Purees and Meat Juices

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
From the Middle Ages through the 16th century, Italian court cooking was as innovative as French cooking, and sometimes more so. Yet it stagnated in the 17th century, according to historian Claudio Benporat, as part of a general political and cultural decline caused by an absence of strong Italian leaders and the influence of other European powers on the several Italian courts. The sauces that have come to be known as distinctively Italian are mainly domestic and relatively unrefined in character, based not so much on essences as on whole materials: the purees of tomato fruits and basil leaves, for example. The basic Italian meat sauce, or sugo, is made in the manner of Marin’s 18th-century consommé: meat is slowly cooked to liberate its juices, which are allowed to cook down and brown on the pan bottom; then meat broth is used to redissolve the browned residues, and allowed to concentrate and itself brown: and the process repeated to produce a concentrated flavor. The meat is not discarded, but becomes part of the sauce. Not only Italy but much of the Mediterranean region, including southern France, has been less interested in extracting meat essences than in highlighting and combining flavors.