Whenever I make this Italian Meat Sauce, my home fills with a magical aroma that makes everybody eager to gather around the table. It’s as if we have been hypnotized by a romantic notion of being an Italian family congregating for Sunday dinners. The fact I like to crank some Dean Martin or Sinatra whenever I make it, probably adds to that whole Sopranos vibe.
The cooking technique I’ll guide you through, along with a few select ingredient choices, makes this Italian Meat Sauce far superior to anything off the shelf. Each step of the recipe was developed to extract the maximum flavor out of each and every ingredient. For over eighteen years, back when I first became obsessed with cooking, I have been constantly improving this delicious recipe. Hopefully your family enjoys it as much as mine.
Preparing the Ingredients for Italian Meat Sauce
I always have the best success with a recipe if I take the time to actually do the majority of the cutting and measuring before I ever start cooking. This allows your attention to be on the steps of the recipe and add to the sauce at the proper times.
The knife cuts for the onions and peppers should be consistent as they will not be pureed like the tomatoes.
For this Italian Meat Sauce having all the knife work, with the exception of the fresh herbs, completed before you start browning your ground beef allows to to focus on developing a proper fond. You will also look to develop a fond once the aromatics have been fully sweated. But you might be wondering…
What is a fond?
Fond is the brown, highly concentrated layer of flavor that forms on the surface of a sauté pan, baking sheet, or roasting dish while cooking meat or vegetables. It’s flavor is desirable and is the base for many pan sauces.
In order to incorporate a fond into a sauce, you need to deglaze it with a liquid. Manual scrubbing with a wooden spoon paired with a liquid is the most effective way to lift the fond from a pan to incorporate into a sauce.
Proper Cooling for Italian Meat Sauce
Sauces like this Italian Meat Sauce always taste best the next day once the flavors have had a chance to develop. But proper cooling is essential. Doing this not only prevents bacteria growth, but reduces stress on your refrigerator and limits refrigerator odors.
Your goal is to get the sauce below 40 F as quickly as possible before you place in a covered container in your refrigerator.
It is best to place your sauce pot into an ice bath to cool rapidly. Stir occasionally to redistribute the heat. Sauces will self insulate as the outer layer cools and prevent the center of the pan from cooling.
Choose Ingredients for this Italian Meat Sauce
This guide is intended to help you make sense of selecting the ingredients for this Italian Meat Sauce. Most of these are common ingredients, but there are a few factors that can lead to a more successful dish. I have included some affiliate links of products that I personally recommend. Any purchases made through them support this website. Or simply use them as reference when you are out shopping.
Whenever I make a pasta, pizza, or any type Italian red sauce I typically use canned San Marzano tomatoes. I will always buy the whole peeled variety and puree or dice them if needed. You get more tomato and less juice when you purchase them this way. The exception would be in the late summer when really good locally grown tomatoes are available. San Marzano tomatoes have a strong tomato flavor, that is sweet, has low acidity, and fewer seeds than most tomato varieties. The real ones, which are the grown in Italy’s Campania region are absolutely delicious.
Most grocery stores seem to offer at least one brand of authentic San Marzano tomatoes in either their pasta section or the canned vegetable isle. Otherwise, you can order them here online. They are usually two dollars more expensive than the other varieties of canned tomatoes, but it is money well spent. Just don’t be fooled by brands that call themselves “San Marzano style” as they are not the same quality.
For an Italian Meat Sauce, I prefer to go with 85:15 or 80:20 ground chuck.
Buying ground beef can be confusing. The different ratios 80:20, 85:15, 90:10, etc. all have to do with the amount of fat vs lean beef that are used to make the grind. There is also options on what cuts are used, sirloin, chuck, or regular ground beef, that also can complicate things.
Most regular ground beefs are typically made up of a variety different cuts of beef. Chances are they are combinations of chuck, sirloin, and trimmings from throughout the animals. So there is no real consistency from store to store on what that entails.
Sirloin on the other hand is made up of cut of meat meat from the upper mid section. These cuts typically used in grilling or sauté cooking techniques. I find ground sirloin will get dry and grislily when cooked past 155 F or well done. So I avoid it for a sauce where it is going to simmer around 200 F.
