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Your best "meat sauce" recipe

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I would call myself an intermediate home cook.

HOWEVER, I have yet to make my own spaghetti meat sauce!

What is your idea of the perfect meat sauce?

I've seen suggestions recommending to use crushed tomatoes, and some recommending whole tomatoes. This, I'm sure is a preferential thing.

I've seen suggestions that recommend using chunks of brisket or chuck meat instead of ground beef. I've seen suggestions saying that they like using a combination of pork, beef and veal.

Also, what herbs and seasonings do you like to put into your sauce?

Correct me if i'm wrong - I'm under the impression meat sauce is a tomato based sauce with meat. I'm looking for ideas tailored to eating this sauce with spaghetti pasta.

Thank you.

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  1. My best meatsauce depends on my mood depending on shredded or ground meats, which can be either veal, beef or pork. I do not particularly care for braised lamb.

    Yesterday, Veal Breast was on sale for 1.29/lb....it was cheap, so I was in the mood.... Seasoned and dusted in flour, browned well, mirepoix and two cans of crushed tomatoes into a slow cooker.....7 hours later...a nice sauce and tender meat.

    i would make similar dishes for chuck roast, ox tails and short ribs....or pork shoulder with tomatoes or without.. Lydia Bastianich has a nice recipe with four pounds of slice onions that's very good.

    For Bolognese... I prefer a combination of ground meat with dairy and tomato paste.

    1. With regards to which type of tomatoes in a can....it depends on the type of sauce you are seeking for texture....smooth and thin, or thick and chunky..

      Here's a tip I learned many years ago from a chef who I worked with in my past history....All tomato brands and their products have very particular characteristics which ultimately define their sauce in two distinct ways....color and consistency. When you purchase your future tomato brands and types, record what you see when you open the can. Note the color, the texture and the liquid ratio. When you are finished making your sauce, note the results as well as to whether you like the taste or result. Test other brands and do the same.

      Some brands have very light color tomatoes, while others are much deeper and darker red. Ultimately, it will affect the color of your sauce....red opposed to orange.

      4 Replies
      1. re: fourunder

        I've been using 6 in 1 by Escalon. Smooth and fairly thick. I started with them strictly for my pizza sauce and now for other recipes. Deep red and very tasty.

        1. re: grampart

          That's a very good brand and a restaurant industry staple. What's available to me locally in supermarkets (28oz), I prefer the ones in a yellow can....Pastene, Cento and Pope. I also like LaFede in the blue cans.

          At Costco, The Contadina Crushed # 10 can is a good value.

          1. re: fourunder

            I get the 6in1's shipped from Escalon. Six 28 oz. cans for $16.50 shipping included.

          2. re: grampart

            6 in 1 are fine tomatoes, but I prefer to use whole DOP (certified) San Marzano Tomatoes imported from Italy. Don't pay a premium for the California version, they're not worth the price. Market Basket carries Cento DOPs for $2.99 and another brand at only $1.99. Just crush them up whole with your hands as you add them to the pan. I like to make a large sauce using 3-4 cans of the whole tomatoes and a small can of paste. Plenty of leftovers for mid week meals and it freezes well. In addition to dried basil and oregano, use some red pepper flakes and dried thyme to taste. I also use a bayleaf or two. And LOTS of fresh chopped garlic sauteed up with a small diced onion and a carrot for a bit of sweetness. If you use fresh herbs. throw them in about a half an hour before you serve.

            I make the Sunday Meat Ragu that my Nonna used to make so it cooks for several hours on Friday and again for a couple of hours on Sunday. It's always better after a couple of days. As for the meat, it's always what ever is on hand in addition to ground beef,pork and maybe veal. A pork chop or two, or beef tips are terrific, but not necessary.

        2. I make this using ground beef or, if I have it, equal parts leftover eye of the round steak and pork loin, minced. I start with soffrito of onion, carrot, and celery in olive oil, add the meat and some white wine (there's often a partial bottle of pinot Gris around. Dry white vermouth works, too), add a can of tomato sauce (15 oz) and a can of tomato paste (6 oz), add toasted ground fennel and nutmeg, plenty of back pepper, and a pinch of salt. Stir in dairy of your choice, a tbsp. or two. Cream works. So does sour cream. Toss is a bowl with pasta and grated Romano. This whole thing takes about as long as bringing five quarts of water to a boil and cooking the pasta.

          1. Marcella Hazan's Bolognese. Get her "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking." It belongs in every cookbook collection.

            http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0394...

            2 Replies
            1. re: Jay F

              Amen! Everyone always refers to her Bolognese as the standard, but I have enjoyed or drawn upon many, many recipes from that book.

