We have cooked so much ragù on the Big Green Egg but written very little about it. This is just because I have been overwhelmed by the diversity and breadth of the history of ragù in Italy. So where do you start? Well we are starting here – with a master of Italian food, Theo Randall. Jackie and I have recently been doing some online courses from Banquist, a company based in the UK. Their pasta course was led by Theo Randall – if you have not come across Theo – check him out here.
This was the second dish we cooked on the course. It was a beef ragù, with more Neapolitan rather than Bolognese origins in that tomatoes are very well represented in the sauce. This is not the case with Bolognese cooking (you can feel the complication of Italian cooking history already). However you chose to classify it though, it is a really great ragù. This recipe follows Theo’s almost exactly. It was, however, cooked for longer at a lower temperature and was cooked over charcoal on the Big Green Egg.
The meat used for this first ‘run out’ of this recipe was wagyu shoulder. Beef shoulder is often referred to as Chuck and I would suspect that any chuck would work well in this recipe! Using substantial chunks of meat when making a ragù has the enormous advantage that they are easy to manage at this stage when trying to get colour onto the meat. It is that Maillard reaction that brings so much extra flavour to dishes. The chunks of beef were dried and then seasoned generously with salt. The beef was then fried at a high heat in a pan with a little olive oil, making sure that all sides of the meat were browned. This could be done on the BGE but on this occasion these first stages were done on a domestic hob in the kitchen. Whilst the meat was browning a large onion was halved and diced reasonably finely. The meat was then removed from the pan and set to one side.
The diced onion was then added to the pan with the remaining meat juices, together with a further kiss of olive oil. As the onions started to sauté 2 sticks of celery were finely chopped and added to the pan with a little more olive oil and fried on a medium heat for around 4 minutes.
This is where we came across the first surprise. A sofrito normally has diced carrot, which would be added at this stage, but the advice was to miss out the carrot (as much for visual reasons as anything else). A little reluctantly we went along with this (Chef Randall has had a Michelin Star after all!!). So a slightly different looking sofrito in this one!!
As the sofrito was cooking the San Marzano tomatoes were chunked and then very finely blended with a stick blender. Normally a passata is sieved to remove the seeds and skin. When it is blitzed in this way though it is not really necessary and there is far less waste. The blitzed tomato was going to be used with some conventional passata to add some sweet freshness.
The beef was added back to the sofrito and the chopped rosemary. The red wine was added and stirred through the mix. This was left to simmer for a few minutes to drive off the alcohol before adding the tomato pulp and the passata. The pan was then brought to a gentle simmer. If we were going to finish the cooking in a conventional oven this would be the time to add a close fitting lid before putting it in the oven at around 180C for around 90 minutes. We were, however, going to cook the ragù on the BGE set up for indirect cooking at between 150-160C.
Because we were cooking on the BGE the pan was not lidded for some of the cook as the EGG doesn’t dry out a casserole in the same way a domestic oven does. As we were cooking at a lower temperature we cooked for around 2.5 hours rather than the 90mins in the original recipe. If necessary just add a little more liquid if needed. The great thing is that as long as you don’t let the dish dry out it is difficult to overcook it!
Once the meat is meltingly tender the casserole can be removed from the Big Green Egg for the next stage in the process. As we started off with large chunks of meat we then needed to break up the meat into the sauce. The easiest way to do this is with a whisk. The whisk is simply used to bash the meat until it breaks down to the required consistency as in the picture. The ragù can be used straight away or left to mature overnight. If anything it is a little better on the second day!
We were serving the ragù with home made egg pasta. Hopefully we will publish this later. We were going to use a very traditional Tuscan Pappardelle pasta which is usually around 2cm wide and around 25cm long.
The secret of a great pasta ragù is to slightly undercook the pasta so that it is al dente and then to add the pasta and a little of the salted pasta water to the ragù. The final cooking of the pasta is finished in the ragu. The pappardelle is gently stirred through the ragù and as that is done it releases some of its starch, adding a silkiness. Just before it is ready to serve, a handful of chopped herbs can be added and stirred through; on this occasion parsley.
All that is left to do is pop open a good bottle of Italian red, and serve the pasta on the plate or bowl of your choice. ideally the serving dish for this sort of pasta should have a flat base. This traditional way of serving the dish has the practical advantage that the pasta can be spread out.
……….so some freshly grated parmesan……..
……………… and away we go!!
Footnote: The dish was delicious and my concern about missing the carrots out of the sofrito on this occasion were unfounded – however as a rule I am still using very finely diced carrots in my sofrito for other dishes!!
Wagyu Ragu - with pappardelle
A sumptuous beef ragù to serve with a pasta of your choice (Though ideally pappardelle!!)
- 400g Wagyu Chuck
- Maldon salt
- Olive oil
- Half a large onion (or a small onion)
- 2 sticks of celery
- 300-400g San Marzano tomatoes
- 150-200 ml passata
- One sprig of rosemary
- 175ml red wine
- Pasta of your choice
- Parmesan cheese
- Step 1 Pat the beef chunks to dry them and season generously with salt. Fry in a hot pan with a little olive oil. Brown all sides. Set aside
- Step 2 Chop the onion reasonably finely. Add to the pan with a further dash of olive oil and cook till translucent. Chop the celery and sauté on medium with the onions with a further drop of olive oil for around 4 minutes.
- Step 3 reintroduce the beef back to the sofrito pan and add the chopped rosemary. Stir the red wine through the mix and simmer for a few minutes to drive off the alcohol. Chunk the tomatoes and blitz with a stick blender. Add the tomato pulp and the passata to the pan. Bring to a gentle simmer.
- Step 4 Set up the BGE for indirect cooking at around 150-160C. Cook for around 2.5 hours until the meat is very tender. Remove from the BGE and break up the meat with a whisk. The ragù is ready to use now but will be even better after 24 hours