’s drippings. It also goes great over mashed potatoes and biscuits.
So, is my family way off when they talk about that traditional Italian “Sunday Gravy?”
Yes, they are.
Tomato sauce is not a traditional gravy, because it is not made from the drippings of meat. It is instead a sauce made from crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and various other ingredients that change depending on which elderly Italian is preparing it. While this was a blow to my Italian American heart it is a distinction that has to be made.
It should be noted that in Italy, you wouldn’t call tomato sauce gravy. It’s strictly an Italian American thing. (Which leads to a delightfully funny scene in an episode of The Sopranos) One could make the argument that cooking meatballs or sausage in the tomato sauce (as most Italian Americans do) could make it a gravy, but that seems like a stretch in my opinion.
So, while all gravies are sauces, all sauces cannot be considered gravies.
What is your favorite gravy? What is your favorite sauce? Is your favorite gravy your favorite sauce? And do you call tomato sauce gravy? Sound off in the comments below and let us know!