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Jul 14, 2007 01:32 PM

Ragu bolognese - question

Marcella Hazan's recipe for ragu bolognese calls for a cup of milk, added after you've sauteed off the meat, and then simmered until the milk has evaporated. This is then followed by the more usual cup of wine. So, why milk? I know liver is often simmered in milk to remove impurities and bitterness. Is it for similar reasons here?

Also, what secret (usually terribly inauthentic) ingredients do you add to your ragu?

Everyone seems to have some. Mine often include some of the following:
tomato paste, anchovy paste, worchester sauce, soy sauce, rehydrated, minced shitakes (and soaking liquid), smoked salt, chopped mushrooms, minced bockwurst, minced bacon.

Interested to hear what other hounds get up to...

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  1. Here is her answer from her recipe:

    "Cook the meat in milk before adding wine and tomatoes to protect it from the acidic bite of the latter."

    I read her recipe, it does sound different, but people rave about it, so I think I would try her version at least once!

    1. I believe the lactic acid in the milk also tenderizes the meat, hence the loving and painstakingly slow process in her recipe. If this is your first time making here bolognese, follow it like gospel. I say this as a can't-help-myself improvisor when cooking.
      The ONLY thing I did was use a tad more meat so the bolognese could suffice as a main course. Her's in used as a primi, I think.
      The tagliatelle is key too. If not making it fresh, buy a nice dried egg tagliatelle. I bought 2 boxes from an Italian store, which cooked in 2 minutes.
      I agree with Hazan's explanation above too. There are times when I want the just splashed in taste of white wine (like say with garlic, evoo and parm). But not this. This, is sublime.

      4 Replies
      1. re: monavano

        Thanks guys! I actually (gasp) don't have her bible, but got the recipe, paraphrased, off the web. I know, I know... it's on the list. The very long got-to-have list. It's nice to hear her explanation. I usually head off any tomato acidity with a teaspoonful of sugar, so it will be interesting to compare. It's simmering on the stove right now. Smells marvellous...

        1. re: Gooseberry

          Do report back! I'll be checking back to hear your testimony ;)

          1. re: monavano

            I feel like I can't honestly give feedback on the Hazan recipe, because (as always) I couldn't help myself, ended up fiddling and adding things, etc. I know, I know - I need to stick to the recipe as written the first time I make a Hazan dish, to appreciate the glory that is Hazan food. Sigh...

            Good news is, the only-part-Hazan ragu was lovely. I think cooking the meat for three hours is the key - all the muscle fibres relax and melt into the sauce. I got my butcher to put the meat through the mincer for me (rather than buying old mince), but next time I'm tempted to mince by hand some of the meat if I'm feeling energetic, for some variety in texture. I'm already a big fan of slow-braised meat, deboned and then tossed with pasta (lamb shanks, oxtail, etc) because I find the texture more interesting than mince.

            Thanks for the comments, everyone.

            1. re: Gooseberry

              I've followed the Hazan recipe like gospel about 25 times, and I cannot bring myself to modify it at all. It's that good, and I'm usually an incurable fiddler. That cookbook is absolutely amazing, I use it more than almost any other book I have.

              Once you have it, you might also try her Spinach Lasagna that's based on this Bolognese. Make the fresh spinach pasta, and with this sauce and gobs of Hazan's wonderful Bechamel sauce, you've got a dish that your guests will remember! Mmm. Just made a big vat of it this afternoon.

      2. I follow that the milk-first order, and would add that, because milk takes longer to simmer off than wine or stock, more flavor is drawn from the meat in the process. I've tried both orders of reduction, and milk-first is better. My inauthentic addition to ragu bolognese is tomato paste, but nothing else, because tomato is merely an accent and I think the paste gets that note in with less acidic liquid (and apparently a number of Italian chefs agree with that inauthentic approach). Meat is the focus and nothing should compete with it: beef/pork/veal. Three reductions (milk, wine, stock, then add tomato paste). Nooooo mushrooms (I love them, but they conflict with a well-reduced ragu's balance - that would also apply to anchovy/soy-based sauces). Would not want any smoked flavors in a ragu bolognese; another off-balance. Do not use too much carrot; that's one of the more common mistakes. Ground or minced hanger steak would be very authentic...

        2 Replies
        1. re: Karl S

          I think Batali puts a little tomato paste into his ragu bolgonese, but maybe I'm wrong.

          1. re: ccferg

            Batali adds a little bit of tomato paste but no tomatoes. And he does not cook down the wine and milk before leaving it to simmer and develop. His recipe also includes ground or minced pancetta with pork and veal.

