Real Ragu Sauce Doesn’t Come in Jars

It’s ironic that if you mention ragu to most Americans, they think of the epitome of convenience – jarred spaghetti sauce. If you mention it to someone who has tasted the real thing, though, it conjures almost the opposite mental image – meat cooked for hours in sauteed vegetables and sauce until it falls apart into shreds, creating a luscious, rich sauce with incredible meatiness.

On Sunday, I prepared this masterpiece for friends with a couple culinary quirks. One does not eat ground meats, and one is allergic to onions. The proscription on ground beef was not a problem for ragu – only bastardized short-cut recipes employ ground beef, but the absence of onions called for a bit of adaptation. I increased the celery and garlic substantially – I would have happily substituted shallots, but I wasn’t sure if the onion allergy would extend to shallots. I’ll do a lot to increase depth of flavor, but putting a friend into anaphylactic shock seems extreme.

To make my version, I started with 4 pounds of boneless beef chuck short ribs. These have become my go-to meat for stews, chilis, and other recipes where “stew meat” might otherwise be called for. The meat is marbled, tender, tasty and easily available at Costco.

Most recipes call for the meat to be browned in oil, but I’m a Kansas Citian, and I love my grill, so I browned the meat close to charring and made the neighbors drool. I figure that by dripping the fat through the grill, I may be avoiding a little bit of fat in the sauce, and it adds a better flavor than I can ever achieve by browning in a saute pan. That’s just Kansas City Culinary Improv – if you prefer to brown the meat on a stove top, then do so.

After the meat was seared on the grill, I roughly chopped a few carrots and 6 stalks of celery, and minced around 12 cloves of garlic. That went into a big pot with some olive oil, and I sauteed them until they started to soften up. While that was going on, I added the meat after cutting it into chunks, and I added a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and a similar amount of fresh thyme. I rummaged through our dry spice jars and tossed other things in – I think some bay leaves, oregano, sage and basil made their way to the pan, along with salt and a generous grinding of pepper.

Let me tell you, meat, garlic, celery and herbs sauteing in olive oil makes wonderful kitchen perfume.

After the vegetables had started to soften, I added a bottle of red wine. Not great red wine, but not “cooking wine”, either. I used a cab/merlot blend, but a great dry Italian red would have been more authentic. I simmered that for about an hour, then added two 28 ounce cans of crushed Italian tomatoes, covered it, and put it in an oven at 275 for most of the afternoon.

Most recipes call for shredding the meat with a fork after letting it cool. My sauce was thick enough that I just went after it with a potato masher.

I wound up using the sauce in a rich lasagna, but it tastes great over plain pasta, too. It freezes well, which makes future meals almost as convenient as its jarred namesake.

4 Responses to “Real Ragu Sauce Doesn’t Come in Jars”

  1. Anonymous says:

    OMG – food porn.

  2. Jim says:

    I give this recipe an enthusiastic thumbs-up!

  3. Spyder says:

    I can't eat onions but I can handle onion powder or onion salt. I don't know if it's the onion oil/fluid that isn't there in there others.

  4. bigsmithdude says:

    man, jim and nate are such high maintenance….

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