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What's wrong with my Hazan ragu?

  • r

I've been preparing for this moment - attempting the all-great Hazan bolognese ragu - for a while and today, finally got the chance to set aside an entire afternoon devoted to babying the pot.

Along the way, my excitement started waning with the inevitable taste tests, and now, after the requisite 3 hrs, I find the result - for lack of a better way to put it - to be Italian taco meat. It's got a little char despite my having added more than the 1/2 c of water, an unappetizing texture resembling that of wet dog food, and little depth of flavor beyond an odd tin-nish aftertaste.

Maybe I'm just used to ragus made from wild boar meat or short ribs when I go out....but is this what it's supposed to taste like?

I'm willing to give it another go if I can just identify a mistake I made. Some potential problems:

1) I used a Meursault white wine.
2) I added some ground pork
3) I used a combo of creamline milk and light cream instead of the whole milk. For some reason, I couldn't find whole milk in any grocery store.
3) I initially had the heat going on a bit high but soon tamed it...

Are these enough to warrant a big change in how it tastes? Thanks for letting me know!

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  1. 1) Meursault sounds like an awfully nice wine to use for this.
    2) I use a combination of beef, veal and pork
    3) I always use whole milk
    4) V. slow simmer is the key

    It is a v. subtle sauce - but, IMHO, worth trying again. Re tin-ish after taste - what tomatoes did you use?

    1. Honestly, I didn't like it when I made the Hazan bolognese ragu either, and I followed the recipe basically to the letter. I think that it's that yes, I'm used to ragus made from non ground meat, and so the texture of the meat just didn't do it for me, and the flavor of the sauce wasn't really what I wanted it to be. I think that you could try it again, but I don't think that the taste is going to be that different from what it is like now -- your experience (with the waning excitement during the taste tests) mirrors mine a lot.

      1. i, too, do a mixture of beef, pork & veal. I checked out Marcella's recipe and I would use a little tomato paste, some garlic and some fresh thyme. I am not a big fan of nutmeg in my ragu, so I personally would omit that. Also, try butter in place of the oil. I use a recipe from Cook's Illustrated and I enjoy it. But nothing beats a good, hearty wild boar or rabbit bolognese... yum. I can't wait for it to get cold!

        1 Reply
        1. re: lynnlato

          Nutmeg is one of the things that makes it Bolognese.

        2. How lean was the meat that you used?

          1 Reply
          1. re: Megiac

            I was going to ask the same thing, Megiac. Sometimes extra lean ground beef can taste a bit metallic to me and also add very little flavor to a sauce.

          2. I would suggest that the first time you make a recipe, especially a classoc from Marcela, you follow the recipe exactly.

            You might try making your Ragu in a very heavy pot, like le Creuset, to prevent burning and over-evaporation.

            1. I think part of the problem may be that our (American) perception of ragu is very different from the ragu you encounter in Italy. I grew up with a very saucy, tomato-ey ragu, and was surprised to find that in Italy, it's much drier. I like them both, but when I'm in the mood for one, the other won't do!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Kagey

                You're being diplomatic, Kagey, but you're absolutely right. Every time people post about their disappointment with this recipe, it seems that they're comparing it to their perceptions of sauce as defined by American versions. We even have a mass-marketed tomato sauce in a jar called Ragu, as far from Italian ragu as you can get. That's marinara. Real ragu is meat sauce with tomato as a flavor component, and it is much drier as you say.
                I like marinara and I like ragu but they're not the same thing. People who expect Hazan's recipe to be the best spaghetti sauce they ever made will surely be disappointed.

              2. I too invested in the time to make Marcella's ragu, following the recipe to a t, and was underwhelmed. I'm not eager to try again or tinker w/ it.

                1 Reply
                1. re: NYchowcook

                  I have to agree. I followed the recipe perfectly and wasn't very impressed with the end results: the sauce was too rich and while my first impression was "Mmmmm!" I found that the flavour became uninteresting after only a few bites.