              1. re: tim irvine

                Amen! Everyone always refers to her Bolognese as the standard....

                Silly me, I always though it was family recipes.

                : 0 )

            2. Gotta have some bones in there, the marrow will thicken it up nicely. I like to use lamb or veal bones for company, since the rest of my meat is mostly beef and pork. But for just us, I cheap out and use country pork ribs, got a load of them this week for 99 cents/lb.

              1. I make my pasta meat sauce with ground beef and veal.I like to use strained tomato sauce sold in glass bottles and add to the cooked ground meat. An onion, a couple of garlic cloves with the germ removed and smashed after simmering for a few hours, herbs and spices. In particular I like basil in my sauce.

                1. First of all we never serve spaghetti with meat sauce. Spaghetti would be served with other sauces like marinara sauce, clam, sauce, puttanesca etc.
                  Meat sauce aka Sunday Gravy is best served with rigatoni or cheese raviolis.
                  For the gravy in a dutch oven I first brown the meatballs, put them aside. Then I brown pork neck bones, beef short ribs, a lamb shank, and hot sausage.
                  Then I add garlic and tomato paste and water. stir
                  I now add the tomatoes that I can myself in August. Salt, pepper, hot pepper, basil, a pinch of sugar and the meatballs. Bring to a boil, cover partially, and simmer for 3 hours. That's It! Mangia!!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Nunzio

                    That sounds divine.

                  2. Thank you all for your responses. I have a lot to think about :)

                    1. I don't have a favorite recipe because meat sauce is one of those things I tend to whip together based on what I have on hand.

                      It usually involves canned san marzano tomatoes (they could be whole or crushed depending whats in the pantry), onions, garlic, oregano, basil, red pepper flake, S&P. Occasionally fennel. The meat varies from all beef to beef, pork and veal or bulk sausage. I have used ground chicken in a pinch.

                      To me Bolognese is different than what I think of as a meat sauce. To me a meat sauce is tomato based.

                      1. Here's our favorite, & one I make frequently. Not a "classic" or "traditional", but delicious nonetheless.

                        Bacardi1 Pasta with Turkey Ragu Sauce
                        (adapted from The Classic Pasta Cookbook by Giuliano Hazan (son of famous Italian Chef Marcella Hazan)

                        Approx. 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
                        3 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
                        1 small or half a medium/large yellow onion, peeled & chopped
                        1 carrot, peeled & finely chopped
                        1 stalk celery, finely chopped
                        1 package (around a pound or so) ground turkey
                        1 cup dry white or dry red wine (Pinot Grigio, Chabilis, Red Burgundy, Chianti, & Merlot all work well)
                        ½ cup milk or ½ & ½
                        A few dashes of grated nutmeg
                        Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
                        Approx. 1 tablespoon dried oregano or dried Italian Seasoning (or 3 tablespoons chopped fresh Oregano) .
                        Approx. ½ cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
                        One 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, undrained
                        Freshly grated Parmesan &/or Romano cheese for serving.
                        1 pound cooked pasta (wide pastas like Tagliatelle & Pappardelle, or short ones like Rigatoni or Fusilli work well with this sauce), tossed with 2 tablespoons of butter

                        In a saucepan deep enough to hold all sauce ingredients, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in the olive oil over medium to medium-high heat. Saute onion, carrot, & celery until just starting to soften, & add ground turkey, breaking it up as it cooks. Continue cooking until meat is browned. Add the wine & continue cooking for a few minutes. Add the milk & the nutmeg & continue cooking until most of the milk has evaporated. Add the tomatoes, & using kitchen scissors or a wooden spoon, cut them up into roughly bite-size pieces in the pan. Add parsley, oregano, & crushed red pepper flakes if using. Turn the heat down to low & simmer until sauce has reached your desired thickness – some like it thinner; some like it thicker. Taste for seasoning & serve over your pasta of choice (or toss with the hot pasta before serving) with a sprinkling of freshly-grated Parmesan if desired.

                        1. Has anyone tried the ATK meat sauce? They use ribs in it. Looks *TOO* rich for me... and I love richness. Is that how meat sauces should be?

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: darrentran87

                            For me, yes. Can't be too rich, especially around the holidays.

                            1. re: darrentran87

                              My mother-in-law often made the sauce with the ribs, it was very good and not rich. As well in some of her sauces she added pieces of Italian sausage.

                              1. re: darrentran87

                                Too rich....never. Here's my recipe reprinted from another post.....
                                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                                My Sunday Gravy recipe above is the basic foundation for my usual method, but it is not etched in stone. Truth be told, I never follow exact measurements or recipes, so the sauce is always a little bit different in terms of seasoning ingredients and the cuts of meat I use, based on what is on hand or what is available at the market (on sale).

