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Marcella Hazan bolognese - oil / fat factor

Let me preface this by saying I recently acquired a copy of "Essentials" and, although I've only tried a handful of recipes, everything has been a hit. Her pasta e fagiole soup was a staple even before I realized it was a Hazan creation – the recipe was passed down from my mother-in-law. Her chickpea soup is sublime. And her tomato sauce with onion and butter is ... well ... pure magic. But I realize I'm merely reiterating what's been wisely said here before.

I just spent most of Sunday (yesterday) cooking down her bolognese. Doubled the recipe, but otherwise did everything as instructed. Used ground beef that was 80 percent lean/20 percent fat. (Per the Internets, this is similar to ground chuck ... ) Simmered, "with just an intermittent bubble breaking through," for four hours. It was definitely TASTY ... But I couldn't get over the amount of oil/fat that had accumulated. Now I'm no health nut, but the thick, shiny slick on top of the ragu was a little alarming. I spooned off enough oil/fat to nearly fill one cup (again, I had doubled the recipe), which congealed into a nice semi-solid mass the next day.

I definitely want to make this again. My question is, anyone else have this experience? And would it be a bad idea to change the meat to, say, 85 percent lean/15 percent fat? Or perhaps even 90/10? I don't want to lose all the subtle flavors that I love about Hazan, but am hesitant to ingest so much oil/fat in one sitting. Since this takes an entire afternoon to make, would love any input from expert hounds before my next batch.


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  1. I just let the sauce cool overnight, and remove the fat the next day. That way I get all the flavour, without the extra fat.

    1. connie15, I had the exact same reactions when I made Marcella's bolognese for the first time. It was outrageously good. Changed my outlook and expectations for bolognese forever. A revelation.
      But, I made it the day before serving* and when I pulled it out of the fridge to reheat, I was surprised at the amount of fat on top. It was impossible to skim off as it all clung to the meat. It wasn't like skimming a stock, soup or braise the next day, so I just went with it, enjoyed it and promised I'd only eat it twice a year (that and pommes dauphine!).
      I've since made it with a lower fat content and even, gasp!, made it with 97% lean turkey and it is just as satisfying and deeply flavored as the higher fat version. I don't believe the key to the bolognese is fat content (as you would expect with braises with meat), but it's the method that translates into this amazing version of bolognese.
      *I served it as a Primi, over tagliatelle. The smaller portion assuaged my guilt...somewhat ;-)
      Hope this helps!

      1. while I've never made her recipe, I do make bolognese all the time and it always has a pretty thick fat layer on top at the end of cooking. I have never made it with "lower fat" meat but I do always skim off the fat until it is only partially covering the surface (you'll never get all of it and honestly I think it should have some fat anyway). I think it is just part of bolognese and since it tastes so good I never argue!

        1. Its been a while since I made this but I think if you double the recipe you can reduce the fat ingredient used for the initial sauteeing somewhat. I havent had quite your experience with the thick top layer, but I would also do some skimming if I did. However, it defeats the purpose of a dish like this to totally skim since the richness is an intrinsic feature of these sauces. In the end, you dont need to use a huge amount of ragu on a place of pasta.

          Another way of controlling your fat content is to chop up your own meat in a food processor - I have been quite pleased with the skirt steak Ive used in the current COTM ragu recipes which contributed very little added fat - I think eliminating the heavy beef grease that cooks out of commercial ground beef is a better way of eliminating fat you dont need for flavor.

          5 Replies
          1. re: jen kalb

            Ah, another reason to add a food processor to my Christmas wish list!

            1. re: connie15

              Better buy your self a grinder or if you have a Kitchenaid or CuisineArt a grinder attachment. Chopping meat in the food processor will never you give the same good results as a even decent grinder.

              1. re: honkman

                I have both and found that the food processor works fine for this particular application. Depends on whether you want ground meat or small pieces - its a different result. You do have to be careful with not letting the processor reduce the meat to paste, however. Pulsing works just fine for this.

                1. re: jen kalb

                  Excellent suggestion and reminder for me to try this in my fp.

