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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: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/mem...

          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.

            2. Alice Waters' recipe for bolognese sauce is delicious and has a very satisfying, hearty texture. It calls for skirt steak, cut in 1/4" dice.


              1. I'm surprised no one has recommended Marcella Hazan's ragu bolognese yet. It's fantastic and about as meaty as it gets. I've made it with cubes of wild boar shoulder instead of the ground beef she calls for and it is fantastic. After following the cooking time in her instructions, I simply shredded the remaining chunks of meat with a fork and stirred it back in.

                3 Replies
                1. re: TorontoJo

                  I second this. It takes time to make, but it's fantastic and incredibly rich.

                  1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                    I make a 4X or 5X portion when I make it so, yeah, I could serve that many.

                    OP, are you making the gnocchi? Wow. Even if not making, isn't cooking that much going to be really difficult?

                  2. re: TorontoJo

                    I made enough to can 13 pint jars that are hanging out in the storage room. Tomorrow I make a similar amount of Rao's Marinara while watching the Jets.

                  3. I made either a meaty sauce with tomatoes, or a bolognese, which to me is several meats cooked down with very little to no tomato, then enriched with cream near the end. It's very intense and creamy. I've been reading lots of Italian cookbooks lately and have found that that isn't so - a bolognese is also tomatoey. Huh.

                    1. I'm italian - ragu is bolognese sauce for us, because it comes from Bologna.
                      we make it using a (soffritto) of carrot, celery and white onion in olive oil - then add 1 kl of beef ground meat and half a kilo of ground pork meat. After the meat has sizzled over a very low flame add a can of san marzano whole tomatoes avoiding to add the juice. A tablespoon of tomato paste, salt and pepper.
                      This will have to cook for at least three hours over a very low flame.
                      Hope it works out!

                      7 Replies
                          1. re: c oliver

                            While I was reading Essential New York Times cookbook Sunday, I noted that the author described Bolognese as a sauce without tomato. I will find it and post it here, for argument's sake.

                            1. re: bayoucook

                              Wow...that would be an interesting data point. My NYT books are currently not on the "current" shelf and would love to hear if that is true

                              1. re: bayoucook

                                ok, on page 344 - it's called White Bolognese - well, that explains that! "'It's called white bolognese because it lacks tomatoes.....'"" - so I've been making white bolognese all this time altho' my recipe does call for one tablespoon of tomato paste.

                          2. Don't think of it as a sauce; think of it as a slightly saucy meat dish.

                            I braise a small pot roast and some country-style pork ribs with onion, garlic, celery, carrot, herbs, and just a little wine & tomato until they're falling apart, and then shred with a fork. Defat the brasing liquid and mix with the meat - that's it. Sometimes I puree the vegs into the braising liquid.

                            1. The best ragus I've ever eaten have started out with roasted bones of EVERY type: beef, chicken, pork, and lamb; then the bones thrown into the sauce made with the meat from those bones, and removed later. I also prefer chunked meat to ground meat in ragu.

                              1. I inadvertently made a very meat pasta sauce last weekend. The idea: beef stew in the pressure cooker. The problem: forgot to set a timer, then got on the phone. The result: 7-bone chuck that, instead of being in tender chunks, was reduced to individual muscle fibers. The taste is just fine, but it wasn't what was intended. Served it over polenta anyway.

                                1. My suggestion for Beef Cuts are to use Short Ribs or Osso Bucco. For Pork Cuts, Country Ribs, Boston Butt or a Picnic Shoulder. Lidia Bastianich has a recipe for the latter made with 5-6 pounds of sliced onions that would work well with the gnocchi.....you would probably have to tripple the recipe for 16.

                                  1. Made a big batch yesterday. First I reduced white wine, then pulsed the mire poix in the food processor. Reconstituted porcini mushrooms (reserved juice). Sauteed pancetta in butter, added mire poix, garlic, finely minced mushrooms, etc. Finally added ground chuck. And some whole milk, almost poaching the meat until it was absorbed so it became extremely tender. Added the tomato paste, pureed tomatoes, chopped canned tomatoes, mushroom "stock" and so on. Simmered about four hours and then added the reduced white wine at the end.

                                    Served with homemade tagliatelle - put the pasta through my KA pasta roller, put fresh basil between two sheets, put through roller again until you could see the gorgeous basil through the pasta and cut it. Wonderful!

                                    1. Start with chunks of veal as in for veal stew. Saute some onion and carrot, add bay leaf, and fresh thyme, add the meat and put in a bottle of red wine. Cook until meat is tender about 2-3 hours. Drain, shred meat, put in jarred tomato sauce, sprinkle on some parm and parsley and you're done.I usually do 3 lbs at a time and that's a generous amount for 4-6 people. I am impressed that you are making gnocchi for 16.

                                      1. Thanks for the recipes all!! I think I'm going to try simmering a combo of beef short ribs and pork ribs, then shredding them and putting them back into the sauce.

                                        It's becoming clear to me that maybe the gnocchi for 16 is going to be the harder part of the whole endeavor :-\ I'm thinking about making all the gnocchi the week before and freezing it, and then boil them in batches, and keeping everything warm in the oven in one of those big disposable tinfoil roasters with the sauce until serving time. Does that even sound feasible??