                2. jfood for the hazan side. it is one of the best sauces he has ever tasted.

                  from what you posted the issues jfood sees are:

                  - hazan is a ragu, i.e. a meat sauce, not a sauce with meat. your perception may be a little off. it is not a sauce with a little meat but meat with the background of sauce.
                  - any time some states "I just changed it a little" it means that the cahnges may have been more significant than envisioned. like others have stated, the first time you try a sauce, especially one as delcate as this, you should follow to a T
                  - what the heck is "crealike milk" and then you added light cream. recipe calls for milk, period. changing to whatever this combo was may be significant
                  - but jfood thinks the biggest delta is you "had the heat going on a bit high". simmer is simmer and high is high. this probably caused major changes in the consistency and dryness level.

                  but in the end if you like a saucier sauce or you did not like it either try again following exactly or move on to a different sauce. no sense making something you do not like, especially if it takes a tremendous amount of time.

                  for jfood, whenever hazan's bolognese is served there is never any left over.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: jfood

                    If the OP couldn't find whole milk I'd use a 2% milk before adding cream.

                    Also, from the OP's post, I also suspect that he may have used meat that was too lean. In my experience, you want your ground beef to be 80-85% lean since the fat from meat is a crucial component and is what makes it "saucy."

                    For people who like a more tomato-based bolgnese, I find that using a full 28 oz. can of san marzano or plum tomatoes instead of the portion that she suggests but otherwise following the recipe as written does the trick.

                    1. re: Megiac

                      If someone wants a tomato sauce with a lot of meat in it, why go to all the time and trouble of Hazan's ragu? Just stick with one of the tried-and-true old American-style spaghetti sauces with meat. Put as much or as little tomato as you please. Tomato isn't the point of Hazan's ragu.

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        Because it is a different sauce with more tomatoes, but absolutely delicious and worth the time. It doesn't have that tart quality that American-Italian style meat sauce does (and I can do without the garlic and oregano). It's much mellower and more elegant. I make it either way depending on my mood (i.e., with the recommended amount of tomatoes or with a whole can), and love it both ways.

                      2. re: Megiac

                        I added extra chopped tomatoes and juice because the sauce seemed so gray. Even though I read through all the ragu threads on here, I still thought "no way will this taste right without more tomatoes". I also subbed 1/3 ground pork for the chuck.

                        I followed everything else in her recipe to the letter and simmered the sauce for over 4 hours. It was wonderful. I used it over cheese torteloni in egg pasta. It was delicious.

                        However, it had a lot of water. I guess I added too much water because I was afraid of it burning or drying out. I think it's safe to assume that all the oil that cooks out of the meat is sufficient to keep it from doing that as long as you simmer over very low heat and keep a watchful eye.

                        I would definitely make this again and can't wait to eat the leftovers!

                      3. re: jfood


                        Where can I obtain this receipe for hazan's bolognese?

                          1. re: Barbarella

                            here's another link. believe it or not the filter in the office denies me access to MMR's site, called it pornography. hey to each his own.


                            Likewise jfood doubles the recipe whenever he makes it. the frfeezer is a wonderful place to hide extra batches for the upcoming fall/winter.

                            1. re: jfood

                              I also double it. I think I usually use a combination of beef, pork and veal.

                        1. I've made it several times and I love it. Meursault shouldn't change it all that much; the secret to this sauce is decent ingredients and a long, gentle cooking. Maybe you've just tasted it so many times that it seems boring.

                          1. I'm going to go with the others here and say that a high heat may be the problem. Ground meat has a very large surface area, so it can dry out quite quickly. Slow, barely-simmering is the ideal. That said, usually a couple of hours at a slow, moist simmer will correct any initial dryness or tenseness of the meat (meat fibres contract when put uner high heat). I know you posted this two days ago, but I'd say: put in in the fridge, let the flavours soak in and the meat fibres relax, and see how it is the day after. Curries, stews, meat sauces always benefit from a night in the fridge in terms of tenderness and depth of flavour.

                            If you like ragus made from short ribs and game meats, maybe try making those at home! The meat tends to stay mroe tender because it's on the bone, or in larger chunks. I've had success with those types of ragus, and I think it makes a more luxurious, richer ragu. There was a great article about meat-on-the-bone ragus in FineCooking earlier this year. I don't have the copy, but maybe a friend of yours has some bakc issues?

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Gooseberry

                              Your post brings up other factors that often lead to failure in Hazan's recipe. Note that the recipe does NOT say to brown the meat.
                              It says that the meat should just lose it "raw, red color," but I suspect that many cooks keep cooking it well beyond this stage before adding the milk. At that point, the meat has already dried out.
                              Hazan specifies a skillet but many people will try to use a pot which is deeper and, in addition to stewing rather than beginning to cook the meat, they break it up into very small pieces when they stir it. This may lead to what the OP calls "Italian taco Meat" or "wet dog food."
                              If the cook has done all of the above - deep pot, steaming, browned tiny pieces - the meat, whatever kind it is, won't have the meltingly tender characteristics of a good ragu. At it's heart, it's a long-cooked meat sauce with a little tomato as a flavor element. It requires patience and great attention to seemingly insignificant detail.

