Sometimes it's not necessarily the meat, vegetables or pasta that you're excited about eating. Sometimes it's mainly about what you're putting on top! Raise your hand if you know what we're talking about.
Plain mashed potatoes? We don't think so. Ladle on the gravy!
What about biscuits? Roasted turkey and stuffing? You got it. Bring on the gravy!
A plate full of plain pasta noodles? Not in Wonderopolis! You'd better have a simmering pot of pasta sauce to cover those noodles.
Sauce and gravy make so many dishes so much better. But what's the difference between the two? And why do some Italian-Americans call their pasta sauce gravy?
Gravy is usually considered a type of sauce. It's often made from meat juices combined with broth or milk and thickened with a starch. The meat juices are often the liquids left after roasting a cut of meat for an extended period of time.
There are many different types and flavors of gravy. Some people prefer a light gravy to enhance the flavor of meats and side dishes. Other people prefer a thicker, heartier gravy to top plain vegetables and pastas. Making great gravy is an inexact science. You'll have to rely on your cook's eye to judge the gravy as it's cooking. Frequent sampling will also ensure you get the gravy you want!
A sauce, on the other hand, isn't necessarily meat-based. Instead of just a byproduct of roasting meat, sauces are carefully-mixed combinations of multiple ingredients. In the culinary arts, for example, there are five sauces known as the “mother sauces." They're called “mother sauces" because they're like the heads of five distinct sauce families that many other sauces can be made from.
The five “mother sauces" are Béchamel (a white sauce), Velouté (a light stock-based sauce), Espagnole (a brown stock-based sauce), Hollandaise (a creamy, emulsified sauce), and Tomato (arguably the most popular sauce that forms the basis of spaghetti and pizza sauces). From these five basic sauces, hundreds, if not thousands, of other sauces can be made.
If you're an Italian-American who loves pasta, you might love tomato gravy on spaghetti. Tomato gravy? Don't we mean sauce? Well, that's where the debate begins…
What many Americans call tomato sauce, Italian-Americans call gravy. Is there a difference? There might be. Many Italian-Americans use tomato “sauce" to refer to a simple, light, quickly-made topping for pasta.
Gravy, on the other hand, takes all day to cook. It's rich and thick and full of meats and vegetables. It's closer to what Italian-Americans call a ragù, which is like a tomato stew with meat and vegetables that's used as both a pasta topping and a standalone dish.