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Ragu Bolognese: Milk and wine question!

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Well, I've run into lots of ragu recipes, and I have 2 questions about them.

1) Why add milk? It's often added to the cooked meat and then heated until it's gone. I don't get this step. Is it just for color? Do the milk solids add a nicer texture? It is a step that's a bit weird for me. I prefer my ragu to be very meaty and without cream.

2) They also add white wine and then reduce it until nothing remains. Why white wine instead of red? Any real reason? It's just that I always stick to red with meats and white for seafood.

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  1. jfood's understanding is that the milk as it evaporates coats and protects the meat from the acid that is brought into the dish from the wine. If the milk were not present to coat the meat then the wine's acid would "cure" and toughen the meat.

    On the white versus red, jfood does not have any answer other than the read may overpower the meat versus a whilte, which would bring a more subtle background flavor.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jfood

      Yes, the milk is supposed to keep the meat softer. CI has an all beef/red wine variation.

    2. Phan1...

      The milk doesn't have the effect you seem to think it will. If meaty and without cream is what you like, that's what you're going to have. This is NOT like adding cream or milk to a dish towards the end. If you do it right, by the time it's done you won't get the sense there's dairy in there at all. I don't know that I buy the argument that you're "protecting" the meat (much as I love Marcella), but the milk unquestionably keeps the meat tender and the dish round and mellow and tones down the sharper acidic aspects.

      Red vs. white, while Bolognese is a meat sauce, it's supposed to have some subtlety -- it isn't more more, meatier meatier, bigger bigger. Given that you're already greatly reducing and intensifying the flavors, a red would just get overpowering. On top of which, then it's just a totally different flavor.

      1. I've made Marcella's recipe, and here is my 2 cents:

        1. The milk lends a tenderness and richness to the meat and also adds a milky sweetness. The sauce itself does not get creamy like a cream sauce and certainly remains very meaty.

        2. White wine complements the milk and nutmeg; red wine would be overpowering and clashing.

        Listen to Marcella and follow her recipe to a T your first time. For inspiration, check out this charming post by Das Ubergeek:
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/331828

        1. The tannins in red wine would make the sauce bitter and unbalanced.

          Milk cooks the meat at a neutral ph (milk is almost neutral) while it is rendering its collagen and fat, and has milk sugars to boot which help balance the flavors. Cream would not have the same effect.

          1. The real reason on red vs white is that officially, it isn't "Bolognese" sauce with red wine. I disagree that adding red wine would make the sauce bitter and unbalanced. I've made meat sauces many times with red wine that are neither bitter or unbalanced.