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Jan 11, 2011 12:06 PM

How do you make a super meaty ragu or bolognese sauce?

I'm cooking dinner for a crowd (16 people) in a few weeks, and am planning on making gnocchi with a hearty ragu sauce. I'm trying to go for a meat sauce with chunks of beef or pork instead of using ground meatloaf mix. I'm thinking about still putting in a little bit of ground veal, but also stewing some chuck steak or pork ribs in the sauce and fishing it out and shredding the meat afterwards, then adding back to the sauce. Has anybody had success with this? Am confused about what kind of meat to use, how long it takes to cook until the meat falls apart, and how to adapt a traditional ragu recipe to fit. Thanks!

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  1. Concept sounds legit, but one caution... this is a meat sauce, not a sauce with chunks of meat floating in it. You want to get meat onto the gnocchi, part of the sauce that coats them as people fork them up. Bigger chunks might not adhere..

    1. And get a big freaking pan to sauce the gnocchi.. that might be tricky saucing and then plating gnocchi for 16..

      1. Depends on the texture you are looking for.
        I typically make meat sauce with ground meats, but I have also made a sunday style gravy with pork ribs, beef short ribs and italian sausage (added during the last hour or two).

        When I do the sunday gravy, after I remove the meat from the sauce (4-5 hrs later)I will take a bit of the pork, a bit of the beef, a bit of the sausage, trim it, and pulse it in the food processor to give it a ground meat consistency. I will add some, but not all of it back to the sauce.

        The Sunday gravy is more about the meat flavor with a little bit of meat thrown in-its a thinner sauce loaded with meat juices.
        The bolognese is more about the flavor and texture of the ground beef-its a thicker sauce with loads of texture from the ground meats.

        I think the gnocchi might benefit from a more delicate sauce such as the sunday gravy. And it is so rich, that a little will go a long way when preparing the dish for 16.

        And perhaps you could do a baked gnocchi in larger baking pans to save time.
        Good luck.

        1. Simply cube your chuck or short rib into 1"-1.5" pieces and use your normal ragu recipe, and treat it as a braise. I don't shred the meat afterward, too much work. I'd check the meat at 1.5 or 2 hrs on the stovetop. You don't want the cheapest chuck you can find, you need one with marbling. Short rib is even better. I wouldn't do ground meat and chunks at the same time: the ground meat might turn to a weird dry mush. Once the meat is done, you might need to fish it out and reduce the sauce.

          Here's an example of gnocchi and oxtail:

          1. There is a recipe developed by Heston Blumenthal to prepare a super-meaty ragu. Some of the elements are not relevant, but two are: fish sauce and star anise. Both in appropriate quantities will help boost the umami of your sauce.

            I've seen ragu made with pork and beef (chunks that are eventually shredded along with ground), a lot of the recipes I've seen have milk as an ingredient, and I've personally cheated on the mouth feel by dropping in glace de viande.

            You are looking at a freaking lot of gnocchi for simultaneous service.

            3 Replies
            1. re: wattacetti

              i actually thought that recipe was one of Heston's very rare misses. I tried it and it just turned out as funny tasting ragu with fish sauce and star anise in it.

                1. re: magiesmom

                  I thought so too, and realized that he used too much of both for his quantity of sauce. You can keep some of his techniques (still on the fence for the tomato vines) but adjust those two elements down in your specific applications.

                  The glace de viande does improve mouth feel.