This is part one of the only Meat Sauce recipe you’ll ever need. It’s an extremely detailed (but still simple and easy) recipe for my Grandma’s homemade, Italian meat sauce and this seriously is the very best Sunday sauce you’ll ever taste. This first part is all about making authentic meatballs and fall-apart-tender pork for your sauce as well as the secret ingredient that makes this sauce so delicious!
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Phew, that title was a long one, wasn't it? I know. It's a little much. But I wanted to make sure I got the point across.
In an Italian-American family, the sauce is King. Every family has their own sauce which they know is better than any other sauce (this one really is, I promise!). And within that family, each member has their own variation of it.
This is certainly the case in our family. They're all generally the same idea, but each of us is doing it with a different hand and feel. There may be things I mention in this post that some of my family would say "No, no no- that's not how you do it- you do it this way." And at the end of the day our sauces will all be delicious and likely quite similar.
Before my Grandma Rose died, my dad sat down with her for an entire day while she made meat sauce and she showed him how to make it. Being the studious and detail-oriented guy that he is, he wrote down exactly what she said, word-for-word.
I was super close with my Grandparents and I miss them terribly. I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a part of me that gets a little sad as I read her words. I can just hear her speaking those exact words and kindly but firmly chiding me if I make a misstep. It's comforting to read her words but slightly heart breaking as well.
This recipe is the sauce I ate almost every Sunday growing up. It is sacred and it is, without a doubt, the absolute most delicious thing I've ever eaten. As a little girl I can remember making a point to hang in the kitchen, because the minute my mom turned around, Grandma would take a meatball and put it on a saucer and give it to me with a wink and a smile.
Now some people like to keep family recipes secret. They might argue that I should keep it in the family. And I get it to an extent. But Rosie was always extremely generous in so many ways and I truly believe amazing food should be shared. I also believe that everyone should have this sauce in their life because it really is that good.
I went ahead and broke this down into two posts. This post is detailing the process of making the most perfectly tender meatballs and pork, as well as the liquid gold. Liquid gold is the secret ingredient that takes this from being a delicious meat sauce to an exceptional meat sauce.
You should know going in that Rosie was extremely specific and picky about her sauce. It had to be a clean sauce, free of chunks of tomato, garlic, onion and basil (even though all of those things are still important components). Even though bits of onion and garlic and all those glorious brown bits from frying the meat are super important in flavoring the liquid gold, Rosie would not stand of even a crumb of those floating around in her sauce.
She was also very adamant that while garlic is important, you don't want to go too heavy on it. I can remember her watching Giada on the food network and spending the entire show wrinkling her nose, shaking her head and exclaiming "too much garlic!" But don't worry, this sauce definitely does not lack in flavor.
Rosie always used pork, generally country pork ribs (either bone-in or boneless, depending on what looked good. For this we used boneless because those were looking better that particular day). She also made a ton of her perfect meatballs. These meatballs are endlessly tender, perfectly flavored and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. As a general rule, a meatball should never bounce because that's an indication that the meat is too hard.
There's also a variation to this recipe for adding Italian sausage. There were many Sunday dinners that included hot and sweet Italian sausage in the sauce but that variation is in the notes because she always did sausage differently so as not to intermingle the different sausage flavors into her sauce flavor.
The recipe is long and detailed. I am leaving it in my beloved Grandma Rose's words because that's the way it was meant to be. I may pop in here and there in the recipe to clarify things or add certain notes. You'll be able to tell that it's me talking because I'll put my own words into parenthesis.
Though the vast majority of my recipes are super simple, this is much more detailed. It makes a ton of sauce: a giant pot! Since it is time consuming, this is a good thing because you can freeze a ton of it and pull it out as you need it. If you have a full day available, bang it out in one-fell-swoop.
If not, do the meat and the liquid gold one day and do the sauce the next day. And if you make too much liquid gold, don't fret- that's a great thing because then you can freeze it and add it to your tomato sauce another time! I've broken it down into two parts- this first is for the meat and the liquid gold and the next part will be for the sauce itself.
Just know that I'm sending this recipe out into the world with a full heart and with so much love. The ladies in our family put their entire heart and soul into making this and into cooking for all of us. I sincerely hope you can feel that very same love when you eat this.
Other favorite Rosie recipes include:
Rosie’s Award Winning Cherry Cheese Pie
Grandma’s Baked Artichoke Hearts
Rosie's Meat Sauce, Part 1: The Meat
For the pork:
- ½-1 cup of olive oil note from Jessy- back in the day, Rosie used to use gem oil when money was tight
- 4-5 cloves or you can you us much as you want. It depends on the size of the cloves. If they're large or small- use more or less. note from Jessy- Rosie always told me to poke a few holes into the the garlic with the tip of my knife to let the juices out- my mom simply cuts them in half
- 1-2 packages of pork- if you're making more sauce use more pork (we use country-style pork ribs but you can also use pork blades or pork steaks- whether or not they are bone-in depends on what looks good that day)
- Garlic Powder
For the meatballs:
- 3 ½ lbs. of ground beef- you want 80/20 hambruger which means 20% of it is fat. Don't buy the 90% or above or it will be too dry- plus fat adds flavor (note from Jessy- sometimes I'll add a little ground pork into the mix)
- 7 large eggs
- Seasoned Bread Crumbs
- Romano Cheese
- Garlic Powder
- 1 small onion
For the pork:
- Take a frying pan and put in ½ cup or 1 cup of oil- it doesn't matter how much because you can save it to make more sauce later (note from Jessy- I used closer to a cup and ended up with extra liquid gold to freeze.).
