Nick’s Meat Sauce

Here is a straight forward, simple meat sauce you can do with any ground game and any type of noodle. Its basically an Italian bolognese without pancetta, and not nearly cooked as long. I’m doing this one with venison, but we’ve had it with ground rabbit, turkey and beef (I didn’t shoot the cow, that came from our local butcher!).

Nick’s meat sauce on top of tri-color rotini. I actually prefer to put it over rigatoni, but didn’t have any in the cabinet. -photo © Nick Schneeman

Ingredients –
– 1 lb meat, venison in this case
– 1 lb pasta, your choice, I recommend rigatoni
– small can or tube of tomato paste
– 1 large carrot
– 2 large celery sticks
– 1/3 of a large red onion
– 2 large cloves of garlic
– red wine, 1/2 cup or so
– whole milk, 1/2 cup or so
– butter, 1/4 stick
– stock, I use stock that I make on a regular basis from my bones and kitchen scraps, but you can use whatever kind of stock you like, chicken works fine in this recipe. Hank Shaw introduced me to the wonders of homemade stock, here is a link so you can do it yourself! Hank Shaw’s Venison Stock

To get this party started, finally mince your carrot, onion, garlic and celery. You want an even, small mince in order to produce a consistent texture in your final meat sauce. While I’m doing this I’m usually letting my pan heat up. I use a high walled porcelain pot for this sauce, but whatever pan floats your boat. It’ll need to hold 3 to 4 inches of liquid sauce.

Finely mined carrot, onion and celery, technically this would be called a soffritto in Italian cooking, or mirepoix in France. – photo © Nick Schneeman

Now that you’ve got your veggies minced up nicely, hit your hot pan with some olive oil. Let the oil heat up for 30 seconds and then hit the pan with your soffritto, plus some minced garlic. This will need to cook on medium heat for 5 minutes at a minimum, you can leave it for 10. You want the heat to start to bring the flavor and juices out of the vegetables.

Garlic, onion, celery and carrot browning nicely. – photo © Nick Schneeman

Once you’ve got some nice browned bits forming on the bottom of your pan, and your kitchen is full of delicious aromas, scrape all of your mirepoix to one side of the pot, trying to push up some of the nice browned bits as well. Hit you’re open side of the pot with the quarter stick of butter and let it melt a bit.

I also salt and pepper pretty heavily at this point. We’re building the base of the flavors for this dish, its the perfect time to add seasoning. I don’t really use any herbs in the dish, preferring to let the ingredients do the talking for themselves like a traditional bolognese, but I do like to add some crushed red pepper here, because I’m always appreciative of a little spice in my life.

Melting butter and browned mirepoix, so delicious already! – photo © Nick Schneeman

With the butter melted, its time for the star of the attraction! The pan is ready for whatever type of meat you’ve settled on, we’re throwing in a pound of fresh ground venison for this particular dish. The butter is an important addition because wild game tends to be very lean. I grind my venison at a 90-10 ratio, with 10 percent pork back fat. If you’re using store bought beef, with a higher ratio of fat, like 80-20, you can skip the butter adding step of this recipe.

Ground venison meat browning in butter. – photo © Nick Schneeman

You’ll want to cook the meat till its evenly browned and bits of it are starting to stick to the bottom of the pan. At that point start scraping the entire mix together. If you’re not getting some browned bits on the bottom of your pan, your heat is likely too low. We’re cooking with medium to medium high heat here folks! Once the meat is looking good its time to deglaze the pan! Which is basically just a fancy word for adding liquid to a hot pan that something has already been cooked in! Here we’re going to use the red wine. This is also where I start to wing it in this recipe!

You can add as much or as little liquids as you like in this step, but it will affect both flavor and time it needs to be cooked. The more liquids you add (milk, stock and wine) the longer time you will have to cook down the sauce to get it to a saucy consistency, but also the more flavorful your sauce will end up being. For simplicity’s sake, I like to stick to a 1 to 1 to 4 ratio. You want about four times as much stock in your sauce as wine and milk.

Homemade stock and an unopened bottle of wine. The nice thing about needing wine for your recipe, is that you leave enough behind to get the chef good and sauced too! – photo © Nick Schneeman

I don’t actually measure the amount of wine I use, but I think its about a half cup. Use it to deglaze the pan. Scraping all of the stuck on browned bits up with your spatula, you want to get the bottom of your pan clean at this point. Now is also the time to add in your tomato paste. A small can of the stuff is about the perfect amount, plop it into the pot and mix thoroughly with the red wine and other ingredients.

Tomato paste, plopped into the sauce after a good deglaze, needs to be mixed into the dish thoroughly. – photo © Nick Schneeman

With that accomplished, add your stock and milk, stir thoroughly, remembering that the more liquid you put in at this point, the longer it will take to cook down to a sauce like consistency. The particular stock I used here was already reduced a bit, and full of flavor having been made with a goose carcass, a half dozen pheasant feet, and some left over onion, carrot and celery tops, so I did not use a lot of it, 16 ounces I believe. Bring your pot back up to a low boil, and then reduce the temperature until you have a slow simmer going, or just set it to low. We’re going for a long, slow cook the rest of the way.

All my liquids added to the pot, now its time to let it simmer. – photo © Nick Schneeman

The sauce is basically complete at this point. We just need to let it simmer until its at the consistency you want to eat it over pasta. Speaking of pasta, now is a great time to get a pot of water boiling and some noodles cooked. Again, it is important to remember, that the longer you cook this sauce, the more the flavors will develop and meld together. I cooked mine for about an hour after completing all the steps, but have been known to leave this sauce on the stove for up to four hours.

Pro tip: Reserve a quarter cup of pasta water from the noodles you are boiling and add it to your sauce. The starches from the pasta water will help bring that sauce together in a way you won’t regret!

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