        2. Secret ingredient? star anise

          1. When Cooks Illustrated, this is at least 5 years ago, did their multiple test/ultimate solution version of ragu, the recipe they came up with was only teaspoons away from Hazan's. She's right, she's almost always right. Her batting average is better than Julia Child's. Yeah, I said it.

            That said I make a duck ragu that kills. Not the least bit authentic but no one seems to mind.

            27 Replies
            1. re: inuksuk

              So do you share the recipe for "Duck Ragu That Kills?" 'Cause I'd like to have it! I've looked up a few that are related to polenta, but they seemed to be not interesting for duck.

              1. re: yayadave

                Would that I could. It is a recipe that I clipped from an old NYTimes. I have it, I make it but I do not own in. I've never changed it enough that if I were to repeat it here I would not be violating all sorts of copyright laws and, I'm pretty certain, Chowhound's own rules.

                1. re: inuksuk

                  According to the chowhound rules, you can post the recipe. The ingredients are not under copyright protection but the verbatim instructions are protected. But, you can paraphrase the instructions and it will be fine.

                  Here is the excert from the "Guidelines for Posting Recipes" as well as the link to the source.


                  "Ingredient lists don't fall under copyright protection, so you're welcome to repost those verbatim. The instructions and any intro paragraphs are covered under copyright protection; these you should paraphrase in your own words. We will be obliged to remove posts containing recipes copied verbatim from published sources, even if you credit the source."

                  1. re: inuksuk

                    Does it look anything like this?

                    (One of the easiest ways to post a recipe you got off of the internet is to just post the link.)

                  2. re: yayadave

                    There's a good recipe for duck ragu included in this article from the LA Times which also includes Hazan's recipe and a lot of info about ragus in general, primarily about how they differ regionally throughout Italy.
                    Also how much American versions are different from anything in the Old Country.

                    1. re: MakingSense

                      Thanks for that. It is much appreciated and is already filed. It may be the "go to" answer to any future ragu questions that arise on these boards.

                      1. re: yayadave

                        Thank you for the recipe...I have a question, do you measure the 1 1/2 cups of tomatoes before or after they are chopped?

                        1. re: Janet from Richmond

                          Just speaking from general recipe writing perspective, you'd measure afterwards.

                          1. re: ccbweb

                            Thanks. Now you know why I eat out as often as I do <g>. When I cook I need "exact" instructions. I

                            1. re: Janet from Richmond

                              Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the very, very good. When you use canned tomatoes, there isn't that much difference between the whole tomatoes out of the can and the squished up ones that you throw into the pan. Since you cook the ragu for a pretty long time, it's not even necessary to chop them. They'll just melt into the sauce.
                              If you use 2 cups before squishing, no big deal. Now 3 cups, that would make a difference...

                      2. re: MakingSense

                        reviving an old thread. this link is long broken and i cannot find the recipe. would someone kindly post the recipe for the duck ragu?

                        1. re: redgirl

                          I just tried the LA Times link and it came through. If you read this (3 years later) try it again...

                    2. re: inuksuk

                      Haven't made Marcella's but have been making Cook's for (I guess) at least 5 years and we love it. The time saver is reducing the wine to 2 tablespoons before adding it to the sauce.

                      1. re: inuksuk

                        CI just published a new ragu alla Bolognese recipe - No dairy at all, and several "inauthentic" ingredients, most notably sage and mortadella (although the mortadella doesn't surprise me as much as the sage does). Chicken livers, too, and a pretty generous number.

                        Their old recipe is indeed close to Hazan's recipe -

                        Those links may not work if you don't subscribe to CI.

                        1. re: biondanonima

                          Could you list the ingredients and paraphrase any specific order of cooking?

                          The livers are a classic variation. The sage indeed is interesting.

                          1. re: Karl S

                            Sure, here you go:

                            1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
                            1 cup beef broth
                            8 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
                            1 onion , chopped coarse
                            1 large carrot , peeled and chopped coarse
                            1 celery rib , chopped coarse
                            4 ounces pancetta , chopped fine
                            4 ounces mortadella , chopped
                            6 ounces chicken livers , trimmed
                            3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
                            3/4 pound 85 percent lean ground beef
                            3/4 pound ground veal
                            3/4 pound ground pork
                            3 tablespoons minced fresh sage
                            1(6-ounce) can tomato paste
                            2 cups dry red wine
                            Salt and pepper

                            Combine broths with gelatin to allow gelatin to bloom, set aside. Process vegetables in a food processor until finely chopped, set aside. Ditto the mortadella and pancetta (together). Whiz the chicken livers in the food processor until pureed and set aside.

