How do I cook traditional Italian meat sauce?

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Answered by: Alexander, An Expert in the Stocks and Sauces Category
Traditional Italian meat sauce is called Bolognese and has been made for centuries with care and love. The keys to making the best Italian meat sauce include starting from scratch, cooking it for a long duration, and tailoring the ingredients to your taste.

Exploring Ingredients

Fat - Olive oil is best. Don’t use extra virgin olive oil as it contains particulate from olives that burn with high heat.

Salt - Kosher or sea salt please!

Pepper - Freshly cracked black pepper is best. If you’d like to add heat, crushed red pepper is great. Using chipotle adds smokiness to the flavor profile.

1 ½ Lbs of Meat - Traditionally beef, with pancetta added for flavor. However any meat or combination of meats can be used including beef, veal, pork, uncased sausage, lamb, and buffalo/bison. Keep meats leaner to avoid pools of fat atop your sauce, but don’t go too lean. Trying to make a healthier sauce using chicken, turkey, or other less flavorful meats will lead to a sauce that tastes a little flat. Additional meats to add flavor include pancetta, bacon, prosciutto, duck, and liver. Commonly ground meat is used, however cubed meat adds a wonderful, succulent texture once tenderized and broken down.

2-3 Cups Chopped Aromatic Vegetables - Onion, celery, and carrot (known as mirepoix in French cooking), but the only necessity is onion. Try bell pepper or other root vegetables such as parsnip or celery root can impart an earthiness to the sauce. Keep flavors balanced and the mix aromatic.

Garlic - Fresh garlic finely chopped is the preference.

Tomato - Bolognese is not a tomato-based sauce! Do not add large quantities of tomato. Use 3-4 tomatoes or 6-7 plum/Roma tomatoes. If using canned tomato, use one 14 oz can of tomatoes or tomato sauce or a 6 oz can of tomato paste.

Alcohol - Tomatoes contain flavors only accessible to your taste buds when combined with alcohol, so you need to add alcohol. Using ½ cup vodka will bring out the flavor in the tomatoes but not add additional flavors top the sauce. If using wine, use a minimum 1 cup.

Liquid - You’ll be simmering your sauce for a minimum of 3 hours, so you’ll need to add liquid to keep the Bolognese the proper consistency (and from burning on the bottom of the pot). Water works great and will keep your flavors true to the other ingredients. Beef broth will add richness and salt, but be careful how much you add or the other ingredients will be overpowered.


1.     Place a large stock pot over high heat and add fat to coat the bottom of the pot. If using butter, use a medium-high heat to avoid burning the butter solids.

2.     Season meat with salt/pepper and add to the pot. Brown on all sides and then remove from the pot.

3.     Drain excess fat from the pot, making sure enough is left to sauté the vegetables. Add aromatic vegetables to the pot, salt/pepper appropriately, and sauté until translucent on edges.

4.     Add garlic and any spices and sauté for 1-2 minutes to release their flavor.

5.     Add the meat back to the pot and thoroughly stir the pot’s contents.

6.     Add tomato, any herbs, and alcohol. Cook and stir until the tomatoes fall apart , then reduce liquid in the pot in half.

7.     Add 2 cups of your liquid of choice, bring back to a low boil, and then reduce the heat down to a steady simmer.

8.     TASTE!!! At this point you want to add any additional seasoning, if necessary.

9.     Continue simmering for a minimum of 3 hours. Add liquid in 2 cup increments to keep the sauce from over-thickening and burning.

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