Beef Ragu

This isn't a week's worth of ragu, but it takes a long time and makes more than a meal's worth. And it is the recipe you'll need to have made for the next recipe.

The first thing you might notice is that I call for flank steak rather than ground beef. Here's the way I see it. Grinding is the ultimate tenderizer—if you don't have the time to cook meat into submission, you grind it. Ragu by nature is a long-cooking recipe, so why use ground beef? In my experience ground meat is done and on the way to drying out after about 15 minutes. But a piece of meat like flank steak...after 15 minutes it's just getting started. Just right for ragu.

Another principle at work here is browning and evaporating. Now, everyone knows that browned food is more flavorful than un-browned food. It's the toast vs. bread thing. Also, everyone knows that as a sauce evaporates it gets more concentrated. What's going on here is that you brown the meat, then let the juices cook down to a crust on the bottom of the pan. You let the crust brown, then reconstitute it with wine. You let that cook down and brown, then add milk. This way you build a rich sauce with deep flavors.

You can use all of this over pasta, or set some aside for the casserole recipe that follows. This freezes well—since it is so time-consuming, feel free to double this recipe.

Recipe: Beef Ragu

  • 3 T. oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 rib celery, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 2 lbs. flank steak, finely diced
  • 2 c. dry white wine
  • 2 c. milk
  • 1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 c. water
  1. Start cooking the onion in oil. Add celery and carrot as they are diced. Cook until the onion starts sticking to the bottom and turning brown.
  2. Stir in the diced meat. At first it will give up liquid. Use these juices and a wooden spoon to loosen the stuck bits. After the meat juices evaporate (10 to 15 minutes), don't stir, let it form a crust on the bottom. Before the crust burns, add the wine. Stir, scraping up and dissolving the crust. Adjust the burner so the wine just simmers.
  3. When the wine is gone and a new crust forms on the bottom, add the milk and stir up the crust. Then let the milk simmer away.
  4. Finally, when the pan is dry again, add the tomatoes and water. Stir well, lower the heat to the gentlest of simmers and cover.
  5. Let it simmer, covered, until the meat is meltingly tender—about an hour. Check it from time to time so it doesn't burn-add water if necessary to keep it saucy.

John Ryan continues his "Page Turners" with notes and recipes for...


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