A staple growing up in Italian households, this old school Italian Sunday Gravy recipe is simply the best meat sauce you will even eat – whether you serve it on pasta or just sop it up with some Italian bread!
Sunday Gravy Recipe
Growing up in an Italian-Irish household there are certain things that are just expected when it comes to food.
Fish on Fridays.
Lots of starchy carbs.
Multiple courses at just about every holiday. (Lasagna, ham AND turkey on Christmas.)
And every Sunday, a big family meal.
Now, Sunday Gravy wasn’t really a thing I grew up with – but it’s definitely something I’m excited for my daughter to grow up with. And my dad comes over every time I make this, so it’s become a nice family tradition.
I love the ritual of getting the oxtail from the butcher at our local market on Sunday mornings, and then making this and having that gorgeous smell warm up our home all Sunday afternoon before we get to tuck in as a family. While we have served it as a pasta, my favorite way to enjoy our Sunday Gravy is just with some bread or homemade chip-style fries!
This recipe is straight out of Anthony Bourdain’s Appetites cookbook. While I modify it a little bit each time I make it, I’m sharing the (mostly) original ingredients list with you and then you can feel free to improvise from there. For the first time you make it, I would avoid making substitutions so that you can experience Sunday Gravy as it is supposed to taste.
Every recipe I’ve tried from Appetites has been a slam dunk. It’s definitely one to add to your wish list!
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Now, the one tricky ingredient to find is oxtail, but it is essential for your first Sunday Gravy experience. I found it at a good quality butcher – you may want to call ahead first as two butchers that I spoke to let me know that they only tend to order in a few as it’s a specialty item.
If you absolutely cannot find oxtail, you can substitute with veal or beef neck, short ribs, or shank, but the flavor won’t be quite the same.
Bourdain’s original recipe called for 2-3 pounds of pork neck bones, but to keep the cost of this recipe reasonable I have omitted them. If you want to add them, just add them with the oxtail and follow the same instructions.
Also, while the original recipe does the majority of the cook time in the oven, I have also made this recipe completely on the stove and found it just as delicious. It just requires a longer cook time. I’ve included the instructions for that method in the notes on the recipe card.
Why is it called gravy? Is it gravy or sauce? This has long been a point of debate for Italian-Canadians and Italian-Americans. Those who call this recipe “Sunday gravy” do so because it has meat in the sauce – a ragu – and use the term gravy to distinguish the recipe from a meat-less sauce. It seems to be a regional thing, and since my Italian family is from New York and Toronto, I’m sticking with gravy.
Do I need a dutch oven for this recipe? I love the versatility of my dutch oven. I’ve used it for nearly a decade and it’s not showing any signs of wear. It’s perfect for recipes that need long simmering times, and being able to transfer it from the stove top to the oven makes it perfect for this recipe. I’ve had stainless steel pans warp after a long cooking time, and they stain/damage a lot faster than anything with a solid cast iron core, like a dutch oven.
(Aluminum is never recommended for long cooking times or cooking acidic foods, like tomatoes. It will react with the food.)
Can I freeze Sunday gravy? Yes! Portion out into air-tight freezer containers or zip-top freezer bags and freeze for up to 3 months. Let it thaw completely before reheating for best texture.
(This set of freezer containers is a crazy bargain.)
Can I make this sauce thinner? Yes, if you prefer a thinner sauce you can simply add a cup of water when adding the broth and wine.
Can I make this sauce thicker? This sauce is pretty thick already thanks to it’s tomato paste-base and a slow cooking time that reduces the liquid, but if this is your second time making our recipe and you want to make it thinner, reduce the cooking liquid to your preferences – but don’t reduce past 2 cups of liquid.
Why doesn’t this Sunday gravy recipe call for sugar? Personally, I think that oxtail, good-quality tomatoes and the garlic add enough sweetness and I like to avoid adding sugar where it’s not needed. Some recipes call for a tablespoon or two of sugar when the tomatoes are not in season, but I’d prefer to opt for canned tomatoes in that case.
