Step aside Marinara Meat Sauce, Ragù Bolognese is without doubt the Queen of Italian sauces. This stick to your ribs pasta will warm your heart and soul any time of year.
So yeah, this takes 4-5 hours to make, but the good news is that using the oven-braise technique means that you don’t have to stand at the stove the whole time like your (or somebody’s) Italian grandma did.
Depending on your knife and prep skills, the active time in this recipe should be no more than an hour.
From the time I started cooking to the time I got it in the oven, it took me just a shade over 30 minutes.
A few other things are worth noting here:
First of all, I need to thank my brother, Charlie (who is a great cook in his own right), for making this for me and inspiring me to try it. To be honest, I’d always dismissed Bolognese as “fancy marinara meat sauce” and thus never got around to making it. In fact, when Charlie recommended it for dinner one night, I played along but was non-plussed at the idea. Boy was I wrong – it’s outta sight!
Second, speaking of giving credit where credit is due, after I tried Charlie’s version I spent a fair amount of time researching and pulled from my own knowledge as well as other recipes on the internet. The two main recipes I came across from which I drew inspiration were J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s version on Serious Eats and Bon Appetit’s. Special thanks to Kenji for the addition of the Asian Fish sauce – sounds weird, but trust me: it totally works.
Third, the observant reader will notice how similar this is to both Boeuf Bourguignon and Coq Au Vin in terms of technique: Bacon, Mirepoix (celery, onion, carrots), Umami, Protein, Red Wine, Braise.
Anyhow, without further ado:
- 2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 1.5 lbs pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1.5 lbs lean ground beef (as lean as you can get; you’re going to drain most of the fat off anyway)
- 2 packets Knox unflavored gelatin
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 oz thick cut bacon, diced into lardons (optional)
- 4 ribs celery, diced
- 3-4 carrots, diced
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 3 tablespoons (ish) minced parsley
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- Tiny grating fresh nutmeg (or 1/8 teaspoon ground)
- 1 teaspoon(ish) freshly grated orange zest
- 3 sprigs each fresh: sage, parsley, thyme, basil (or whatever combination of herbs makes you happy, substitute 2 teaspoons each dried if fresh is unavailable)
- 1 Bay leaf
- 1-2 cups crappy white wine (cheap is fine, but it must be dry)
- 2 tablespoons each: anchovy paste, tomato paste, red miso paste, mixed together
- 1 cup whole milk or half-n-half
- 1 28 oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes (or whatever you can find)
- 2-3 tablespoons high smoke point oil (avocado, vegetable, etc)
- Kosher Salt and Fresh Ground Black Pepper
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon asian fish sauce
Prep & Mis En Place
- Mix 2 packets of unflavored gelatin into chicken stock. Stir and set aside.
- Dice bacon into lardons, blanch in boiling water for 10 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon and allow to drain on paper towels. Reserve and set aside. (optional)
- Dice celery, carrots and onions and set aside in a medium bowl
- Mince parsley garlic; and set aside in a small bowl and grate nutmeg and orange zest into the same bowl
- Tie herbs and bay leaf up in a piece of cheesecloth (or half a coffee filter in a pinch). This is called a bouquet garni.
- Measure out wine and set aside
- Umami Bomb: Mix anchovy paste, tomato paste, and miso paste together and set aside in a small bowl
- Measure out milk and set aside
- Open can of tomatoes and, using an immersion blender, puree them in the can (or crush them by hand, or use a potato masher – whatever works).
- Open package of ground beef
- Dice up pork shoulder into 1.5 – 2 inch cubes
- Locate butter, fish sauce, parmesan and heavy cream
- Preheat oven to 300°F
- Add 2 tablespoons butter and blanched bacon lardons to a dutch oven and sauté over medium high heat just until butter ceases foaming
- Cook lardons until very crispy and most of the fat has rendered. Remove lardons with a slotted spoon and reserve on paper towels to drain; leave 2-3 tablespoons of fat in the bottom of the dutch oven
- Season pork shoulder with salt and pepper. Add pork shoulder cubes to dutch oven and brown well on all sides; remove with a slotted spoon and reserve (does not need to be cooked through)
- Do not wipe out pan – you should now have a lovely fond built up in the bottom of your pot
- Add the mirepoix (celery, onion, carrots) and continue to sauté until soft, 8-10 minutes, scraping up the fond from the bottom of the pot as the vegetables release their moisture
- Add ground beef and cook until no longer red but do not brown (at least not too much).
- Meanwhile, continue to stir and break up ground beef in dutch oven as it cooks. If there is a lot of fat from the ground beef in the dutch oven, you can drain some of it off
- Add aromatics (parsley, garlic, nutmeg, orange zest) to sauté pan with mirepoix and cook until very fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Do not allow garlic to brown. Add a splash of red wine, stock, or water if need be to stop the cooking process
- Stir Umami Bomb (mixed anchovy paste, tomato paste and miso paste) into ground beef and stir well to incorporate.
- Add wine, and cook until almost evaporated
- Add milk or half-and-half, and cook down until almost evaporated
- Add crushed tomatoes and stir well to combine
- Add stock with gelatin
- Add browned cubes of pork
- Submerge bouquet garni in liquid.
- Give everything a good stir
- Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
- Transfer dutch oven to 300°F oven and leave uncovered. (You want it to reduce as it cooks). Allow to cook 3-4 hours. Check on it every hour or so and stir – fat should rise to the top and some browning should occur. If browning is happening too rapidly, or sauce reduces too quickly, add a splash of stock or water occasionally.
- Remove from oven and skim off as much fat as you can with a large spoon (there will still be A LOT left in the sauce)
- Stir in heavy cream, Parmesan and 1 tablespoon fish sauce. Bring to a boil to emulsify stirring occasionally.
- Serve over pasta
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