We are continuing to plan our way through the diversity and breadth of the history of ragù in Italy. Some time ago we published our first ragù recipe from that master of Italian food; Theo Randall (you can find that recipe here) – if you have not come across Theo – check him out here.
This dish has a lot of similarities to that recipe of Theo’s in that it is not Bolognese in style(Bolognese ragù contains little tomato traditionally and uses minced beef/veal/pork). Many none Italians may see what we are cooking here though as a “Bolognese” as this is the term that has widespread use, but only outside Italy does it describe rich tomato and meat sauces to serve with pasta!
Nevertheless, however you chose to think of it, this is a really great ragù. One of the really clever tricks here is that it seems very opulent with a rich ‘melt-in-the -mouth’ meatiness. It is, however, the very slow cooking that gives this effect rather than the use of expensive ingredients! One of our ‘go-to’ pasta reference books is by Finn Lagun and Roberta d’Elia from Pasta Evangelists. In their book they describe a very similar recipe as reminding them “of the frugality of Tuscany’s peasantry through the centuries”
This particular recipe shares a lot of the simplicity of Theo’s recipe but it differs in the choice of the cut (and the breed) of the meat. It is also different in that it also includes beef stock (and it has carrot in the soffrito as is more usual). It is a very simple dish to prepare but again all the work comes in the slow cooking and this is something you just can’t skimp on. This is also why this is such a perfect dish to cook on our Big Green Egg!
If the shin beef you buy is still on the bone – so much the better. Usually though the shin we get is cut into chunks and that is what we use here. Using chunks of meat allows you to easily get some colour on it when you brown it off at the start of the cook. The colour is a result of the Maillard reaction and it is this that brings so much extra flavour to dishes and is what the TV Chef Jamie Oliver often refers to as ‘free extra taste’!
The chunks of beef were dried and seasoned generously with salt. They were then fried in just a little olive oil using direct heat. This was done in 2 batches to make sure that all sides of the meat were browned and to give the meat space in the pan. This can be done in the casserole dish or in a separate pan using direct heat on the BGE or on a domestic hob in the kitchen. Once browned the meat was set to one side as in the picture.
The pan temperature was reduced a little ready for the onions. The onion should be diced reasonably finely. They were added to the pan in which we had coloured the meat together with a further splash of olive oil. As the onions began to softened the garlic was added and cooked for a further minute or so. The celery and the finely diced carrots were then also added to the pan and cooked through for 4-5 minutes until they also began to soften and take on just a little colour.
The cooked soffrito and the beef shin was combined in the small casserole that we were using for the slow cook together with some chopped rosemary (as in Theo’s recipe). The red wine was added to deglaze the pan and it was left to simmer for a few minutes to drive off the alcohol.
Variations: The recipe from Roberta at Pasta Evangelists (here) adds the beef back after the tomatoes are added, but we now add it back at this stage . They also use Bay leaves rather than the Rosemary that we use here. Both work well.
Once the alcohol has gone, the wine was added to the casserole together with the tomato pulp/passata and the tomato concentrate. We have made this dish with fresh San Marzano tomatoes, tinned San Marzano tomatoes and with relatively ordinary chopped tinned tomatoes as well as just with passata. Each one works well but use the best you can! My favourite is a mix of fresh and tinned San Marzano tomatoes. When used fresh we chunked them and then very finely blended them with a stick blender. This makes a great unsieved passata. With the tinned tomatoes I would just crush them by hand.
Once the concentrated beef stock has been added so the meat is covered (top up with water if not) you are ready to pop it into an oven of some sort for a long slow cook
If we were going to finish the cooking in a conventional oven then the lid would be put in place and the dish cooked in the oven at around 130C for around 4 hours. We were cooking on the BGE which had been set up for indirect cooking at between 110-130C. We almost always cook unlidded on the BGE as the EGG doesn’t dry out a casserole in the same way a domestic oven does. Being unlidded also means the ragù takes on a little smoke too. I want this to be subtle so now only occasionally add additional wood to add smoke. We usually just rely on any smoke from the charcoal. We set the temperature to around 120C and let it cook for around 4 hrs. It’s good to give it a stir every hour just to make sure it didn’t dry out at all. If its does start to thicken too much just add a little water. As long as it remains moist it is difficult to overcook this dish!
As with any ragu that starts with the meat in large chunks but where the meat is going to stay in the sauce – the next stage is always very simple. Once the meat was ‘fall apart’ tender (if it is not just give it more time) the casserole was removed from the Big Green Egg. The large chunks of meat need to be shredded into the sauce and the easiest way to do this is with a whisk. The whisk is simply used to smash the meat until it breaks down to the required consistency as in the picture. Alternatively, it can be left a little more chunky depending how you like your ragù. Like so many of these slow cooked dishes the ragù will be better on the next day but is still good if used straightaway!
This is a Tuscan dish and so we were serving it with pappardelle. The pasta cooking should be finished in the ragù. The best way is to add the required ragù to a separate pan and bring to temperature (we would use between 300-350g for 2 people as a generous plating). The secret then is to marginally undercook the pasta in the pasta water and then add this ‘al dente’ pasta and a little of the salted pasta water to the ragù. The pappardelle is then gently stirred through the ragù. Whilst this can be done in a large saucepan as shown here – you may find it easier with a heavy pasta like pappardelle to do this in a wide shallow frying pan. The pasta can then be shaken and tossed for a couple of minutes to release its starch which finishes the dish so well. This is often easier than trying to stir a heavy pasta like pappardelle without damaging it. Just before it is ready to serve, a handful of chopped herbs can be added and stirred through.
So pop open the cork of the drink of your choice – for me, this calls for a good Tuscan red ideally from round Montalcino.
Serve the pasta on a flat plate or bowl so that the pasta can be spread out easily.
……….so some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano……..
……………… and away we go again!!
Beef Shin Ragù with red wine
A beautiful slow cooked beef ragù
- 500g Shin beef
- 1 Large onion finely diced
- 2 Garlic cloves finely sliced
- 1 Medium to large carrot very finely diced
- 2 large sticks of celery very finely diced
- 500ml passata or chopped tomatoes
- 1tbsp tomato puree
- Rosemary or Bay leaves
- 100ml good red wine
- 250ml concentrated beef stock
- Salt and Pepper
- Olive Oil
- Step 1 Dry the chunks of beef and season generously with salt. Fry in just a little olive oil using direct heat. Do this in batches and make sure that all sides of the meat are browned. Once browned set to one side
- Step 2 Reduce the pan temperature slightly and add the onion with a further splash of olive oil. As they soften add the garlic and cook for a further minute or so. Add the celery and the finely diced carrot and cook until they also begin to soften and take on a little colour.
- Step 3 Add the beef shin back together with some chopped rosemary (or Bay leaf). Deglaze the cooking pan with the red wine and leave to simmer to drive off the alcohol.
- Step 4 Add the tomato and tomato puree together with the concentrated beef stock and stir to combine
- Step 5 If cooking in a conventional oven leave the lid on and perhaps add a little water cook at 130C for around 4 hours. On the BGE, set up indirectly and cook at between 110-130C without the lid. Stir every hour just to make sure it doesn’t dry out at all. If it starts to thicken too much just add a little water.
- Step 6 Once the meat is ‘fall apart’ tender (if it is not just give it more time) remove from the Big Green Egg. Shred the large chunks of meat into the sauce with a whisk.
- Step 7 Serve with a long pasta such as pappardelle