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Splitting milk in tomatoes in bolognese

I'm planning on making a bolognese today.
The recipe calls for adding two cups of milk and a can of plum tomatoes.
It seems whenever I've attempted to make anything using milk and tomatoes the result is disgusting. The milk always splits.
I'm not going to go to the work/expense making this recipe until I know for sure it won't split on me.
What are the 100% fool-proof things not to do and to do to avoid this problem.

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    1. re: Gastronomos

      An 'authentic' bolognese calls for milk. There's recipes all over the internet for making bolognese using milk. Why would I leave it out?

      1. re: Puffin3

        Giada's recipe (the one I use) comes out very well and uses no milk. It's very good. Ina Garten's uses a small amount (I want to say 1/4 cup) of heavy cream, no milk. Batali does use milk, but only one cup. You have to do what works for you and what makes sense, and if the problem is with the milk reaction, simply omit or greatly reduce the dairy. Recipes were made for tweaking. :-)

      2. re: Gastronomos

        +1. I would either omit the milk entirely or incorporate a very small amount of cream at the end. 2 cups of milk seems like a lot.

      3. I have made Hazan's recipe which uses one cup of milk at least thirty times, no problem, whole milk.
        Two cups is too much.

        6 Replies
        1. re: magiesmom

          I really love Hazan's recipe, have made it several times. It makes the house smell so good you nearly faint. It does take a very long time so I think it makes sense to quadruple the recipe and freeze the excess. I use the best quality ground beef chuck. I never had any trouble whatsoever with this recipe.

          1. re: walker

            You're not kidding about quadrupling it. I almost cried when my four and a half hours of stove-tending disappeared in a single (very happy) meal.

            1. re: walker

              I always 4X or 5X it also. And have never had the problem OP describes.

            2. re: magiesmom

              Plus, if I remember correctly, Hazan's recipe has you add the milk before the tomato, and cook it down until almost all the milk is evaporated and/or absorbed, hence no possibility of it splitting or curdling.

              1. re: BobB

                You're absolutely correct. And the wine gets added after the milk and THEN the tomatoes.

                1. re: BobB

                  Absolutely, made a batch yesterday. Worked just as Hazan wrote

              2. The only time I had the milk break is when I mixed it into the same measuring cup as the wine. since then I add the milk first then the wine and I never had it break

                1. I've made Mario Batalli's recipe several times and used whole milk and never had a problem with it splitting.

                  If worried about splitting I'd use heavy cream and reduce the amount used.

                  As banal as the show sometimes is, The Chew show just did a long cook Bolognese sauce (too long a cook for me IMHO) but used milk as well Or you could use cream).


                  For milk, it has to be pretty fresh.

                  I;ve had non-fresh whole milk separate many times when used in coffee.

                  For cooking , it also helps to bring milk to room temp at a minimum.

                  And, as others have said, 2 cups of milk seems like a lot for , I'm guessing , a 26 or 28oz can of tomatoes, or there-abouts.
                  If you're using #10 can tomatoes from teh restuarant supplier, well, then maybe not. LOLZ.

                  Good luck.

                  1. Per Hazan's recipe which I made for the first time last week the milk and tomatoes are added at different times in the cooking process. The meat is braised in the milk until it evaporates by the time the tomatoes come into play the milk is long gone.

                    You can combine tomatoes and milk/cream in a recipe very nicely but I would not just dump them in a pot together that is when it breaks.

                    Marcela Hazan's recipe is very nice.

                    This is a nice article on Ragu from the NYT years ago that has a recipe that also includes milk but adds it at the end at ta very gentle simmer.


                    5 Replies
                    1. re: JTPhilly

                      This. I've made this recipe multiple times, and the milk is absorbed by the meat well before the acidic ingredients go in - never a problem.

                      1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                        I'm making it at this very second. How long does it take to cook down all that milk? And then the wine? It seems like I've had this thing on the stove forever at a higher heat than the "gentle simmer" described and it's only now starting to evaporate/steam off.

                        1. re: nokitchen

                          I quadruple the recipe, and find that in that case it takes at least an hour for each. Probably less for the standard recipe of course.

                          1. re: DGresh

                            Thanks. As if on cue, the apparent evaporation speeded up significantly right after I posted (I imagine the actual rate didn't speed up much, but seemed faster once the milk got below the level of the meat). It came out to 40 minutes for the milk and 15-20 for the wine.