                              1. re: MakingSense

                                Have you tried making it with hand-chopped meat rather than mince? Supermarket mince meat often is often too finely minced, and overprocessed, which might lead to the OP's 'taco' problem. I know it would be more work to chop by hand, but I wonder whether it wouldn't produce a better finished texture...

                                1. re: Gooseberry

                                  agree with your assessment of most "hamburger" grind. My butcher sells "chili grind" beef, ground with a larger plate, that does a terrific job with this recipe and saves a lot of time over hand cutting. I've hand cut it as well since it's not that much meat. Used the technique (hand cut) and recipe with some wild boar and it turned out great.
                                  This is really a terrific recipe that's worth the time and effort.

                                2. re: MakingSense

                                  Bolgonese should resemble mince when it's done.

                              2. Inspired by the first signs of the end of summer in Phoenix and this post from last week, I made this recipe today(the version in Essentials). Followed the recipe exactly - even measuring the vegetables exactly, don't know that I've ever done that. The quality of the ingredients and following her instructions carefully really makes a wonderful ragu.

                                We were very pleased with the results. As expected husband has requested this become a regular item in our dinner rotation.

                                I can see though if you didn't know what to expect where this might throw you and disappoint you.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: ziggylu

                                  This may sound like a really dumb question, but what is a "dinner rotation"?

                                  1. re: Fleur

                                    Not the OP but at my house, it's a dish that, when the kids ask what's for dinner I can say "white fish the way I usually make it" or "that roast chicken with the bread salad I always make" and they know exactly what I'm talking about. This is from someone who probably makes 5 out of 7 "new" meals a week!

                                    1. re: DGresh

                                      Right. I don't make the same things over and over with much regularity but there are a few things that pop up fairly frequently. Husband would like this ragu to become one of them. In our house this would probably mean about once a month.

                                    2. re: Fleur

                                      Dinner rotation is the list of dishes you prepare for dinner on some semi-regular basis.

                                    3. re: ziggylu

                                      Where can I find the receipe for this one?

                                      1. re: Barbarella

                                        Two links posted on this thread for you:


                                        And below, from jfood.

                                    4. Had a similar experience.... Kept it on the stove at a low low simmer for a good hour longer and it changed. Flavours really came out and it lost that meaty/milky character.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: MyCrazyDawg

                                        Since this recipe depends so much on slow simmer, how come no one mentions a slow cooker?

                                        1. re: jkandell

                                          I've got the same question. It would be relatively easy, and very pleasant, to set this going in the morning and have it done when you come home. Any reason it wouldn't work? I know I don't get as much evaporation with my crock pot that I do cooking even at a low temp on the stove, but I wonder if this would change the character of the sauce. Anyone...?

                                      2. I'm with you, Rafie - it's fair to call bolognese "Italian taco meat"
                                        I don't find it to be worth the time and trouble
                                        so, that might be your situation as well . . .

                                        1. Many thanks to all who posted. You've definitely given me food for thought, and I'm going to give it another whirl and post back.

                                          In response to some posters, I actually don't like "American-style" ragu and prefer the less saucy, meatier "ragu' that is phenomenal when done well. I didn't realiz, however, that some of the things I did (used a deeper pot, broken up the meat to brown it, used store-ground beef etc) would change its character so much, and I thank you lovely Chowhounders for pointing it out.

                                          I'll give it another try, and if it doesn't work, I'm going back to making short rib ragu! Thanks again to everyone.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Rafie

                                            There's nothing wrong using a deep pot (dutch oven etc) for making bolognese.

                                          2. I have made this many times, and have changed only 3 things: 1) I occasionally have used red wine 2)I use ground bison and 3) I do use a deep pot, because I usually double or triple the recipe since it takes so long, This with homemade tagliatelle has become my new comfort food. Maybe try again?

                                            1. Reporting back, yes....I was the one at fault, not Marcella.

                                              I definitely think the fattier cut of meat makes a big difference. Other pointers that I followed that made a big difference:
                                              1. Don't use supermarket ground beef. Adding some pork helps too.
                                              2. Don't break up the meat too much and don't brown it too much either.
                                              3. Low temp, low temp, low temp.

