Ragu isn’t just the stuff you buy in a bottle at the grocery store. If we’re talking the real-deal here, ragù is a rustic, Italian meat-based sauce that is slowly cooked and typically made with wine and/or tomatoes. The ratios will differ, as will the types of meat used. Ragù can be made with beef, veal, pork, venison, boar, ox tail, short rib, sausage, lamb, rabbit, and the list goes on. It can be made with ground meat, or larger cuts like shoulder, leg, ribs, etc.
Variations will inevitably differ depending on region, family and tradition. Some people will include milk in the sauce, others cream, and others will curse you for six lifetimes if you add either. Sometimes you will find the sauce being flavoured with oregano and thyme, or it can include rosemary and sage. But you never, ever add cilantro! ‘Bolognese’ is perhaps the most popular ragù. It’s North America and Europe’s darling ‘pasta sauce’.
Of course, you’ll never catch an Italian calling anything Bolognese without using the word ragù in front of it. The absolute best ragù Bolognese I ever had was in a small town called Biassa, a few kilometres from Riomaggiore in the Liguria region of Italy. I can still taste it! You can read a little bit more about that experience and watch my video for Simple and Delicious Paleo Bolognese here.
As mentioned, most ragù recipes call for using wine to braise the meat. Though wine will yield a very delicious sauce and help to break down tougher cuts of meat like lamb leg or shoulder, it is not entirely necessary.
I have made more ragù than I care to admit – with and without wine – and I am so confident in this alcohol-free, entirely paleo and Whole30 compliant version that I will put it up against any nonna’s recipe. The only thing this recipe can’t compete with is the childhood threat of getting nonna’s wooden spoon to the back of the head if you don’t finish it all and lick the plate! In that respect, nonna wins – no contest.
If you like ‘Bolognese’ you’ll LOVE Lamb Ragu
Today I’m sharing a slightly different version of the classic Italian dish. This Lamb Ragu is very similar to my ‘Bolognese’ but uses large chunks of lamb leg instead of ground meat. The result is a beautiful, rich, hearty sauce full of shredded, melt-in-your-mouth goodness. If you’re not a fan of lamb, you can substitute beef short rib, pork shoulder or even just stick with the more common choice of using ground meat. The choice is yours!
To serve, I think there is nothing more comforting in the fall and winter months than ragù with this Cauliflower polenta. It’s every bit as flavourful as corn polenta but won’t leave you feeling weighed down. The flavours go so well together too! The sweetness from the cauliflower plays very nicely with the richness of the lamb and earthy flavours from the rosemary. The dish is rounded off with some beautiful, Garlicky Swiss Chard (the recipe for which can be found here on Bon Apétit). If you’ve never eaten chard or cooked with it, now is the time!
Instant Pot vs. Traditional Braising
If you read my Instant Pot Review then you know that this Lamb Ragu is one of the recipes that convinced me of the benefits of having an electric slow cooker. The entire recipe is made in the Instant Pot in half the time it would take to traditionally braise it in the oven and tastes just as good! I am most definitely an advocate for the time-honoured tradition of making good food slowly, but there is something to be said for convenience – especially when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. If you are wondering, I own the Instant Pot V60 6Qt 6-in-1 (affiliate link) and I whole-heartedly recommend getting an Instant Pot. But before you do, I encourage you to read my review first.
Instant Pot Lamb Ragu - Whole30, Paleo
- 2 kg leg of lamb, bone-in cut into 2" cubes (you can ask your butcher to do this)
- 1 medium-sized onion diced
- 2 celery stalks diced
- 2 carrots diced
- 6-8 cloves garlic finely-sliced
- 2 cups tomato passata preferably in a glass jar
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp densely-packed fresh rosemary finely chopped
- 1 tsp densely-packed oregano finely chopped
- 1 tbsp avocado oil
- kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- Set Instant Pot to Sautée mode and allow to preheat.
- Meanwhile, rinse leg of lamb and pat very dry with paper towel. Cut into 2" chunks and season all sides with a bit of kosher salt.
- Add avocado oil to preheated Instant Pot and brown all sides of the lamb in batches. Transfer browned meat to bowl and set aside.
- To the Instant Pot, add onion, celery, and carrot - season with a pinch of salt. Sautée vegetables until softened (approximately 10-12 minutes). Be sure to scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the pot.
- Add garlic, rosemary, oregano and bay leaves and season with 1 tsp of freshly-cracked black pepper. Sautée an additional 60 seconds.
- Return browned meat to the Instant Pot and add tomato passata and chicken stock. Give everything a stir and cook on Sautée mode until the sauce comes to a simmer. **Note: this will help reduce the time it takes to seal the Instant Pot and Initiate the timer.
- Close the lid, set the pressure release valve to the 'Sealing' position and program the Instant Pot to Manual Mode, High Pressure for 60 minutes. **Note: You can also use the 'Meat/Stew' mode with High Pressure for 60 minutes.
- After cooking time has elapse, depressurize manually, and switch back to the Sautée mode to reduce the sauce. As the sauce reduces, use a pair of tongs and a fork to shred the meat in the pot.
- Reduce sauce to desired consistency (I like it thick and chunky), taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper as required. Note: If you reduce the sauce too much, simply add a little bit of stock to reconstitute.
- Serve over Cauliflower Polenta or Zucchini Noodles.