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new to pressure canning: burnt-ish smell and bland bolognese

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Hi Chowhounds, I hope you can help me. I always make a triple or even sextuple batch of Marcella Hazan's ragu bolognese recipe, and to save space in the freezer I got a pressure canner, for that and for broths, eventual soups and so forth.

Everything seemed to go fine, except that halfway during processing I noticed I could smell a vague sort of burning odor (burning food, not plastic or metal). Processing was 75 minutes at 11-15 pounds (I have both the gauge and the weight, minimum was supposed to be 11 but at times it reached 15 as I was not continuously monitoring the gas flame; it never went over 15),

A few of the jars did not seal but that was due to my having re-used a couple of old lids that seemed ok, plus (I think) not tightening the lids enough. Even so, there was no trace of sauce in the water and no apparent 'siphoning' effect.

I have only tasted the sauce from the jars that did not seal. The lids of these jars had small smears of tasteless, burnt-looking residue, as though some of the sauce had splashed up there and gotten carbonized, then dissolved in water. The sauce itself did not really taste burnt, nor seem particularly burnt on the surface, but a little of the burnt odor remained.

The end product was, I'd say, "acceptable", but had lost much of the recipe's tomato flavor and wine background flavor. These acidic flavors were really the last things I expected to have become compromised.

Has anyone else experienced either of these two issues (apparent burning or unexpected blandness) in a tomato/meat-based product like this? If so, have you found ways to modify the recipe to re-adjust the flavor?

I was hoping to go on to try stews, chilis, cassoulets, and so forth, but am not encouraged by these initial results.

Tried Googling around but can't find anyone reporting issues like mine. Thanks in advance for any helpful tips...

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  1. Oh dear...I wouldn't eat any of the food you've canned. Marcela Hazan's recipe hasn't been tested for canning safely and it's a low acid food. Canning safely is about food texture as well as temperature, and you can't be sure you've gotten the temp high enough in the center of your jars to kill any botulism spores. You should only use recipes that have been tested by the USDA and then modify only the spices. The USDA will test their recipes to make sure the center of the jar got hot enough.

    1 Reply
    1. re: momskitchen

      Oh, I didn't even see who responded and here I am saying to give you a shout out.

      I'm kind of sorry to see the only recommended path is to exactly follow a USDA recipe. I will be one of those trying to pressure can Bolognese and meatballs.

    2. Give a shout out to Momskitchen who posts here. I too am adventuring into canning and specifically interested in pressure canning for exactly what you're doing, Bolognese, meat based sauces, etc.

      Here's a link to her blog, good luck with it!

      http://motherskitchen.blogspot.com/se...

      1. There's no reason the Bolognese can't be pressure canned. Obviously since it contains meat it can't be waterbathed but lidia is using a pressure canner. I pressure can chilis and stews on a regular basis following the Ball Blue Book recommended times and pressures. The Bolognese ingredients are not that different from a chili so I would follow those guidelines of 10# pressure @ 1:15 for pints, 1:30 for quarts adjusted accordingly for lidia's height above sea level (I'm just above 2,000 ft so I use 11-12# pressure).

        Where I think lidia went wrong was allowing her pressure to rise up to 15#. It may have raised the heat in the jars to the point where her already cooked sauce actually over cooked. lidia, always, always monitor the gauge! If it goes more than a pound over the recommended pressure you'll lose flavor quality. If it goes under the recommended minimum pressure, you'll have to bring it back up to pressure and then start your timing all over again, again resulting in a loss of quality.

        Always use new lids. Before you apply the lids, wipe the rims of your jars with hot water or hot water with a little vinegar if what you're canning has any grease (like meats). That may account for some of your failed seals. Put the rings on finger tight, don't crank them down. They are there only to hold the lids in place. Make sure when you pull your jars out that there is plenty of space between them for air circulation as they cool and leave them sit for 24 hours before disturbing or checking the seals.

        Don't give up! A vegetable beef soup might be a good beginning experience. I highly recommend the Ball Blue Book. It's a great investment.

