Gravies, Sauses, Salsas Oh My!

booberry85September 1, 2014

So I was just watching a show called "Mom's Cooking," and they were making Grandma's meatballs and gravy. However the "gravy" was made with a large can of diced tomatoes, garlic, oiive oil, basil, sugar & water. They never added any meat drippings or incorporated any meat into the gravy. They poured the sauce over the meatballs. To me that's a sauce and not a gravy. I always thought gravies incorporated some meat component. As I looked further into this (yes, a quick Google search!) , there doesn't seem to be a lot definitive lines anymore between gravies & sauces. Add salsa and chutneys to the mix and it gets even more confusing!

So give me your definitions of sauces, gravies, salsas and chutneys. Have a favorite recipe to share? Lets see that too!


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In some Italian American households, I think "gravy" is what they call their tomato based sauce. I don't like that use of the word, as I agree that "gravy" should mean a sauce based on meat - drippings, juices or fond.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 8:55AM
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Mom must be Italian. In South Philly's Italian neighborhood, 'noodles and gravy' = pasta with tomato sauce for as long as I can remember. 'Sunday gravy' has meat cooked in with the sauce, often pork ribs or neck bones. Googling doesn't take into account all the cultural variations of a word.

For example, cooks of my PA Dutch heritage would call the mixture baked in the Thanksgiving turkey filling, rather than stuffing or dressing.

One that used to confuse me was 'conserves', which I later figured out were fruit preserves with nuts added.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 9:18AM
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Gravies are made with meat drippings, like beef or chicken gravy, or added meat, such as a Bolognese, while a sauce does not have meats, like hollandaise.

Salsa to me is a condiment along with chutneys. No meats, served cool or room temperature.

Many Italians in this country refer to a simple cooked tomato "sauce" as gravy. I believe it comes from a translation
depending on the region they are from.

And that Sunday pot of red sauce was carried over through out the week.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 12:24PM
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Apparently there is NO set rule. It depends on family traditions, cultures, and regional customs. Nothing wrong with that.

I think of my gravies being made with the drippings from roasted meats. Sauces can also be made from meat drippings. Such as a green peppercorn sauce. Made with the drippings of pan seared meat.

I also think of gravies when I think of the simmered meat sauce made by Italian friends.

It is all good.


    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 1:10PM
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Words get around. There aren't any rights or wrongs in these things. In Southern California, any rich tomato sauce, seasoned Italian style, whether vegetarian or full of meat, is commonly called "spaghetti sauce". In the East, it's commonly called "gravy". Then specific sauces started being called by their particular names, but in common usage they've also become meaningless. By definition bolognese is "from Bologna" but refers to a sauce heavy in meat. People talk about making a vegetarian bolognese all the time. Sometimes it's because they're using a particular recipe but putting in the seasonings they would have had in the meat, without the meat itself.

At this point, in the U.S., bolognese is often used to mean Italian style tomato sauce with chunks, and marinara is used to mean Italian style tomato sauce without chunks, which is far from their original meanings. There are a lot of arguments about whether marinara is supposed to have fish in it, or whether it must have capers. As far as I can tell there's no singular definition of marinara sauce and the word, meaning "sailor", can be used for a whole slew of different concoctions with different origins.

I would call using "gravy" to refer to an Italian tomato sauce a regional variation.

Definitionally, I'd call any pourable, flavored substance to put on food a "sauce". I'd call gravy a sauce made from meat drippings OR a similar sauce poured over meat. (Edit: should be "of the type that is poured over meat" because people eat fries with gravy, etc.) Mushroom gravy often doesn't have stock or drippings, but it's still gravy. "Salsa" in U.S. parlance means "salsa picante", "hot sauce", and usually refers to the kind with chunks of vegetables with peppers in a vinegar base. "Salsa" in Spanish just means "sauce". "Mole" is a native word for "sauce". In the U.S., we think of it as a particular kind of sauce made from peppers, lots of different fruits, and chocolate, but in Mexico it just means "sauce".

Pinning down exact definitions of what words mean is impossible, as it changes with time and usage. As long as enough people in a community agree on the meaning that communication happens, that's the meaning of the word. No one is going to pick up the hollandaise (salsa holandesa) if you grab a bag of chips and say, "You bring the salsa." (Well, unless you have some really different snacking habits...) I was flummoxed when I first heard "gravy" used in a TV drama to refer to a big pot. Eventually, I caught on that it was, in my parlance, "spaghetti sauce". It's not that hard to discern. :)

This post was edited by plllog on Mon, Sep 1, 14 at 13:36

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 1:31PM
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For me, when you add thickener to a sauce, it becomes gravy.


    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 2:07PM
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Actually at many of the places people even for that fried sauce of tomatoes use the word gravy. Though you may use meat also in the gravy but that does not mean that gravy is just that includes meat.

Here is a link that might be useful: Spageo : GIS companies in ghaziabad

    Bookmark   September 9, 2014 at 4:57AM
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