This Bolognese sauce has tender, juicy bits of meat and is so dense and rich in flavor from the oxtail that it has become a favorite of my son’s. Bolognese is so versatile that it can be used not only to make a luscious lasagna but also as a topping for baked potatoes or crepe filling or even as a pizza topping. It is also terrific in baked casseroles like pot pie or shepherd’s pie. Think of it as an Italian version of Texas chili as it has only meat, no beans and use it in place of that in recipes.
I learned how to make a classic Bolognese sauce from my Malaysian friend, Carol, a professionally trained chef who’s husband, Gaetano, is an Italian national. I took her basic recipe, which I will also share with you on another blog, and beefed it up a bit.
Hands-on time: 40 minutes
Cook time: 3-4 hours
Yield: 6 quarts sauce
- 1 pound ground beef, chuck, or other well-marbled meat from the shoulder/neck/upper thigh that requires slow cooking over a long period
- 1 pound oxtail, cut into 2-inch rounds
- olive oil for cooking – to lightly coat the bottom of the pan
- 4 stalks celery
- 2 large carrots
- 2-3 large onions
- 1 large can Italian peeled tomatoes
- 1 can tomato puree
- 1 large can tomato paste
- 1 cup white wine
- 1/4 cup of whole milk
- 1-2 bay leaves
- 3-5 large, fresh tomatoes, any kind
- 1-2 tablespoons of Fish sauce or minced anchovies or anchovy paste for umami flavor – optional
- 6-7 cloves garlic – traditional Bolognese doesn’t use garlic -optional
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper flakes – not traditional, but I like the smoky taste – optional
- salt and pepper to taste
1.Place an 8-quart pressure cooker over high heat and wait for a couple of minutes to ensure the pan is hot before adding enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom.
2. Place the oxtail in one layer in the pan and brown on all sides. This will take a few minutes.
3. Meanwhile, peel and coarsely chop the onions and place in a food processor. Pulse a few times, scraping down the sides until minced, but not pureed.
4. Be sure to check on the meat, turning it every 2 minutes or so. When the meat is nicely browned remove the pieces into a heat-proof 2-quart container.
5. Add the ground beef to the hot pan to brown. You should not need to add any more oil since the oxtail will render quite a bit of oil when browned.
6. When the ground beef has browned and the water from it has dried, add it to the same pan as the seared oxtail.
7. Add the chopped onion to the pan, adding olive oil if necessary. Soften the onions until they turn clear. Add the cayenne pepper flakes if you are using them.
8. Meanwhile, wash the carrots and celery well, remove the bottoms and tops of both vegetables, and coarsely chop them. Add them to the food processor (you don’t need to clean the processor in-between) and mince. The volume of minced carrots and celery should be equal to that of the minced onion.
9. Add the minced vegetables to the cooked onion. See image above.
10. Add tomato paste to the pan and let it cook until it darkens and dries a bit. It will change color from bright red to red-brown.
11. As the tomato paste is browning, chop the garlic in the food processor, if using. Add this to the browned tomato paste.
12. Wash, then chop the fresh tomatoes and add them to the food processor. Also add the can of whole, peeled tomatoes, and pulse to liquefy. Add this mixture to the pot.
13. Add the canned, or bottled tomato puree to the pot and give the pot a good stir to ensure that nothing is sticking to the bottom.
14. Return the browned beef to the pot and add the bay leaves, salt, and ground black pepper.
15. Add about a cupful of white wine. The wine will help soften the meat and it will add flavor to the sauce.
16. Add the fish sauce or minced anchovies or anchovy paste to the sauce if you are using it. It will impart a nice umami flavor to the sauce.
17. Add just enough cold water to cover the meat and cook over medium heat until the sauce starts to bubble gently. Stir well, lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pressure cooker with the lid. If you own a heat diffuser, use it.
DO NOT set it to pressure cook. Stir every 15 minutes to keep the sauce from burning and cover the pot again.
18. Keep a teapot of boiled water at the ready should you need to add more water to the sauce as it will thicken a lot. Who needs collagen pills when you can get it naturally (and more deliciously) this way? Add water by the cupful to keep the meat submerged and to keep the sauce from burning.
19. Cook covered, over a very low simmer, stirring every 15 minutes for 3-4 hours until the meat falls off the bone. At this point, you should be able to stand a wooden spoon upright, without holding it, in the sauce.
20. Finish the sauce off with a 1/4 cup of whole milk. Taste to see whether you need to correct the salt. Finish with a healthy grinding of black pepper.
21. Use what you need, and refrigerate the rest. It will keep for about a week, but I prefer to freeze it the next day into appropriate portions in a freezer bag or another freezer-safe container (labeled and dated).
Note: I always chop the vegetables before processing them in the food processor or blender as I find it to be more efficient and avoids having things get stuck in the machine.
Browning the tomato paste gives the sauce a deeper, more smoky flavor.
Written by Anju Kapur of Anju’s Table. All content and images on this site are copyright protected. Please do not use any of my images without my permission. Should you wish to share this recipe on your site, please add a link to this post as the source.