                            So far the dish seems much more promising than my first try, when I'm certain I underevaporated both the milk and the wine.

                            Also, just for fun and after reading the thread, I subbed paste for some of the puree. I'll add water as necessary over the next few hours.

                            1. re: DGresh

                              Yes, it takes HOURS when you increase the recipe as we smart people do :)

                      2. Ive made bolognese using several different recipes, all calling for milk because to me a classic bolognese has milk in it . I've never had the milk separate.

                        BUT the recipe I much prefer over others is Marcella Hazan's. In her recipe, she adds the milk to the sweated mirepoix and the partially cooked ground meat and lets the milk cook off with the meat and aromatics. Then she adds the wine and cooks that off and the tomatoes come last.

                        I usually use beef and veal and sometimes pork rather than just beef.

                        And yes, make sure you use whole milk.


                        10 Replies
                        1. re: C. Hamster

                          Thanks everyone.
                          I'll add the milk to the meat/veg first and let it absorb then use whole milk.

                              1. re: Puffin3

                                I have made that recipe many times - it's good. I have never had a problem with the milk.

                                I have made Hazan's recipe too, and it was good, but really not any better.

                                I think the last version I made was using Alton's Brown's recipe, which I think was the best, IMO.

                                But, to really tell, I would have to taste them side-by-side.

                            1. re: Puffin3

                              I agree that letting the milk reduce to nothing before adding the tomatoes will keep it from breaking. You could also try using tomato paste instead of actual tomatoes - this is how I make Bolognese (according to a recipe by Mario Batali), and I much prefer the flavor to sauces made with canned tomatoes. The paste produces a much richer, less acidic sauce.

                              One thing I would NOT recommend is using cream. I tried a Lynn Rosetto Kasper recipe once that called for cream and it was WAY too rich/heavy - the dairy fat just obliterated all the other flavors.

                            2. re: C. Hamster

                              In Hazan's recipe (in the bible, as far as I'm concerned: The Classic Italian Cookbook) the wine comes first, then the milk. Each is completely evaporated before the next step. After the milk is gone, the tomatoes get added.

                              I've only ever used skim (because that's what we keep in our house) and it works fine.

                              1. re: DGresh


                                In Hazan's recipe (Essentials) the MILK is added first. Then the wine. Then the tomatoes.

                                She says"cook the meat in milk before adding wine and tomatoes to protect it from the acid bite of the latter"

                                And possibly to prevent the OP's concern.

                                I'm gonna make it this weekend!

                                And... The higher the dairy fat the less chance of breaking. Hence the whole milk.

                                1. re: C. Hamster

                                  What I said (Classic Italian Cookbook, circa 1976) is a correct quote. She adds the wine, then the milk. She has the quote "it must be cooked in milk before the tomatoes are added. This keeps the meat creamier and sweeter tasting". I've always done it this way and it's good. Not to say the opposite order wouldn't also be good, and also not to say she might not have swapped the order for some reason.

                                  1. re: DGresh

                                    Mine is 1992.

                                    She must have changed it for a reason.

                                    I've made the 92 recipe many times without the OP's concern and the result is pretty great.

                                    1. re: C. Hamster

                                      There have been discussions on this board about this milk/wine issue. I have Essentials, bought it a few years ago, and I guess mine is milk first (not bothering to go look it up). I never had any problems.

                                      Wonder why she changed it?

                            3. Just use 1 cup. I've always made Bolognese with just 1 cup (and canned tomatoes, and tomato paste). Results have always been good.

                              1. That is not a recipe for bolognese. Milk is normal, but about a half cup, and NO tomatoes at all, just a spoonful of tomato paste.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: mbfant

                                  Marcella Hazan who I think knows what she is doing uses canned tomatoes, so you are incorrect.
                                  The OP has a very meaty milky recipe with poor method.

                                  1. re: magiesmom

                                    True - they key in MH's recipe is that the tomatoes slowly reduce and cook down into the sauce so the end result is not very tomatoey - probably about the same total amount of tomato ultimately gets used in the tomato paste method where the spoonful is of very concentrated tomato matter to start with. The nice thing in the Hazan version is that the tomato has a chance to really mellow out and has none of that tang that you can get from paste. Either method will give you that bit of tomato in a meat sauce rather than meat floating in tomato sauce.

                                    The OP recipe has sort of a big dump of ingredients all at once that I wonder about

                                    1. re: JTPhilly

                                      It is a short cut recipe and it doesn't sound like it works.