- Then skin the garlic- remove the skin. Put these 4 or 5 cloves into the frying pan.
- Cut the fat off the pork, wash it off and throw it in the grease- also pull off the thin membrane of fat skin (note from Jessy- I didn't do any of this- I simply trimmed the pork into strips because I like the added flavor the fat gives as it renders). Before you put the pork in the grease, sprinkle it with salt, pepper and a little garlic powder. Also, cut the meat into smaller pieces first because this is what people like to eat (note from Jessy- again, I skipped this step in favor of larger pieces).
- Now turn on the stove- start high then lower it to medium-high. When it starts cooking, you only want to brown the meat to a golden brown. You don't want to burn it.
- Keep turning the meat so all sides get brown- with each turn you salt and pepper it a little. Now leave it and let it cook but keep watching it. (note from Jessy- once all sides are golden brown remove it to drain on a paper towel lined plate).
Now make the meatballs:
- Mix everything in a bowl in the sink.
- The ratio is 2 eggs to 1 pound of ground beef (note from Jessy- my mom makes them with less, I tend to go by feel and start with one less and then add more as needed). So if you have 3 ½ lbs. of ground meat, you'll use 7 eggs. Add 1 cup of seasoned bread crumbs- Italian style- There's 2 types of breadcrumbs, plain and seasoned. You want seasoned for this.
- Add ⅔ cups of Romano Cheese - all of this will flavor the meatballs.
- Next add black pepper, salt and garlic powder- sprinkle a little shake of each once around the bowl or to your taste.
- Next- in the bowl in the sink- mix all of this with your hands.
- While mixing it, add a couple of handfuls of warm water- cup your hands under the faucet and get the water and throw it in- the water softens up the meat, otherwise the meat is hard. Add water to how hard you want your meatballs. You can feel how hard the meat is while you're mixing it (note from Jessy- Make sure you mix it really, really well. Keep turning it and get your hands in there so everything is incorporated evenly. You will feel the meat start to soften up in your hands, which is what you want).
- Now make a couple of little meatball flat patties and put it in the fry pan that's already cooking and when it's cooked, taste it so you know if your meatballs are what you want. If not either add more water- if the meat is too hard or more cheese or breadcrumbs for flavoring- you decide to your own taste. If it needs a little salt or garlic, just add what you want. (note from Jessy- my mom tells me that when she first learned to make sauce from my Grandma, she was told that if it's a matter of flavoring, typically you'd add more cheese before breadcrumbs because that adds more flavor. When I made these, I ended up adding an additional egg, some more water and a ton more cheese and garlic powder.).
- Then roll the meat into a ball- a meatball- over the sink and put them onto a tray or dish.
- Keep watching the fry pan- when the pork is browned, take it out and set it aside in another tray (note from Jessy- there's a note here from my dad that they didn't even have their sauce going yet but when you get more used to this you can have your sauce going while you do all these steps- if you're planning on doing everything in one day).
- Then take a small cooking onion- one with orange or white skin, not a purple or red onion- and skin it and chop it up or slice it and put it in the fry pan after you have taken the browned pork out- again, this is for extra flavoring.
- Now put some of the meatballs into the fry pan and just brown these also but not real dark because they will finish cooking in the sauce- they are thick and you want to slightly cook them through (note from Jessy- my dad’s notes indicate they made 30 meatballs. I was working with about 3 ½ lbs. of ground meat and I got around 42 meatballs out of it. It all depends on how big you make them. Mine fit nicely in the palm of my hand, and my hands are reasonably small- Please note if you're doing everything in one day, now is the time that you'll start your pot of sauce as per part two of this recipe).
- As the meatballs and pork brown and are taken out, place them on a paper towel lined plate to drain. For each meatball, hand pick the off the little bits of onion, garlic or other little pieces that can be left on the meatballs because if you don't, these will go into the sauce and you don't want that.
For the liquid gold:
- Now add water to the fry pan so that it's filled up to around half and bring it to a boil. Keep scraping the bottom of the fry pan to get all the little bits off the bottom- you want it to float in the water and grease because it's all the flavoring.
- Now take the water and grease that was mixed with bits and pieces from the fry pan- this is the juice- and strain it and put the clean, clear, strained juice (note from Jessy- This is the liquid gold. This is the very best of the best flavoring for your sauce.).
- From Jessy- at this point, you'll move on to the sauce part of this recipe in part two. If you're doing the sauce the next day you'll wrap and refrigerate your liquid gold and your meat to use in the next day's sauce recipe.
Cook the sausage separately- you don't want the sausage grease used because it has a different flavor and you don't want that flavor in your sauce.
After your sausage is cooked, put it on a paper towel to drain the rest of the grease off the sausage and then put the sausage into the sauce kettle with the rest of the meats. Throw out the sausage grease and don't use it. In general:
Keep an eye on your heat. You don't want your garlic and onions to burn so if you notice it's browning too fast turn the heat down. If they get so dark that they are close to burning, remove them from the pan and set them aside until you're ready to make your liquid gold, then you can add them back in for that.
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