A recipe: Beef Shin Ragu

 Forget mince. Mince is for burgers, meatballs and pasties. Anyone worth their Maldon will tell you it ain’t even that good for patties and balls either. Ground beef? Now you’re talking. Pound that mince down in a pestle and mortar with some marrow and see the texture of your burger change from chunky and chewy to buttery and soft in a masterstroke of granite sorcery that’ll have everyone wondering how you did it. Better still, choose your own blend of cuts – ox cheek, shin, flank – and grind your own beef in a mincer twice or even three times. Some of the cuts are so tough you’ll feel like you’re about to break the table at times, but I promise you it’s worth it. Think of it as a triceps workout before the calorie overload you’re about to indulge in. You’ll never look back. But we’re not here to talk about burgers. Enough, too much, has been said about burgers already.

I’m here to talk about ragu. Bolognese, bol, bog, everyone has their own idea about what it should be called and how it should be made. My version has always been pretty conventional, based on an old Gordon Ramsay recipe that was pilfered from the Sunday Times around a decade ago, itself no doubt pilfered from someone’s long dead nonna in Bologna. It never failed to delight – equal parts beef and pork mince, pancetta, bottle of red, soffrito of celery, carrot and onion blended with tomato passata brought to a boil and left in the oven at around 125 for as long as you can possibly bear to leave it while you get on with your day. But recently an expected substitution of beef shin for diced venison when making a River Cottage Baby venison stew recipe opened my eyes to the velvet gelatin wonder of this incredible cut, and I have used it ever since. The best part? It is cheap. Insultingly so.[1] Words can’t express how deeply it will enrich your bolbog experience, you simply have to try it for yourself.

Serves 8

For the ragu
1 x beef shin, on the bone if you can get it, approx. 1kg
100g good quality pancetta (from your butcher please)
1 x large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 x large onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 x celery stalks, peeled and finely chopped
3 x garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 x bottle Italian red
2 x star anise[2]
500ml passata/tinned tomatoes
2 x tablespoons tomato puree
1 x tablespoon chopped sage
1 x tablespoon chopped rosemary
Extra virgin olive oil
Flour, to dust.

To serve
Pasta of choice (I recommend tagliatelle, linguine, pappardelle),
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley

  1. Preheat the oven to 125C. Sweat veg and garlic in large saucepan/casserole over a low heat with the olive oil for 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly.[3]
  2. Add the passata/tinned tomatoes to the pan and blend with a hand blender. Alternatively you can put the whole lot in a processor and blend it in there. Return to the casserole and to the heat.
  3. Sweat the pancetta in a separate large frying pan over a medium heat to render down the fat. You don’t want them too crispy. Add the pancetta to the blended vegetables, keeping the fat in the pan for the next part.[4]
  4. Open all windows and doors to outside, whack the extractor fan on full blast and have something ready to reach the smoke alarms which will be shortly be screaming at you.
  5. Turn the heat right up in the pan. Add a little extra oil if necessary. Dust the shin all over with seasoned flour and brown on all sides. Looking for caramelization like in the the picture above.[5]
  6. Swear at the smoke alarm as it goes off for the second time.
  7. When all the beef is done add it to the casserole, along with the wine, star anise, tomato puree and herbs. Season. Bring gently to the boil, skimming any scum off the surface.
  8. Once the casserole has come to the boil, cover and place in the oven. Leave to simmer for anywhere between five and seven hours, stirring turning the beef occasionally if necessary, until the flesh falls apart to the touch.
  9. Check after four hours or so. If the sauce seems too thin take off the lid. If it still hasn’t reduced by the time the beef is ready then lift the beef out with a slotted spoon and reduce on the hob to a desired consistency. Season to taste.
  10. Heat plates in the oven.
  11. Boil the pasta to al dente in salted water.
  12. Drain, reserving some of the cooking water toss with the sauce if you like to mix everything before serving.
  13. Drizzle a little oil over the pasta in the colander to loosen, then serve on the heated plates with the sauce served on top, sprinkled with chopped parsley and parmesan.
  14. Gutsy red.
  15. I know it’s delicious, but don’t get carried away. It’s seriously rich. I had seconds last time and ended up thinking I was having a heart attack again.

[1] Don’t tell your butcher. Or mine.

[2] Don’t leave these out, whatever you do.

[3] I always like to put oil and veg in together before turning the heat on, that way everything comes up to the same temperature together and nothing burns.

[4] Although if it’s burnt you should wipe the pan clean with kitchen towel and start again with olive oil.

[5] If you’re using mince make sure to fry it off in batches. Don’t overcrowd the pan.

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