                                      1. re: magiesmom

                                        After I looked at it I thought the same thing

                                      2. re: JTPhilly

                                        While it's true that some Bolognese recipes call for tomatoes, I strongly prefer those made with tomato paste - I feel that they have a much deeper, richer flavor, without the acidity of fresh tomatoes. I actually made Marcella Hazan's recipe (tomatoes) and Mario Batali's recipe (tomato paste) side by side a while ago to see which I preferred, and Batali won hands down due to the subtle flavor and rich meatiness of his sauce (not to say the Hazan was bad - the Batali was just much more to my liking and much more similar to the sauces I have had in Bologna).

                                        As for the OP's recipe - I agree entirely - the proportions and method are all wrong.

                                      3. re: magiesmom

                                        I have made and loved Marcella's recipe, but it is not classic bolognese, which does not have all that tomato. A number of her recipes deviate from the classic versions, and whereas she is considered the supreme authority in America -- and her first book certainly changed my life -- her works are unknown in Italy. Her recipe is for an excellent ragù di carne, but the bolognesi traditionally do not use tomato and the classic ragù certainly does not.

                                        As others have noted, the tomato in Marcella's recipe cooks down so much it is barely perceptible, and I suspect it is there because her readers, at least at the beginning (and she was revolutionary in America), probably could not get their heads around such a solid sauce and she felt it needed more liquid or the readers would think something was wrong. Or else she just liked it that way. My colleague Oretta Zanini De Vita, who is bolognese, has conniptions at the very idea of using more than a tablespoon of tomato paste in ragù.

                                    2. I've never made the classic recipe, but I do often make something calling for buttermilk, and if I'm out I use the old Southern trick of putting a tablespoon of white viegar itno a one-cup measure and letting it sit for about ten minutes. It can get a little curdley but no serious separation (and I'll admit it wouldn't bother me if it did).

                                      I wonder if there's a difference in results between old-fashioned whole milk and our homogenized stuff. I know that sour milk used to be a standard ingredient in many recipes, mostly in baking, but sour homogenized milk is useless, unless you count the wonderfully funny faces our mom made if she got a taste of it. Through most of my childhood we could still get milk that was simply pasteurized but otherwise unaltered. I would also suspect that the higher the fat content, and the lower the casein and whey, the less curdle-y the milk would be.

                                      How about evaporated – anyone try that?

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Will Owen

                                        Why? Regular contemporary milk works fine if incorporated properly.

                                        1. re: magiesmom

                                          I was addressing – or trying to address – the OP's specific problem with her specific recipe, as opposed to urging her to try a different one. There were more than enough of the latter sorts of reply, and most of the recipes proposed I thought sounded a lot better, but as her recipe would tend to make the milk curdle I think that calls for some attention.

                                      2. I use the recipe from Pasta Classica by Julia della Croce. The meat is cooked gently, wine is added and the mixture simmered. Then milk is added and simmered about 10 minutes. Then come the tomatoes, She specifically calls out "it is important to add the milk before adding the tomatoes for it to be absorbed directly by the meat".

                                        Adding milk with the tomatoes, as your recipe specifies, is probably why your milk separates.

                                        1. I find Hazan,Batali and Burrell version lacking. I like a creamier and spicier version.
                                          I make mine with beef, pork and prosciutto, no carrot- too sweet- I add cream, tomato paste and canned tomato, no garlic, lillet (not red wine) and a few chili flakes.
                                          I find that the layering of flavor is key.
                                          First the celery, onion in butter, then the meats, then the cream reduction, then the wine reduction, then add tomato and simmer for hours.
                                          I get a creamier version with a big punch of flavor.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: sedimental

                                            I took some photos through my process...maybe it will help.
                                            The first is adding the milk or cream, the second is adding the wine and the third is the tomato. The fourth is the finished product. Thick, not really a "sauce". I think the important thing is to reduce at *each* step.

                                            Don't let the dairy and the tomato meet each other directly :)

                                          2. maybe an analogous "remedy" -- for what it is worth: when i make southern-style tomato gravy, i start with a roux, then add the tomatoes and cook for a while, then add a little milk to get the right consistency.

                                            alternatively, if one has hot crushed tomatoes in a heated skillet, one can add beurre manié, cook down, then add milk.

                                            okay ;-), that is totally useless for this thread. unless you consider tomato gravy the poor southerner's version of bolognese. (i mean, that roux can be made with bacon grease!).