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Oct 1, 2009 06:24 PM

Sunday Sauce / Gravy: Do Meatballs Make it Greasier?

This fall/winter my wife and I are making it a point to try different variations on the meat that we use in our sunday sauce (or gravy). Typically we used hot sausage, meatballs, pork rib and pork braciole.

This past Sunday our pork store in Westchester County NY was out of ribs so the owner recommended using pork chops instead. His advice was to drop them in raw and let them cook in gravy, but instead I browned them for about a minute and then added to the gravy. Suffice to say, the gravy was excellent and the pork chop, which we ate in our meat course after the pasta, was unreal. Has anyone ever tried using pork chops in their sunday sauce? I think the bone added some wonderful additional flavor notes to the mix.

For the record, the meat used in the gravy was as follows:

pork braciole
beef braciole
pork chop

My wife wanted to add her beloved meatballs but I won the battle this time as I feel that they make the sauce greasier due to oil that is absorbed in frying. I've raised this point on our blog and some readers replied that they avoid the grease runoff by not frying the meatballs and just dropping them in raw and letting them cook in sauce. I would think that would cause them to break up in the sauce though. Any thoughts?

I have a picture of the gravy with penne and a bit more wriiten about it here:


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  1. Meatballs made with egg and bread crumbs (or another starch binder) hold together when dropped raw into softly-simmering sauce. You leave them alone for 15-20 min or longer - depends on how firm and how large they are - then carefully turn them over with the aid of a spoon and allow them to cook through before stirring the sauce.

    1. Two answers. 1.) I'd use well trimmed pork chops from the shoulder side of the loin. 2.) The balls will make the sauce a little greasy, but that's not from the fat absorbed by frying them, it's cause meatballs are not lean meat items.

      1. Personally, I do not like the idea of using Loin or Center Cut Pork Rib Chops, as the meat/loin/tenderloin is not meant for braising in my opinion, however using a Rib End Roast portion is fine as this cut has more naturally marbled meat. Using Country Ribs may actually be a better idea, or separating the loin from the ribs and saving that for a roast, boneless chops or pounded cutlets....just adding the rib bones to the pot.

        As for the meatballs, consider baking them first in the oven and then finishing them in the sauce. If you want to try to drop them directly into the sauce, this works fine....just be careful when you stir the sauce. Myself, I cook the sausage and meatballs during the last 45 minutes of a 3-4 hour pot...first cooking the Pork Braciole. I am not a fan of Beef Braciole. If I want beef, I would rather use Short Ribs as an option.

        I never find my Sunday Gravy to be excessively greasy and i make a larger amount of meatballs for, I use Olive Oil for sauteing the onions and garlic.... and browning of the braciole.....any grease or olive oil is spooned out with sauce and used to coat the pasta when it comes out of the water.

        Here's a recent thread where I provided my Sunday Gravy preparation and my recipe for Meatballs with Ricotta Cheese.

        3 Replies
        1. re: fourunder

          Greygarious: Thanks, I have tried this method with my own meatballs and still found that they did shed a bit too much into the sauce when I (lightly) stirred, transforming it into something more similar to a bolognese or meat sauce and I didn't want that texture/consistency

          HankStramm: I think we used shoulder side of the loin, will check with Joe the pork guy tomorrow.

          Forunder: Thanks for the technical notes on the specific types of cuts. Will have to try that Rib End Roast. We did consider baking but they just seem to come out different when cooked in a electric oven. Since you first cook the pork braciole, how long do you keep it in there until adding the sausage/meatballs?
          Love the thread, will link to it off the blog...

          1. re: SundaySauce

            How long my braciole stays in the sauce depends on two keys.....the diameter of the rolled pockets and the amount of filling in each. When I purchase premade braciole from a source, it rarely reaches two inches in diameter, but most likely will always be 1.5 inches, which I consider small or average sized. These generally take two hours to become tender in the large pot and amount of tomatoes I have simmering. When I make a smaller amount, the time may be reduced to 1.5 hours. I suspect the smaller pot(5-6qt) keeps the heat at a higher constant temperature than the larger stock pot (24-30 qt) I use for family gatherings.

            When I make the braciole myself, I tend to make them large and the diameter is usually just over 3.0 inches and 6.0 inches in length....the larger size will take 2.5-3.0 to cook. In a small pot of sauce, I would cook the braciole separately until done and add the sausage and meatballs afterwards. In the large pot/large braciole I always factor in the cooking time and add the sausage and meatballs for the last 45-60 cooking time 3.5-4.0 hours, where the braciole, sausage and meatballs all cook together until done/served.

            1. re: SundaySauce

              You need to use lean beef. If you are using 80-20 or 75-25, which would make a great hamburger, you will get puddles of grease floating to the top of your Sunday gravy if you drop the meatballs in raw.

              There is no need to use a higher fat ground beef when making meatballs, because egg, breadcrumb, and in my recipe, one cup of the tomato sauce (cooled) are added to the meatball mix before I shape the meatballs. If you use enough egg and breadcrumb, the meatballs will be very juicy and you can get away with very lean beef. I use 93-7, or grind my own, which may be even leaner.

              No, this is not an exercise in reducing cholesterol, as you are adding eggs while removing beef fat, but it does result in great, juicy meatballs and one less step while cooking.

              IMO, sausage always needs to be browned, (I use a grill pan) or oven baked for this reason. The casings are less rubbery too, when cooked prior to adding it to the sauce.

              Finally, any time you add meat to a sauce, the hot tomato sauce will render fat from just about every type of meat, so you may find that you need to skim the top of the pot to eliminate this. It does add flavor, however. I never have to skim my sauce when I cook meatballs raw in the sauce, and that is the only or primary meat added.

          2. I almost always add my meatballs raw to the sauce. My MIL (excellent cook) taught me to do it this way, says she was taught by " a little old Italian lady". I use pretty lean meat, bread crumbs, egg, sometimes grated cheese, sometimes spinach . . . you get the idea. Anyway, form them, drop into gently simmering sauce & cook for 3+ hours. I do not stir them for the first half hour or so, then stir very gently after that. I usually lose a couple, but they stay together pretty well.

            1 Reply
            1. re: elfcook

              i have always found that meatballs cooked in the sauce have a very different texture from those cooked separately and then added. cooked in the sauce, they are denser and just, well, different.

              i prefer mine cooked separately and added. i'm a big fan of baking in the oven and then adding. but my favorite sauce uses ground beef, no meatballs.

            2. I used to always brown them and then build the sauce from some of the stuff left in the pan. Then one day I stopped doing that and never went back. Much nicer just put in uncooked and they don't break up at a light simmer. On a side note about the pork chop bones adding flavour - completely agree. My Italian friend makes fantastic sauce, as her mother and grandma did. She gets a bunch of pork neck bones to brown (w the other meats) before adding the tomatoes, and then lets them simmer in the sauce. Amazing depth of flavour.