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Bolognese sauce is a recipe that has earned my disrespect, despite me always keeping a pound of supermarket ground beef in the freezer ready to make it.

You see, I use it as a fall-back recipe for those days when my interest in cooking is waning and yet I still need to produce food. I therefore never look forward to making it. And since the meaty part of the sauce always turns out a little dry I don't often look forward to eating it either.

This could be a problem with cooking technique, but I'd first like to see what difference it makes using better quality ingredients.

What cuts of meat should I ask the butcher to grind? And is it worth adding ground pork or veal to the mix as some recipes suggest.

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6 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

It is absolutely worth adding ground pork or veal. I usually use a leaner ground steak and compensate with a fatty ground pork (shoulder is good) - fat = flavour.

Another tip is to take your time. Many people try and cook bolognese in half an hour, but considering ground meat is usually made with tougher cuts, you end up with tough meat and under-developed flavours. Use plenty of onions and garlic, brown your meat well, use good wine, stock, tomatoes and herbs (thyme, rosemary and bay) and gently simmer that bad boy for at least 3 hours. For ultimate flavour, cook it the day before and let the flavours marry overnight.

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+1 for the long cooking times, as it does make a huge difference. Also, I tend to use only veal and pork, I find that ground beef tends to "ruin" the taste. –  nico Jun 28 '12 at 6:16
    
That's personal taste :D Personally I don't like the taste of veal. –  ElendilTheTall Jun 28 '12 at 10:02
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If your meat sauce is dry it suggests you have other issues - Are you adding enough liquid? For a pound of meat I would be using a can of chopped tomatoes, some water/beef stock (as required), some milk (a dash) and some red wine (1/2 to 1 glass)

What kind of meat are you using? What % fat is it? If you are using e.g. ground rump then there may not be enough fat. One solution is using a more fatty cut or as you suggest add something like pork/veal. My butcher usually has 2 types, either ground beef (usually 15-20% fat) or the more expensive steak mince (5-10% fat). I use ground beef for most things except a few pies which I dont like too fatty.

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The liquid part of the sauce is fine, but I'm not happy with the texture or flavour of the meat in the sauce which is dry and bland. –  Chris Steinbach Jun 28 '12 at 0:28
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First I must agree with @ElendilTheTall, He is completely correct that it is worth adding pork, I would also suggest some ground lamb. Then on one of those 'other' evenings, when you might be 'into' doing some cooking use the ground beef, pork and lamb to make meatballs.Season them with some oregano, paprika (and other seasoning, to taste), add dried bread crumbs, along with two eggs. You can then freeze the meatballs and add them to your bolognese for a rich juicy meat to go with your sauce when you need a quick/simple meal.

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And garlic! Gotta put garlic in there. And fennel seeds work beautifully too. Oooo, meatballs. –  ElendilTheTall Jun 28 '12 at 10:24
    
I didn't want to turn into a recipe, but you are spot on ;) –  Cos Callis Jun 28 '12 at 11:07
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Stop using ground meat. It's too lean, lean meat cooks fast and then dries out..period. The only way to pull it off is to cook the sauce separately without the meat...brown the meat until it's just cooked and stir in the sauce.... STOP right there.

Alternatively use "sausage grind", this is meat ground for sausage that hasn't been made into sausage yet.

But if you want good bolognese, use slow cooked parts like beef short ribs, pork shoulder (picnic roast will work) and / or veal breast or veal osso bucco. Slow cook the meats separately until almost done, de-fat the juices and reduce the juices until slightly thickened. Make your sauce and finish cooking the meats in the sauce slowly...add the reduced juices for more flavor.

forget about ground meat bolognese

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From the recipe for ragù (what the Bolognese call their meat sauce) in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan:

The meat should not be from too lean a cut; the more marbled it is, the sweeter the ragù will be. The most desirable cut of beef is the neck portion of the chuck.

The recipe calls for no less than 3 hours of simmering as well! Maybe you will be more pleased with the result by following the same classic recipe.

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In the British tv series "In Search of Perfection" with Heston Blumenthal, Heston visits a chef in Italy that makes ragu bolognese with whole pieces of meat that are braised and then shredded. He comes up with a combination of pork and beef cut into larger chunks and cooked for a very long time instead of using ground meat. You might want to try a similar approach.

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