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This Goodfellas prison sauce is criminally delicious

Ever watch a movie and get hungry from the food on screen? Big Night? Babette’s Feast? Chocolat? Even Ratatouille makes you salivate. Those are true foodie films, but my favorite movie, Goodfellas, drove me to the kitchen to create this sauce. It’s got the perfect blend of crime, food and family, woven together with passion and intensity.

Goodfellas is about gangster Henry Hill, told through the eyes of Ray Liotta, and the story is as compelling as the food. Lots of films depicting Italian families feature food prominently, but Goodfellas uses food to enhance the storyline. Henry and his family — Mrs. DeVito, Tommy, Jimmy — cook and eat while they recap the days events: stories of corruption, drugs and murder. The mouthwatering food is as intoxicating as their crimes. The misdeeds are as familiar as the meatballs.

It’s mesmerizing.

One of the most memorable scenes in the movie is the prison meal, where wise-guy associate Paulie slices garlic with a razor blade. Paulie wants the garlic super thin, almost transparent, so it melts in the pan. The garlic is for the tomato sauce, a meaty blend of beef, veal, pork, onions and tomatoes. On the side? A chargrilled, aged hanger steak cooked medium rare, red and white wine, fresh Italian bread, salami, prosciutto, lots of cheese and Scotch. In prison? Wise guys have connections.

In honor of the movie, I recreated the Goodfellas sauce. I used some culinary license to create a similar version, one that captures the essence of the sauce, with just a handful of really good ingredients. I also made a few changes. I’m pretty sure they used whole shanks of pork and veal in the movie. I used diced veal from a chop and pork sausage for its incredible flavor and fat content. (Veal is super lean so it balances out.) I didn’t use three onions because Paulie doesn’t like a lot of onions — I added just enough. I used two cans of tomatoes, just like the movie, but I used crushed tomatoes seasoned with Italian seasonings, so I could add tons of flavor in one step. Oh, and I grated the garlic since I was out of Paulie-style, straight-edge razor blades.

I hope you prepare this sauce, serve it with a chunk of Italian bread and eat while you watch the movie — in the comfort of your own home.

Just for fun, here’s a link to the scene on YouTube.

Goodfellas prison sauce

Note: In the movie, Vinnie says pork is really important to the sauce and gives it lots of flavor. If you can’t find veal or want to dodge the hefty price tag, replace it with diced pork shoulder.

This sauce is like a thick stew, but it’s excellent served over pasta.

Serves 4-6

Goodfellas Sauce
Image: Robin Miller/SheKnows


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 pound beef chuck (stew beef), cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 pound veal, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 pound pork sausage, sweet or hot, casing removed
  • 1/2 cup yellow or white onion, chopped
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced or grated
  • 1/2 cup red or white wine
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 2 (28 ounce) cans Italian-style crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves, torn
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the beef, veal and sausage and cook for 3 to 5 minutes until browned on all sides, stirring frequently and breaking up the sausage as it cooks. I like to leave the sausage in bite-size chunks.
    Goodfellas Sauce
    Image: Robin Miller/SheKnows
  3. Using a slotted spoon, remove the meat from the pan and set aside, reserving the drippings (fat from the meat) in the pan.
  4. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan and reduce the heat to low. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until soft and caramelized, stirring frequently. Don’t rush this step!
    Goodfellas Sauce
    Image: Robin Miller/SheKnows
  5. Add the wine, increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the wine is almost evaporated. Add the broth and bring it to a simmer.
    Goodfellas Sauce
    Image: Robin Miller/SheKnows
  6. Return the meat to the pan and add the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste.
  7. Return the sauce to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 1 hour until the sauce is nice and thick.
  8. Season to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with fresh basil before serving.

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