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Do You "De-Fat" Your Meat Sauce?

In the process of making a meat sauce for pasta, there are two points at which I ignore that pesky little inner voice that tells me I ought to remove as much fat as possible from the pot. The first point occurs after the meat has finished browning. There it is -- all that fat that's been rendered from the ground meat, and/or Italian sausage, plus the olive oil I used to saute the garlic (and sometimes onion) -- and, at that point, it would be soooo easy to get rid of it. ALL of it. That little voice implores me to dump the contents of the pot into a strainer, to press the meat with whatever utensil until every last drop of fat is gone, to return the meat to the pot and continue with my recipe. But almost always, I ignore that little voice.

The second opportunity to de-fat happens after the sauce is finished, and it's been sitting in the pot for a little while. There it is -- that pool of fat that's risen to the top of the sauce. How easy it would be to spoon the fat off at that point. But instead, I glance around to see if anyone is watching, and if it's "all-clear" I stir the sauce! That's right -- I stir the fat back into the sauce. Why...? Because I've come to believe the fat holds flavor, and to remove it would be to remove a layer of complexity from my sauce. That little voice, I am convinced, is the voice of sabotage, NOT the voice of eating healthy.

So I'm curious to know what you do with the fat -- keep it or remove it? Do YOU believe, as I do, that leaving the fat in adds something besides calories to the sauce? (Would that make it "lipidicious"?) Or is it a specious argument I use to justify my unabashed fondness of fatty foods?

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  1. I'm always with you on this one, I keep it all. It just wouldn't be homemade to me without the pool on top. I will come clean and confess that when we have guest over, I’ll leave the sauce covered. I also will make sure the coast is clear to remove it and then I stir like hell so they don't accidentally see it.

    1. I do spoon it out at the end.

      1. I remember having this discussion in college with one of my roomates. We both liked to cook a lot, and we were making a tomato sauce that simmered on the stove all day. The apartment was L-shaped, with our rooms at the end of each hall, and the kitchen at the center where the two halls met. Without making any arrangement to do so, we instinctively took turns checking on the sauce every 20 or 30 minutes.

        At dinner time he asked me what I thought of it, and I said that I thought it was pretty good, considering we couldn't get the best tomatoes at that time of year. Then he asked, "but what about the consistency? I added some extra olive oil while it was cooking," and then I had to admit that when I was checking on it, I thought it was a bit too greasy and had been skimming off the oil that I thought was just rising to the top.

        20-odd years later we're still laughing at that, and I think we've come to some sort of compromise. I use a little more fat than I used to, and he uses a little less.

        1. The way I see it, the fat is really not all that much (or so I tell myself) when its stirred in and distributined throughout the sauce, and therefore throughout the individual servings. It just looks like a lot, sitting in the bottom of the pan or floating on top of the sauce. stir it in, do it with pride, and if anyone gives you any guff (especially a guest!) tell 'em to jog it off.

          1. I have no fear of fat, but the amount of fat that accumulates after browning the meat, especially if olive oil is added, can be excessive. It's not necessary to dump all into a strainer, just push the meat to one side of the pan, tip it slightly so the fat pools in the bare side and spoon out as much as you can or care to. If garlic and/or onion are added after the meat has browned, leave a spoonful or so. No need to be obsessive about it, but at the same time the pooled fat that rises to the top of the sauce after long simmering is not appetizing.

            1. I keep it, unless it's just too MUCH fat - if I'm seeing the fat pool at the top during the slow simmer, I will spoon off a bit of the fat, but stir the rest in.

              1 Reply
              1. re: LindaWhit

                I agree with LindaWhit - spoon off really excess fat, but leave fat in for the richest flavor.

              2. So I'm hearing a consensus for leaving at least some of the fat in, if not all of it. Thanks... no more guilt for me!

                2 Replies
                1. re: CindyJ

                  Let's hear it for lipidiciousness--I don't de-fat either. Shhhh, don't tell my doctor. ;)

                  1. re: kattyeyes

                    I just love that word, and it's variations. I find it's not hard at all to use it in conversation, and people know EXACTLY what I mean. :)

                2. It's hard to press out (or blot on paper) all the beef fat and olive oil without also sacrificing some of those delicious "bits" of caramelized beef juice and savory veggies that will lend so much flavor to the sauce.

                  What I do is carefully blot the oil from the pan after removing the meat, then deglaze the pan with some water, broth or wine, about 1/4 cup. Do it when the pan has cooled a bit or you'll lose it to steam.

                  Then add the tomatoes and seasonings, plus the meat back to the pan. I add about 2 T really nicely flavored olive oil ( per 2 qts sauce)and set the heat as low as it will go and cover. Let it cook a few hours, or as long as your Nana did. Stir in any pooled olive oil as you serve the sauce. It creates a really velvety texture.

                  1. My DH always makes the sauce- he'll actually saute the meat first, remove it from the pan, then add the veggies and saute those in the fat, rather than adding olive oil.

                    It's not low fat, but we don't get a real layer of fat floating on top of the sauce, either.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Coconuts

                      Great suggestion.

                      I use this method for most meat preparations. Last night I did braised short ribs. First I seared the meat off, removed it and set it aside, then sauteed the vegetables in the fat that was rendered off , and so on. It is a great to utilize your product, and fortify flavor into the dish.

                    2. This method involves cooking a day-or-more beforehand:
                      Cook the sauce > Transfer sauce to a container (stone/glass/metal) > Put it in the fridge (on a slight angle if possible, it helps reduce the fat surface coverage)
                      When it fully cools down, the opaque fat will be solidified on top, the transparent juice from ingredients will be underneath.
                      Break-off or spoon-off as much fat as you want to remove.

                      It's a visually easier way to judge how much fat the sauce/chili contains...and after a few days in the fridge the flavor blend increases!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: bc01

                        This is exactly what I do, and I reserve the fat if I am making a dryer sauce (bolognese) because I like to toss the pasta in a bit of that fat before topping with the meat sauce. If I am making sunday gravy, I usually discard the fat.

                        1. Get rid of excess fat, yes. But put it into a strainer and press every drop of fat out, no. There is flavor in the fat, as well as creaminess, so I'd leave some in.

                          1. I'd throw in a little more sausage or pancetta to balance it.

                            1. Nearly a 2 year bounce. I'm impressed. What's the longest on CH I wonder?

                              In the UK 3 ounces of ground beef per head would be the absolute maximum needed for proper Bolognese sauce (probably 2 would be enough), which contains about 1/2 an ounce max. of saturated fat (here pre-packed ground beef is labelled with fat %age....in the US too?) so not a huge worry. I'd leave it in for the flavour.

                              1. I save all of my fat for later use and use taste as a guide when deciding how much fat I want to keep in a dish. (It's usually a lot)

                                1. Yes. I refrigerate it and scoop the fat off the top.