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Simmering Bolognese Sauce . . .?

I'm about to put up a big pot of Bolognese sauce. Two similar recipes, both from trusted sources, both calling for very similar ingredients, give slightly different simmering instructions. One says, "Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat and cover. Slowly simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring now and then until the sauce is very thick." The other says, "...bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low so that the sauce continues to simmer just barely ... until the liquid has evaporated, about 3 hours." No mention of a cover in this second recpe (and there wouldn't be if the liquid needs to evaporate).

So -- cover or no cover? And how long should a Bolognese sauce simmer?

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  1. Marcella Hazan writes that the sauce should cook at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surfface, UNcovered, for 3 hours or more. "At the end," she continues, "the fat must separate from the sauce." And it will, especially if you used ground chuck (80% lean), enough butter (3 tablespoons per pound of beef), and whole milk (1 cup per pound, added BEFORE the white wine). I've never had better Bolognese than Hazan's.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Tom Steele

      I just looked up Marcella's recipe and see that she uses a total of 3/4 lb. of meat and that it's all chuck. One of my recipes calls for 2 lbs. of meat, half beef and half pork, with about the same amount of other ingredients (celery, carrots, milk, tomatoes). Now I'm more confused than when I first posted my question.

    2. Uncovered. Putting the cover on will increase the temperature (bad - you really want this at the barest of simmers if you want the best flavor and reduction) and cause condensation to drip back into the pot, which is undesirable for a ragu. Uncovered at a bare simmer takes longer, and 3 hours is not too long by any means. I do three reductions: first the milk (this takes the longest, often 90 minutes, because milk raises the simmering point), then the wine (might be 45-60 minutes), then the broth/tomato (30-45 minutes, depending on my mood). In that order, because it keeps the acidic ingredients (wine, then tomato) for later, and thus results in a better and more balanced flavor and texture.

      1. I simmer mine uncovered, well for the most part. I put a lid halfway on the top of the pot.
        This way, the simmering bubles are caught by the lid. Otherwise the top of my stove has tomato spots, which are hard to clean.

        1. My Italian-American family never made Bolognese (they were Calabrian) but I've tried a few recipes and have not seen one with garlic. I take the liberty of adding garlic and a bit of oregano and fresh basil. To me, this makes it all the better.

          1 Reply
          1. re: walker

            Yes, garlic is very non-traditional in ragu bolognese, nor is oregano nor fresh basil - that converts the sauce into a southern Italian thing with very non-southern Italian ingredients (lots of meat and dairy is very unsouthern).

          2. I do it uncovered but I will put on that round flat screen on top (that's like a large flat sieve) just in case. I forgot what it's called.