I have always thought of the topping we’re most used to putting on pasta as sauce; generically spaghetti sauce, though we might differentiate between marinara and meat sauce. During the early 80s, when I was living in Playa del Rey, CA I recall a friend from Boston who referred to it as gravy. I had never heard that term used before and I was intrigued.
Never thought about it too much, but every once in a while I would wonder what it was all about. Gravy or sauce. Now I’ve spent my fair share of time in the kitchen and I know my way around, but I’m hardly a trained chef or a connoisseur. I’m just someone who enjoys eating and knows how to have fun cooking many of the things I like to eat.
Recently, I decided to “do my own research” and have discovered there is no simple answer to the question. Suffice it to say, for the most part gravy is used to refer to a thickened liquid made from the drippings of cooked meat or vegetables, while sauce is made separately from the item it is poured over or served with. Gravies are usually served hot while sauces can be served either hot or cold.
It seems clear to me, however, there is a lot of overlap and wiggle room for classifying something as either a sauce or a gravy and, rather than present an entire treatise on it, I’m going to share a couple of links to articles or sources I’ve encountered whilst doing the aforementioned “research”. I have to add that writing this has made caused me to crave a nice, steaming plate of pasta with my favorite kind of sauce/gravy poured all over it (that would be a meat sauce, say a nice bolognese.)
This page runs down a bit of the history of Italian immigrants to the U.S. and how their use of the words has evolved as they assimilated. The author points out how contentious the distinction has become. There’s quite a bit of fun history and speculation here.
This next page is from a source in India for hospitality workers to educate themselves. It’s got an interesting table setting forth the differences between gravies and sauces. It does not go into any arguments that exist regarding the difference; it’s just a decent source for understanding their components.
This blog post goes into what appears to be an ongoing argument over what to call the stuff that in Italy is referred to as sugo. The author also provides information about Italy and Italian-Americans, as well as recipes from salads to desserts.
Now I need to go out and find something to satisfy my craving for Italian. As a Ukrainian-Moldovan-German-Jewish-American, it’s not part of my heritage but my father’s best friend was a DeBiase and I spent a few of my early years eating homemade pasta (Rigatoni is my fave) or Lasagna, garlic bread, and fresh from the oven Pizzelle (Anise cookies) most every Sunday when we lived near each other in Panorama City, CA.