With the shift to shorter days and longer nights, our diets go from lighter fare to heartier meals that stick to our ribs. I was inspired to make a Duck Ragù Sauce with fresh pasta that would make any Italian grandmother proud. With these recipes you can create a lovely, soul-satisfying dish for fall, or anytime of the year when a comfort dish is required.
Duck is an interesting bird. It has a wonderful rich character that, when fully extracted, leaves a meatier flavor profile than its fowl cousins. This recipe uses as much of the whole bird as possible to layer in the flavors of the duck, creating a rich, succulent duck ragù sauce that will warm you up on a cold autumn night.
Ragù, or Italian meat sauce, has similarities to a classic Bolognese, with a higher meat to vegetable ratio, making it more like a meat stew than a tomato sauce. To increase the umami, Asian ingredients are added, giving the finished sauce a scrumptiousness that satisfies the soul and stomach. Several variations to this sauce recipe are included below. This Italian style meat sauce is best if made a day or two in advance, allowing the flavors to meld together and integrate. Try using this Duck Ragù Sauce on pasta with a thicker texture and size, as in Italy the pasta is the main ingredient, not the sauce. A tagliatelle, pappardelle, orecchiette, penne rigate, Barley Cavatelli | Gnudi and | or gnocchi will all work great with this recipe. This Duck Ragù Sauce can also be layered into a lasagna, with noodles, grated provolone, mozzarella cheese and ricotta, to creating a very elegant Duck Lasagna version.
As duck isn’t as a popular meat to find in most grocery stores, finding duck meat might be more difficult, if you aren’t friends with a hunter. One of my favorite companies to get duck from is Sonoma Poultry | Liberty Duck. Located just outside Petaluma, CA, they offer all things duck. All the ingredients in this recipe are sourced from them. Duck hearts, duck gizzards, duck bones | feet | necks (great for stocks), duck legs, duck breasts, duck skin (duck chicharrones anyone) and duck fat (for frying, sauteing and pastry – Duck Fat Strudel Dough). They are now shipping duck. Take a look at their site!
In a Dutch oven or a large, thick-bottomed pot over medium heat, melt the duck fat (or olive oil). Add the onions and bay leaves, sautéing until the onions start to take on a light brown color, about 12 – 15 minutes. About halfway through, add the salt, oregano, and thyme.
While the onions are cooking, you can grind the duck heart and gizzard meat with a KitchenAid Food Grinder Attachment or other meat grinder. If you don't have this, you can ask your butcher to grind the duck for you. If duck hearts and gizzards aren’t available, ground duck legs, thighs, or breast meat can be used.
Add in the roasted garlic and stir for a minute, then the duck meat and optional anchovies. Brown the meat, stirring to break it up and incorporate it into the onion mixture. Cook until it’s lightly caramelized, about 6 – 8 minutes. Slow cooking each ingredient adds to the complexity of the sauce.
Next, add the miso, mushroom powder, and soy sauce, cooking for 4 – 5 minutes to dissolve into the sauce and reduce any moisture before the tomatoes are added.
Use fresh, ultra-ripe, peak season tomatoes if available. Otherwise, use canned crushed San Marzano tomatoes, crushing them in a bowl with your hands into irregular chunks. Pour the juice and tomato pieces into the pot along with the tomato paste. Cook the sauce, stirring occasionally, for 5 – 7 minutes, reducing the liquid.
For the beer, the choice is yours. I’d suggest a lower IBU brew with a heavy malt component. A English Brown Ale, Bock or other American Brown Ale or Bock or other Scotch Ale | Wee Heavy will add depth and enhance the caramelization you’ve created during cooking. This will increase the depth of the sauce, along with its umami aspects.
Add the stock and stir well. Let it simmer on medium heat for the next hour, slowly reducing and stirring periodically. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, if needed. The final sauce should be thick, leaving a trail behind the spoon, allowing you to see the bottom of the pot. This can take an between 1 -2 hours, depending on the size of your pot and heat of your stove.
For the best results, I suggest cooling the sauce to room temperature, then refrigerating it overnight before using. This allows the sauce to further infuse the flavors together, making a more flavorful sauce, just by waiting.
This sauce can be made up to 5 days in advance and can be frozen for up to 6 months. Its a great sauce to have on hand for a quick pasta dinner.
To make a richer version of this sauce, add 2 - 3 tablespoons of heavy cream
Instead of duck, try this sauce with ground pork, beef, veal, venison or lamb
When yellow San Marzano tomatoes are available, substitute 2 pounds for the red variety and omit the red tomato paste
Each beer style will add its own unique flavor attributes to the sauce. As this sauce is rich in tomato, umami and meatiness, a melanoidin rich brew will compliment the caramelized onions, roasted garlic and give the sauce added body
replacing the malty brew with a Stout or Porter will add a unique roasted element that incorporates well with the tomato’s acidity.
Even a rye-based brew or an Old Ale will create a good malty base for this sauce, as would a Winter Warmer or (for a Venetian touch) a spiced brew with cinnamon. Pour into the sauce slowly but all at once