Recipe: Caesar’s Mushroom Sauce

Caesars Mushroom Sauce

Caesar Pastore’s restaurants featured his family’s well-known ravioli dishes, homemade spaghetti and tagliarini with a brown mushroom sauce. Carlo Pastore created this recipe in 1913. It resembles Escoffier’s original recipe for sauce Espagnole, one of the mother sauces in classic French cooking, but with dried Italian mushrooms and a tomato base. Caesar’s brother Frank was trained as a butcher by trade and developed the recipe using sides of beef ordered from Cudahy Meat Packing Company in Mission Valley. Not wasting a scrap, they saved and used the beef bones as a basis for their homemade beef stock. Frank’s son Robert Pastore says they “always had simmering stockpots on the stove, 24-hours a day.” Its signature red-brown color comes from caramelizing the onions.

“The wonderful sauce that’s true culinary poetry…”

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Caesar’s Mushroom Sauce

Recipe for Caesar’s brown mushroom pasta sauce, Caesar’s Restaurant, San Diego, California. The recipe below is based on the original, provided by Robert Pastore from his restaurant’s recipe book. It has been modernized and quantities have been adjusted for the home cook.

For the Beef Stock:
10 lbs beef bones, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 ham hock (knuckle of ham, optional)
4 gallons water
1 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced celery
1 small can tomato paste
1/2 ounce fresh thyme sprigs
3 bay leaves
1 clove garlic
Whole, black peppercorns

Have your local butcher cut up the beef bones into 2-inch chunks. This will allow their collagen to be extracted more efficiently during simmering phase. Rinse them off to cleanse the bones of any residual impurities, remnants from the butchers’ saws, blood, or fat. Bake in an oven with the ham hock for 90 minutes (brings out the flavor a bit more than using raw bones). The less impurities, the clearer the final stock will be.

Place them in a large stockpot and cover with the water. Stir in the aromatics: onions, carrots, celery, tomato paste, thyme, bay leaves, garlic and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then immediately turn down the heat to a slow simmer.

Simmer for twelve hours, skimming off the foam on top with a spoon or small strainer. By simmering at a low heat for hours, you extract the flavors from the bones. If you boil it hard, the stock will go cloudy.

You can then strain into a clean pot and reduce until you have about two quarts of rich, brown beef stock.

For the Mushroom Sauce:
11/2 ounces (42g) dried porcini mushrooms
2 cups warm water
2 cups sliced yellow onions
1/2 lb smoked picnic ham, ground
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon dried sweet basil
1 lb finely ground beef
4 cups estouffade (brown stock) or beef stock, reserved from above
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 28-ounce can tomato purée
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
6 dried bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried sweet basil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Cornstarch and beef stock to thicken

Soak the dried mushrooms in warm water, until they have reconstituted, about two hours. Remove, squeezing out as much liquid as possible, and finely dice. Reserve the soaking liquid.

In a sauté pan, very slowly cook the onions, ground picnic ham, garlic, 1 tablespoon rosemary and 1 tablespoon basil in oil until the onions brown. On low heat, you should take about 60-90 minutes. The color of this sauce comes from this caramelization of the onions, so take your time. If they get dry, add some water and continue to caramelize until they are a deep brown color, but not burned. Reserve to the side.

Brown the ground beef in a sauté pan. Blend together the diced mushrooms with the reserved mushroom liquid and combine with the browned meat. Simmer for 30 minutes, and reserve to the side.

In a large stock pot add onion mixture, beef stock, tomato sauces, 1 tablespoon each pepper, rosemary and bay leaves, 2 teaspoons each oregano, basil and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring to make sure the bottom of the pan doesn’t burn. Reduce heat, and gently simmer for about 3-4 hours, scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally.

Thicken to gravy-like consistency by adding a mixture of cornstarch and beef stock or brown roux, and simmering for 30 minutes.

Strain into a clean pot, add the reserved beef-mushroom mixture, and bring to a simmer. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve over ravioli immediately, and top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Or place in plastic containers and reserve in the freezer.

The restaurant also cooked pot roasts in this sauce. Trim and tie a pot roast, brown in an oven, then drop the whole roast in your pot of simmering mushroom sauce for two hours, or until cooked medium or medium-well. Makes a great roast, and gives the sauce an additionally delicious meaty taste!

Updated 24 April 2016.

Caesar's Restaurant recipe book

Caesar’s Restaurant original recipe book. Photo, courtesy of the Pastore family.



Citation: Martin S. Lindsay. ‘Recipe: Caesar’s Mushroom Sauce.’ Classic San Diego: tasty bites from the history of America’s finest city. Web. < >

“Caesar’s Mushroom Sauce” Recipe from Caesar’s restaurant recipe book, 13 Mar 1963, in the collection of the Pastore family. ‘Caesar’s Corner,’ display ad, San Diego Union, 13 Aug 1963. Also, recipe details and cooking methods from Robert C Pastore, interview, 15 April 2016.

6 thoughts on “Recipe: Caesar’s Mushroom Sauce

  1. This brings back “memories” and was a family tradition in the 60’s, 70’s & early 80’s. We were so sad to see Caesar’s go. On Sundays, my dad would call the Pt. Loma restaurant, load up the station wagon get “to-go” food and take it to Lindbergh Field. We also dined very often at the Grossmont Center and Mission Valley restaurants as well. I have searched high and low for the recipe and now I have found it!!!! Thank you for the article and research.

  2. I can’t believe I found this. My parents used to eat at the Grossmont Center Caesars every single weekend for years and, of course, dragged me along with them. I will make the sauce as soon as the weather cools down. I can’t wait! I don’t suppose you could get their recipe for Italian salad dressing, could you?

  3. Does anyone know if there is a restaurant in the San Diego area that prepares this sauce? My dad is elderly and can no longer cook. Caesar’s was the family’s favorite restaurant and we ate there frequently until they closed up shop. He still mentions how much he misses the ravioli and meat sauce. I live out of state and I would love to get this for him the next time I am in town. Thank you

  4. Has anyone TACKLED REDUCING this MASSIVE RECIPE for home use??
    PLEASE POST the reduced quantities ~
    Greatly appreciated!!
    Looking forward to making this incredible sauce from the original cesars restaurant in Hillcrest – san Diego – ca!!

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