                                I do not know if it is a virtue or curse, but my background includes working in the restaurant and food industry..... Along with that comes a wealth of knowledge from Professional Chefs(too many ideas) which I have been privy too...and also, I have been able to purchase everything wholesale at reduced prices.....but for the home, buying wholesale other than at the holidays is excessive, so I do shop at supermarkets and in general, I prefer a rustic style of cooking for my home meals. What does this have to do with your query about (gray ingredients)? Shopping retail is very offensive to me...so I only purchase what is on sale on any given week to plan or prepare any meals. Seeing any premium beef cuts over $4.99/lb or chopped meat over $1.99/lb., pork cuts over $1.99/lb., or chicken over .79/lb. is hard for me to take.. Luckily for me I am able to use a knife and can butcher pretty well......and there are some Asian grocery stores with butchers and fish mongers where the prices are very reasonable. When purchasing ground meats, I always purchase the three meats individually and never in a meat loaf three pack mix. Generally, I purchase about 6-7 pounds total (2-3lbs beef, 2lbs pork and 2.lbs veal) which makes anywhere from 40-50 medium sized meatballs.

                                Usually, when I make gravy, I make a large amount so I can have leftovers and have extra for my son to take home...as he is a single guy working very hard and does not have time to cook for himself. For tomatoes, I like to use San Marzano when available and two of my favorite brands are La Fede or Pastene...but I also like Cento and Pope too. If I cannot find them, I will use Contadina Crushed, which is the standard brand available at Costco. I use the equivalent of two number ten cans in a large pot and add the meats after they have been browned or not...depending on how lazy I am. The meats used are:

                                beef, pork and veal
                                pork braciole
                                hot and sweet Italian sausage
                                baby back spare ribs(first choice)
                                st louis style ribs (second choice)

                                variations will include:
                                pork shank or butt
                                pork shoulder
                                Chicken carcass and/or dark meat

                                My winter time sauces will include oxtails or short ribs for sure........ My sister-in-law's paternal grandmother(RIP), who was regarded as the absolute best Italian home cook. made her gravy with a whole chicken in addition to the pork choices....and her gravy was fantastic. iI would suggest you give this a try as well.

                                As I mentioned above, the ultimate recipe used will depend on what is on hand or what is on sale at the market. The supermarket I frequent most usually has manager specials that are unadvertised in the weekly circular. For pork cuts, they will usually have either the pork shoulder(first choice) or fresh butt ham(second choice). or a pork loin roast with ribs. I usually will bone out one of the three and use the bone and some of the meat from them. In the case of the pork loin roast(which I will purchase two quantity of), it would save me on purchasing the ridiculously expensive back ribs(usually 5.99-7.99). I guess on reflecting, the shank and ribs from the loin roast are equal to the pork shoulder for preference...since they both have a good deal of marbling and the shank has the great connective cartilage/collagen. The shoulder and butt are almost always .99 or less and the pork loin roasts are usually from 1.49-1.99.....After boning out the loin roast, I will save the loin for another day...usually a low heat, slow roasted application for quick meals, i.e., slicing for add-ins or sandwiches.
                                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                                The following threads may be useful for those looking for recipes on Sunday Gravy, Meatballs......and sauce recipes.

                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6063...

                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/656452

                                1. re: fourunder

                                  thanks!

                              2. I've made Marcella Hazan's bolognese (mix of pork and beef, and includes milk). The milk and pork add a really nice sweetness: http://leitesculinaria.com/84057/reci...

                                This guy Heston Blumenthal adds a bit of star anise to his.

                                1. My version is not at all authentically Italian (or even Italian-American), but I think it's a pretty classic American rendition. It's definitely comfort food. Here's what I do:

                                  Chop an onion and saute in olive oil. Add a couple of cloves of chopped garlic.

                                  Add a pound of ground beef and brown.

                                  Add some chopped green bell pepper, sliced or chopped mushrooms (these are optional), about two cans of chopped tomatoes (either the ones that come chopped in the can, or whole tomatoes cut up with kitchen scissors), a good glug of red wine (about one glass?), a heaping tablespoon or two of tomato paste, some dried oregano, basil, and a bay leaf, and a little black pepper.

                                  I let it simmer until it reaches the right texture and the flavors come together. Usually if I start boiling the pasta water after adding all the ingredients for the sauce, the sauce is ready when the pasta is done. I sometimes leave out the wine if I don't have any on hand, but I think it really makes a difference to have it - deeper and richer flavor.