Sunday Gravy Ingredients
- Oxtail, cut into pieces
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Olive oil <– no need to use extra-virgin olive oil as this is for cooking, not finishing
- Pork sausage links
- White onions, peeled and finely chopped
- Garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- Tomato paste
- Dried oregano
- Red pepper flakes, to taste
- Dry red wine <– this is a great wine for using in this recipe AND pairing with it. It’s my friend Kylee’s favorite wine.
- Chicken stock (note: try out our homemade bone broth for this)
- Canned crushed tomatoes
- Bay leaves
- Fresh thyme or rosemary (can use dried)
- Fresh basil (can use dried)
- Pasta of choice
- Parmesan cheese, for serving
Tip: Bourdain’s original recipe called for 2-3 pounds of pork neck bones, but to keep the cost of this recipe reasonable I have omitted them. If you want to add them, just add them with the oxtail and follow the same instructions.
Tip #2: you can use our homemade Italian seasoning for this recipe.
Kitchen Tools You May Find Helpful
- Butcher’s twine
- Heavy stockpot or Dutch Oven <– highly recommended for even cooking and seamlessly transferring this recipe from the stove to the oven
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Wooden spoon
How to Make Sunday Gravy
Preheat oven to 350F
Place a Dutch oven (or an ovenproof heavy stockpot) over medium-high heat and add olive oil.
Season the oxtail with salt and pepper and add to the hot oil (along with the neck bones, if using).
Brown the oxtail all over, then remove to a plate. Add the sausages to the Dutch Oven and brown completely. Remove to the plate.
Reduce heat to medium, and add the chopped onions to the Dutch oven along with a pinch of salt.
Once the onions are translucent, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute before adding the tomato paste, oregano and pepper flakes. Cook until the tomato paste takes on a darker, red-brown hue, about 4 minutes.
Add the wine to deglaze the pan, stirring well to pick up any stuck-on bits, and then reduce by half, about 10 minutes.
After the wine has reduced, add the chicken stock, tomatoes and bay leaves.
*Technically, you should wrap the herb springs in cheesecloth for a bouquet garni, but I just remove from the sprigs and add directly to the stock.
Return the oxtail to the Dutch oven, season to taste with salt and pepper, and then bring the whole thing to a boil.
Cover with lid and place the Dutch oven in the oven for 2.5 hours, then add the sausages and return to the oven for another 30 minutes.
*Alternatively, cook covered at medium-low heat for 5 hours on the stove.
Prepare the pasta according to package directions, and then serve with a generous topping of the Sunday Gravy and a hefty grating of Parmesan.
Grab your free printable for Anthony Bourdain’s Sunday Gravy recipe:
Note: Bourdain's original recipe called for 2-3 pounds of pork neck bones, but to keep the cost of this recipe reasonable I have omitted them. If you want to add them, just add them with the oxtail and follow the same instructions. Instead of cooking in the oven, you can alternatively cook covered at medium-low heat for 5-6 hours on the stove. The meat should be fall-apart tender. As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases. Sugar, Spice and Glitter uses an auto-generate nutrition calculator. Nutrition information isn’t always accurate unless analyzed in a scientific lab, so these should be considered more of a guideline than medical information.
Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 495Total Fat: 28gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 115mgSodium: 757mgCarbohydrates: 21gFiber: 3gSugar: 7gProtein: 34g
Note: Bourdain's original recipe called for 2-3 pounds of pork neck bones, but to keep the cost of this recipe reasonable I have omitted them. If you want to add them, just add them with the oxtail and follow the same instructions.
Instead of cooking in the oven, you can alternatively cook covered at medium-low heat for 5-6 hours on the stove. The meat should be fall-apart tender.
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Sugar, Spice and Glitter uses an auto-generate nutrition calculator. Nutrition information isn’t always accurate unless analyzed in a scientific lab, so these should be considered more of a guideline than medical information.
Anthony Bourdain’s Sunday Gravy recipe is my family’s favorite meat sauce and a Sunday staple! I hope that your family loves it as much as mine does and it can become a family tradition for you, too.