Chuck is made up of shoulder cuts. Chuck can include the chuck eye roast, chuck pot roast, short ribs, chuck flap, and a few others. All of these different cuts are ones that we traditionally associate with braising cooking techniques. So they are perfect for simmering in a sauce and just get better the longer they are cooked.
For this Italian Meat Sauce I recommend that you get your hands on the best beef stock you can. Stocks or Broths are one of the things that can really breathe additional life into a sauce. They are made from slow cooking bones along with aromatic vegetables for hours to develop not only a rich deep flavor, but can also add a ton of smooth texture and body.
The most convenient option is going to be cartons of stock you can find in the soup section at the grocery store. These are will add more depth of flavor to your sauce than just using water. But the carton stocks lack any of the additional body that comes with gelatin found in homemade beef stocks. Also, choose the unsalted versions.
If you can find a refrigerated or frozen beef stock these are typically better quality than the cartons. I have purchased these at Trader Joes near the produce and in the meat department of some grocery stores. If where you shop has these offered, I recommend these over the cartons.
Making your own beef stock is another option. This will give you the best results. I suggest you make a large batch and freeze it in usable portions if you go down that route. It will take over 12 hours to do it the right way, most of that time is hands off. Just make sure to use a filtered water. Any chemicals or sediment in your city water will get concentrated during the cook.
This Italian Meat sauce calls for both fresh and dried herbs. When you add them and which ones you use are equally as important.
When making this Italian Meat Sauce, choosing good fresh herbs important. You will want to add your basil and parsley at the very end, just a few minutes prior to serving. This will give your Italian Meat Sauce some great fresh notes. Don’t over do it with out tasting first. A little goes a long way.
If you follow this site you will see that I often make references to growing your own culinary herbs. Starting a culinary herb garden is incredibly easy, you can check out this guide to get started. But, you also get amazing quality and can save a ton of money. Since the amount of basil used is so small in this recipe, being able to just pluck a few herbs to finish the sauce is convenient and you will be happy to have saved that $4 once again!
Dried herbs are fairly easy to source and relatively inexpensive. When using dried herbs in a sauce, you want to add them early in cooking process. I find towards the end of sweating the vegetables allows them to “wake up”. Doing it at this time also prevents them from getting bitter from being burnt.
Dried herbs should be replaced every six months. Even though they are dried, they will become less potent over time. Equally important is to keep them dry. Using the convenient shakers they come in directly over a steaming sauce is not a best practice. This can actually cause your herbs to become rancid.
Most tomato pastes are relatively comparable. So choosing one doesn’t require a great knowledge on the topic. This Italian meat sauce only uses 3 tablespoons in the recipe. Because of that I suggest using the tomato paste that comes in a tube versus a can. Like this one. This way you feel no obligation to use it all once opened. Overdoing it on tomato paste can be detrimental.
Tomato paste should be added after vegetables are sweated and the dried herbs are added. It will need around two minutes of waking up in the pan before adding any more liquid ingredients to the sauce. This brings a nice sweetness and depth to the sauce.
Equipment you will need to make Italian Meat Sauce
These are items I personally use and recommend. Any purchase made through the Amazon affiliate links below support this website.
Serving Italian Meat Sauce
What I really enjoy about this sauce is just how versatile it is in the realm of pasta. It doesn’t matter what shape you have in your pantry. Italian Meat Sauce will go well with it. One of my favorite recipes to use this sauce in is this Baked Paccheri Pasta.
This Italian Meat Sauce can stand up to any shape or style of pasta. From angel hair to wide noodles, even filled or baked. It is right up there with marinara in it’s ability to be used universally.