                            Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven and add the beef, pork and veal - saute until all juices have evaporated and meat starts to sizzle. Add the pancetta/mortadella mixture and the sage and cook until the pancetta has become translucent (careful not to burn your fond). Add the chopped veg and cook until soft, stirring constantly. Add the tomato paste and cook for a few minutes, until the paste is rust-colored.

                            Add the wine and scrape up the fond, and simmer until things thicken up. Add the stock and cook at a bare simmer for 1.5 hours or so, until the sauce is very thick. Stir in the pureed chicken livers, bring the sauce back to a boil and then remove immediately from the heat. Season to taste.

                            I thought the technique of pureeing the chicken livers and adding them just at the end was interesting. Also, the omission of dairy is somewhat unusual. Please report back if you try this one - I'm not sure I can get away with it, as my husband is vehemently anti-chicken liver!

                            1. re: biondanonima

                              Thanks for this. It's interesting. They finesse the mouthfeel issue of having real stock/broth and dairy with the use of the gelatin. The amount of wine seems a lot to me, but it's designed to mask the livery overtones of the livers, it would seem.

                              I have to say that this is only a 50% savings in time over a more classic version, and not any less work (which is becoming a hallmark of CI's approach in recent years).

                              1. re: Karl S

                                Yeah, I find that CI's recipes are rarely about less work - they tend to involve a lot more steps (not to mention dirty dishes) than other recipes for the same dish. However, I do find that 9 times out of 10, their recipes are better, largely because they tend to call for flavors to be reduced and intensified in a way that most home recipes don't. This particular recipe wasn't meant as a time saver (they have another one that they call "Weeknight" bolognese that fits that bill) - this is their "ultimate" version.

                                Oddly enough, they do talk about the use of broth+gelatin in the related article (saying that the gelatin is included to mimic the use of homemade broth), but although they say something like "would we have to leave out the dairy?" in a tag line, they don't actually say why they did so in the article. Having just made a version with a LOT of dairy (a cup of whole milk and half a cup of cream), I'm guessing they felt that the inclusion of dairy fat dulled the flavors a bit - I know it did in the Splendid Table recipe. I think the milk was fine - it was the cream that was just overkill.

                                1. re: biondanonima

                                  Milk is traditional; cream not so much, precisely for that reason. The milk reduction also provides other things.

                                  A ragu, of course, is all about reduction.

                                  1. re: Karl S

                                    I really appreciated this when I made Hazan's bolognese for the first time. It was a revelation.
                                    That said, I used her method with ground turkey to be healthier, and it was also delicious.

                            1. re: yayadave

                              The new one from Cook's Illustrated? No, I haven't - I just saw it in the magazine this month. I am partial to Mario Batali's recipe from the Food Network:

                              I did also just make the Classic Ragu recipe from the Splendid Table, but I found it WAY too rich and unbalanced. Too much pork fat and dairy just threw it all out of whack and made it very one note.

                              1. re: biondanonima

                                biondanonima: "I am partial to Mario Batali's recipe from the Food Network:"

                                Does the pancetta melt completely into the sauce, or do you end up with chewable bits of fat like in the SPLENDID TABLE ragu?

                                1. re: Jay F

                                  Because the pancetta or bacon is ground (or food processed to a paste), it melts completely into the sauce, no weird chunks. I generally put the pancetta paste into the oil and butter mixture first to let it render a bit of its fat before adding the vegetables instead of adding it along with the other ground meats as he calls for, but the first time I made it I did it according to his instructions and it was still excellent, no chunky weirdness.

                                  1. re: biondanonima

                                    Good. I was thinking I'd do the exact same things (Cuisinart it, put it in before veg) with the pancetta.

                                    1. re: Jay F

                                      Let me know what you think - we love it. BTW, I use ground beef instead of ground veal usually, but the results are good either way.

                                      He has another recipe posted on the Food Network that calls for twice as much veg and tomato paste (and a LOT more garlic) to the same amount of meat: I haven't tried this one, but I would worry that it would be too vegetal and tomato-y, as the one I linked above was perfection to my palate. I also think the inclusion of thyme is unnecessary.

                                      1. re: biondanonima

                                        The purpose of the veal is to provide the gelatinous mouthfeel and glazing ability. I found it curious that CI needed it when it was using gelatin outright. The pork is for sweetness.

                                        One thing the CI recipe gets right is not to use too much vegetables - they are only there as a foundation, not as a feature. So your worries are correct on that score.