Ragu – Chuck Yeah!

Screw Bolognese sauce.  If you want a ton of flavor on pasta (or chickpeas, or polenta, or…), then ragu is the way to do.  This isn’t canned pasta sauce – it’s a rich, hearty meat dish cooked low and slow in flavorful stock and wine.  It takes a ton of time but little prep work, so if you have a half hour to focus on dinner and then need to do something else, make a ragu.

There is no one true ragu; check out this article for a great read on it.  This is a great place to experiment, try some substitutions, play around a little.  Make this ragu your-gu.  Hrm.

Whatever you decide to do, you must pick a cut of meat that lends itself to slow cooking.  The chuck is the obvious choice here, regardless of which animal it comes from.  High on the shoulder, chuck is traditionally used for braises and ground meat – in its unprocessed state, it’s tough and fatty, excellent for breaking down by heat (braise) or mechanical (ground) means.  It’s also relatively cheap, so you can make a big pot of the stuff without breaking the bank.  Pork should feature in your ragu (butt or picnic shoulder), but adding some other meat will add an extra flavor note.

This is going to be an umami bomb, and you can amp up those flavors with the addition of tomato paste, anchovies, and a flavorful stock.  Don’t shy away from the anchovies – they will literally melt in hot oil, leaving no fishy flavor or little chunks to even suggest they were there in the first place.

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Pork and Lamb ragu

1 lb pork shoulder
2 lb lamb shoulder
1 carrot
1 celery
1 onion
4-5 cloves garlic
3-ish anchovies
rosemary
about 1 cup red wine
about 3 cups pork or chicken stock
juice and zest of one lemon
tomato paste
Parmesan cheese

Cut meat into 2-inch cubes, dice veggies for mirepoix, mince garlic. Brown the meat in olive oil, then remove from the pot and melt anchovies in the oil. Sweat the mirepoix over medium-ish heat until soft, then add garlic and cook until fragrant. Put the meat back in the pot, then cover with red wine and stock mixture.  Add large sprig of rosemary, lemon juice and zest, and about 2 tbsp. tomato paste. Cook uncovered at a low simmer until meat falls apart, 4-5 hours, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper. The stirring should be enough to break apart the meat chunks. Add additional red wine as needed to keep the pot from drying out, but the end result should not be liquidy.

Serve over pasta, polenta, chickpeas, or vegetables.  Sprinkle grated Parmesan over top.

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