                                              Many thanks! I'm off to enjoy my ragu properly now!

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. All of the recipe links posted here seem to refer to the version from "Essentials" - from what I've heard, the end result is quite different from the version in one of her other books (consenses being that the other one is superior). Does anyone have that "other" recipe? I believe it is referred to as the "classic cookbook".

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: Ima Foodie

                                                  Here's the list of ingredeients from the Classics book that differs from those in essentials:

                                                  3 tablespoons olive oil
                                                  3 tablespoons butter
                                                  2 tablespoons chopped celery
                                                  2 tablespoons chopped carrot
                                                  2 tablespoons chopped onion
                                                  1/2 cup milk
                                                  2 cups canned tomatoes, chopped, with juice

                                                  Basically, it's considerably less soffritto and a half cup less milk replaced by a half cup more tomato. The only difference in the instructions is that Classic calls for the meat to be cooked in wine before milk while Essentials calls for the meat to be cooked in milk before wine.

                                                  1. re: Ima Foodie

                                                    jfood uses the "classics" book for his bolognese sauce. on the schedule for tomorrow, with some john besh short ribs, while mrs jfood take college jfood to see a play in nyc.

                                                    1. re: jfood

                                                      I am trying this receipe right now. Why does it look like it needs some paste in it or something? It seems to be so clear???

                                                      1. re: Barbarella

                                                        Trust the recipe. It really doesn't need the paste. How far along are you in the cooking? Toward the end of the 3 hours it thickens up considerably.

                                                        1. re: Barbarella

                                                          Sorry B just saw this. The sauce will change character about halfway through the simmer. Have faith in the recipe.

                                                    2. Hazan's ragu is a fall/winter staple in my home. I follow the recipe exactly. I learned my lesson, and only double the recipe, but never go beyond that. I don't know why, but when I tripled or (once) quadrupled the recipe, it did not have that sublime quality, and it was so-so.

                                                      Simmer slowly for at least 4 hours. 5 or 6 if you can. If you taste the ragu before 4 hours, you will be disappointed and think it is a failure. This is not so. At four hours, it "turns" and becomes something quite exquisite.

                                                      I always use nutmeg at the very end. It enhances the sweetness (or somethng like that). I'm not sure why I like it so much better with the nutmeg.

                                                      I buy a well-marbled chuck roast and ask the guy at the meat department to grind it for me. I add ground pork too.

                                                      Should use 2% or whole milk, but the purpose of the milk is to neutralize the acid from the white wine. I'm a little skeptical about this, but I defer to Hazan's experience and judgment.

                                                      I use the ragu to buttered hand-made pappardelle (but even dried egg pasta is good -- always imported from Italy).

                                                      But the most wonderful use is to use it for Hazan's lasagne, mixed with bechemel, and home-made lasagne noodles, rolled super thin. Using the spinach in the pasta is traditional, but I can't seem to get it right, so I omit it, and it's still good.

                                                      Also, remember -- and this is important -- as the cook, the aroma in your kitchen will be quite intense. Your nose will lose sensitivity, and will dull you ability to taste all the flavors of the ragu while it is simmering. That is why it good to make this the day before , and do not trust your taste buds entirely if you have been inhaling the aromas for 4 hours. The next day, your brain will "forget" the aroma, and you will be able to taste all the flavors in the ragu, and you will be satisfied.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: MartinDC

                                                        I thought I'd tackle this; I have the cookbook and all. Any idea why the spinach pasta did not come out right? Did you squeeze it dry enough after cooking? I can't remember if you're to cook it first. You tried with fresh spinach, right? What kind of flour do you use, regular? I haven't made fresh pasta in many years but I really like lasagna with fresh pasta and think it will be worth the effort.

                                                        1. re: walker

                                                          The recipe calls for either fresh or frozen spinach, cooked until tender, squeezed dry, and very finely chopped by hand. I've always used frozen and never had any problems with it. Perhaps the spinach wasn't chopped finely enough? Or was chopped in a food processor, which she says makes mush of it? The recipe also calls for unbleached flour and I've always used that, And it's absolutely worth the effort. Lasagne with homemade noodles is like an entirely different dish with the emphasis on the pasta itself rather than on the fillings.

                                                      2. Watching this Batali-makes-bolognese video might help - you really get a sense of the time, the auditory clues, and what everything is supposed to look like