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Italian Meat Sauce
- 1 pound Ground Beef preferably Chuck
- 28 ounces Whole Peeled Tomatoes San Marzano
- 2 cups Beef Stock
- 1 cup Diced Onion about 1 Medium Onion
- 1 cup Red Bell Pepper about 1 Pepper
- 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 2 Tbsp Chopped Garlic Fresh
- 2 Tbsp Chopped Basil
- 3 Tbsp Tomato Paste
- 1 Tsp Dried Oregano
- 1 Tsp Crushed Red Pepper
- 2 Tbsps. Chopped Parsley
- 3 Tbsps. Sugar
- 1½ Tbsps. Kosher Salt
- 1 Tsp Fennel Seeds
- ½ Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
- Small Dice Onion and Red Bell Pepper.
- Mince Garlic and Chop Fresh Parsley and Basil.
- Measure out the spices need and set aside till the recipe calls for them.
- Blend tomatoes smooth.
Browning the Ground Beef
- Place a large sauce pot on the stove over medium to medium high heat and allow it a few minutes to get up to temperature. Using thicker bottomed pot will give you best results.1 pound Ground Beef
- Prior to adding ground beef to the heat, pat it dry with a paper towel. Do not add cooking oil to the pan or any salt at this point. This will encourage browning and a fond to develop.
- When adding the ground beef to the pan, try to evenly distribute over the entire cooking surface. Do not stir or disrupt the beef for at least 3 minutes.
- After you notice some browning taking place, stir ground beef using a wooden spoon. If areas are sticking to the pan, use the wooden spoon to scrape them free. Allow the beef a few more minutes to cook undisturbed. Note: if you notice some burning happening, add a small amount of beef stock (2 Tbsp. ) and lower the heat. You want there to be a nice even brown (not black) tint to the bottom of your pan.
- One beef appears to be browned and a layer of fond has formed on the base of your pan, add ½ cup of beef stock. Give the stock a moment to lift the fond from the pan and assist it by scrapping with your wooden spoon.2 cups Beef Stock
- Transfer cooked ground beef from the pan into mixing bowl and set aside till later.
Sweating the Aromatics
- Return your pan to the stove over medium heat. With the ground beef out of the pan, add two tablespoons of olive oil. Allow oil to come up to temperature.
- Then add the diced onion and red bell pepper along with one tablespoon of salt. Let the vegetables simmer without browning for five minutes while stirring occasionally.1 cup Diced Onion, 1 cup Red Bell Pepper, 2 Tbsp Olive Oil, 1½ Tbsps. Kosher Salt
- Once the onions appear translucent add the minced garlic, sugar, dried oregano, fennel seeds, crushed red pepper, and black pepper. Mix well and let cook for an additional three minutes.2 Tbsp Chopped Garlic, 1 Tsp Dried Oregano, 1 Tsp Crushed Red Pepper, 3 Tbsps. Sugar, 1 Tsp Fennel Seeds
- The aroma should be building at this point in the cook. Next add the tomato paste and give the sauce a stir to coat everything in the tomato paste. After two minutes the tomato paste will be woken up and likely starting to form another fond on the bottom of your pan.3 Tbsp Tomato Paste
Finishing the Sauce
- Add the remaining 1½ cups of beef stock to deglaze the fond formed by the tomato paste. Assist by scrapping bottom of the pan with your wooden spoon. Then add the cooked ground beef and blended tomatoes to the sauce.2 cups Beef Stock
- Allow the sauce to come up to a simmer before reducing the heat to low. Cook for an additional 15 minutes stirring occasionally.
- Add the red wine vinegar, basil and parsley. Taste the sauce for seasoning. Add the additional ½ tablespoon of salt if you feel it is necessary.2 Tbsp Chopped Basil, 2 Tbsps. Chopped Parsley, ½ Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
- Once seasoning is adjusted, either serve immediately or store refrigerated
- Sauces like this Italian Meat Sauce always taste best the next day once the flavors have had a chance to develop. But proper cooling is essential. Doing this not prevents bacteria growth, but reduces stress on your refrigerator and limits refrigerator odors. It is best to place your sauce pot into an ice bath to cool rapidly. Stir occasionally to redistribute the heat. Sauces will self insulate as the outer layer cools and prevent the center of the pan from cooling. Your goal is to get the sauce below 40 F as quickly as possible before placing in the refrigerator.