        I also use these sites a lot:
        The National Center for Home Food Preservation: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/

        Creative Canning: http://creativecanning.blogspot.com/

        Food in Jars: http://www.foodinjars.com/

        6 Replies
        1. re: morwen

          Morwen - of course you are right - Bolognese sauce can be canned. The issue is that Marcela Hazan's recipe hasn't been tested. Having made the Hazan recipe, I can tell you that when it is done, there is no liquid left, and so that's what has got me concerned. Your idea for using a Ball Blue Book recipe and improvising is exactly what I would do, but folks new to canning might not be clear on how to safely improvise. Here's how I would do it...

          First, look at the differences....Here's the Ball Blue Book Chili recipe: http://www.homecanning.com/can/AlReci... and here's Marcela Hazan's recipe:

          http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html...

          Taking a look at the Ball Blue Book chili recipe, I see that there is 6 cups undrained tomatoes and 3 cups onions in it, with 4 lb. ground beef. Hazan recipe has 1.5 cups tomatoes , 1 cup milk and 1 cup white wine with the liquid cooked totally off, to 3/4 lb ground beef and about 2 cups chopped vegetables. The only seasoning is salt, pepper and a dash of nutmeg.

          So, I think a spaghetti sauce could be made but subbing in the vegetables for the onions to the same proportion as the BBB, but it won't be anything like the Hazan one. I think the freezer would be the best place to preserve the Hazan recipe. Hope this helps...sorry to be a stickler but you really have to be careful about food safety with canning and I totally agree with Morwen, start with a vegetable beef soup.

          1. re: momskitchen

            I've made the Hazan recipe as well and you're right, it is "dry" when done. If I were to can it (and actually I do intend to make and can this recipe soon although with ground venison) I would simply not cook it down completely, leaving more liquid in the sauce. The sauce can be finished to the proper consistency after the jar is opened and reheated. But I still think there is no problem canning this sauce as it is by using another similar "approved" recipe as a guideline.

            1. re: morwen

              Totally agree....I was thinking the same thing, but since the cookdown is the time consuming part (3 hours!), I'd be more inclined to make a huge batch, cook it down and freeze it for another day when I have less time. All this talk about it is making me want to make it for dinner tonight. We've got a snow day going on here in Michigan...perfect dish for a day like today! How is your weather?

              1. re: momskitchen

                Great discussion.

                We're getting hammered here in Philly again with snow and went over the season snow fall record this morning and it's still snowing. We're getting up to 2 feet today! Perfect day to make a mess in the kitchen!

                1. re: momskitchen

                  We had little snow today but 70mph winds so a lot of drifting. But snow has started falling again this evening so we'll see what we've got in the am. I'm thinking of pulling out the venison tonight and grinding it tomorrow since I'm obviously not going anywhere for awhile.

            2. re: morwen

              Morwen, thanks very much for the encouragement, and for the help re. pressure. I will definitely try to keep it more exact next time and not let it overcook! I was also using half-pints, mostly, but timing for pints. You're good to point out the "best practices" re. lids that I was a little cavalier about. I will order the Ball Blue book, and I'm also collecting recipes from online that are 'approved' for pressure-canning.

              Momskitchen, I know there are "tested" recipes, but I think we can also use a little common sense. I mean, it's not like the USDA is going to spend a lot of money and time testing any new recipes, especially these days. It's not apparent that they are ever going to bother adding any more to their list, and it would be just too sad for us all to have to can the same ten things and only those ten things..!! :-)

              I referenced the cooking guidelines for pressure-canned hamburger meat and for chili, so I'm not really worried that what I've canned isn't edible. As far as I understand, the reason to pay attention to the ingredient list is not a matter of whether there are "vegetables" versus "onions", it's a matter of whether the ingredient that needs the longest processing (in this case, the meat) actually gets all the time it needs. In water-bath canning, it is true that you need to pay attention to the ingredients because of the acidity factor.

              I found a site in French (which I can read somewhat, but not all that well, so I use Google translate) where a devoted canner and home-food-preparation nut actually does his own microbial testing on the recipes he proposes for pressure canning! It's here:
              http://conserves.blogspot.com/
              There's beef bourgignon, a moussaka-inspired meat/eggplant combo, a stew spiced to serve with couscous, and much more.