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    I have to agree with Jen Kalb - put the meat in the freezer for 20 or so minutes so it doesn't get mushy and pulse only 11-12 times. Makes get hamburger. I have a meat grinder and I prefer the processor for this.

            2. You can, just don't tell Marcella. Marcella would probably simply say the better solution is to use less sauce than you think is necessary.... (That is, this is not meant for large American serving, but a smaller appetizing serving, as it were; if you were to sauce 3 oz (dry measure) of pasta the way Italians do, you're not having a ton of fat but an unctuous few morsels, as it were.)

              4 Replies
              1. re: Karl S

                exactly.. I am always suprised at the modest size of italian portions and the restraint in saucing - just enough, not too much.

                1. re: Karl S

                  I think that's the correct way to serve bolognese. It's not a main. And it's the right spirit to take if you indulge in the calories and fat. Enjoy, not that often.

                  1. re: monavano

                    A rich appetizer would be followed by something leaner as a main, and a light dessert. Oh, there are no leftovers, at least in planning; you make enough to serve then and there. The problem is when Americans try to use rich Italian foods as mains, and as leftovers. All that work and no leftovers; crazy, say Americans. And the Italians think Americans are crazy in turn. If you made only enough to serve then and there, in the Italian way, the issue of the richness would kinda take care of itself.

                    Which is not to say Americans can't adapt this to our own cultural customs. It's just an explanation of why something that seems so rich when we do so was not so in its original context. The problem is with us, not Marcella, as it were.

                  2. re: Karl S

                    This is it. After making this Bolognese for years (w/ a pork & beef combo) some diet devil made me skim much of the fat from the sauce the last time I made it. Big mistake - the flavor and texture suffered as a result. This sauce is meant to be unctuous as Karl said and is lovely, as is, as a small serving.

                  3. Besides the ground meat, how much fat (oil, butter) did you use? I suspect you only need enough to lubricate the onions as you fry them.

                    In a burger, a good part of the fat remains in the meat, moistening and flavoring it. In a stew like this, most is rendered out, and floats on top. I usually skim off the obvious fat from a stew, or remove the layer that accumulates on the chilled stuff. When I put leftovers away I try to smooth off the top, so the accumulated fat forms a solid layer.

                    If you are worried that the you are throwing away flavor, you can taste the fat, and judge for yourself how flavor it has.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: paulj

                      Paulj, I used a combo of olive oil (eyeballed) and about 5 or so tbsp of butter. It definitely coated the veg, but not overly so, I'd say. Thanks for the tips!

                    2. Glad to hear I'm not the only one! Sounds like skimming is the way to go, and not to worry – I won't skim off ALL of it. Re: the portion size, that's a great point. Will definitely serve with a light hand. Thank you, everyone.

                      1. You have two options:

                        1. Skim fat while still liquid.

                        2. Use meat with less fat. I use ground turkey thigh, which I prefer to ground chuck in terms of both texture and flavor. I NEVER use turkey breast, which cooks up into something like styrofoam.

                        1. I make Marcella's Bolognese all the time with venison, which is extremely lean. It comes out great and I do not have to skim away the fat. So I would go right ahead and make it with as lean a meat as you like.

                          1. Yes. Some people really like the fatty part. But, you can always pour off as much fat as possible.

                            1. You know how people 'pat their pizza with napkins' to remove the pool of oil? I do that too. I lay a paper towel over the surface of the sauce and it seems to pick up a lot of the grease. Repeat as necessary.

                              1. Reducing the fat or changing the meat does change the flavor a lot. Don't do it. If you cannot stomach the fat skim after cooling overnight. But I don't. We have a small portion of amazing pasta and then a simple but fairly large salad in the same meal.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: JudiAU

                                  I think also you want to make sure the sauce does not cook down too much - there needs to be enough sauce/liquid at the end to coat the pasta - including the fat element which should not completely separate.

                                2. As others have said, I usuallly skim the extra fat after the recipe is done, while it is still liquid. This won't get everything but you need some fat in there. Assuming you don't eat this every week, and in huge proportions, I don't think it's worth it to worry about it too much. Also, based on the 6 servings in the original recipe, it works out to 351 calories per serving (not including the pasta, of course). Hope that helps.