              Thanks also to those commenting on the nature of the sauce... Cogitating on this further, what I might do is cook the original recipe up through the tomato part, but only simmer for an hour or so, rather than the suggested 3-4 hours. The pressure canner got up to pressure quickly enough, but took much longer to cool down (hours!), so the "cooking" time was extended, really, far beyond the 75 minutes at 11 pounds called for.

              I can live with a more liquid sauce, but I'm thinking I'll sub in tomato paste for some of the canned tomatoes, so that the result is denser with less simmering time before canning.

              I had usually frozen Marcella's ragu very successfully, I just want not to take up so much freezer room if it's not necessary.

              Happy canning, everyone!

            3. Took me awhile but I canned the bolognese sauce and here's my report:

              Instead of ground beef I used ground caribou which is extremely lean so I did the variation and added 1 pound ground pork to every 2 pounds of ground caribou for a total of 7.5 lbs of ground meat. Then I did the math with the rest of the ingredients to match up with the meat amount.

              I simmered it down for about 7 hrs total. It took awhile in my big stockpot. Next time I'm going to try the oven - it works great for my fruit butters, they never scorch and I don't have to stand over them stirring so often. At the end of the simmer, the sauce was still very moist but all the signs were there that it was right: the fat had separated and it took awhile for a simmer bubble to work it's way up.

              Brought sauce up to a more vigorous bubble to make sure it was very hot and removed pot from heat. Spooned sauce into sterile hot quart jars, leaving a generous 1" of head space. 2 of the jars actually had a scant 1" of space but I decided to let them ride. Wiped the rims carefully with vinegar, topped with lids and screwed down rings snugly but didn't crank them down. As each jar was filled and capped it immediately went into the pressure canner which was already simmering. There were a total of 8 qts in the canner.

              Put on the canner lid, brought the water up to boiling and allowed the canner to vent freely for 10 minutes before putting on the valve cover. Brought the pressure up to 12# (I'm at altitude 2100' ), reduced the heat to hold at that pressure and let it go for 70 minutes as per the Ball Blue Book rec for Spaghetti Sauce with Meat (had to tweak the heat under the canner a few times during the process to maintain the proper pressure but hey, I had the laptop in the kitchen to amuse me). At the end of the processing time I turned off the stove and slide the canner off the burner. When the pressure zeroed out (maybe 15-20 minutes) I allowed it to sit for 2 minutes before opening and then allowed the jars to sit for 10 minutes more before removing them to sit on a terry towel to cool.

              I noticed upon removal that at least one of the jars had siphoned. I had 2 jars that didn't seal and I attributed that to the two jars that had the less amount of head space. I'm reprocessing those two jars tomorrow. However, at no time during the processing did I notice any smell of cooked or burnt food.

              Tonight we opened one of the jars for supper and the sauce was very, VERY good! There was no residue on the lid. When heated, the last of any excess moisture cooked off in a short amount of time. Started heating the sauce about 5 minutes before cooking the pasta and they both were ready at the same time.

              I'll definitely be keeping this in my canning roster as it saves a huge amount of real estate in my freezer!

              1 Reply
              1. re: morwen

                morwen, thanks for your update to this thread. I'm so glad you had success canning the sauce. One thing that amazed me about your post is how quickly your pressure canner came down to zero. I think mine took over an hour which, of course, only adds to the cooking time. I have not attempted the sauce again, but will keep your post in mind when I do.

                To raygunclan, below, I can only say that of all the times I've made the sauce normally (i.e., not canning it) I've never had it seem overcooked, so I can't help you there. For me it was obv. some combination of excessive canning heat/pressure/time. Better luck with the next batch of "chili"!

              2. lidia
                not really to do with the canning, but maybe more towards the bolognese.
                i made marcella's recipe on wednesday (a quadruple recipe) and felt that it had a burnt scent and taste to it as well. i followed the recipe as close as i ever do and don't think that i changed anything major (except that i chopped up shoestring carrots and put the onions and celery through my nemco chopper as i am recovering from a broken arm) but the flavor was just off. my family loved it, though, and, truth be told, that really is what matters.
                although, the next night, my 10 yo said to my hubby that she didn't know why i didn't like last night's dinner to which my 12 yo said "i know! i really liked the chili but just thought it didn't go very well with the pasta." oops. :)