One of my favorite venison dishes to make is venison ragu. This is a very popular venison dish and is always a crowd-pleaser.
However, I should preface this by saying this is a “real” ragu recipe, there are many half-effort recipes out there for ragu, but in my opinion, these are underwhelming at best.
This ragu recipe is for a multi-layered and flavored ragu, if that’s what you want then you won’t be disappointed.
Before I start, I want to note that this is an overall ragu recipe, if you want specifically a bolognese, then see my bolognese recipe.
All bolognese are ragu, but not all ragu’s are bolognese. Bolognese is a ragu originating from Bologna Italy.
I hope that clears things up a little.
As I mentioned above, some ragu recipes have a handful of ingredients. but it’s impossible to make a worthwhile ragu with so few ingredients.
This recipe uses a moderate amount of ingredients, but when you taste the finished product you will know why.
I will highlight some of the more prominent ingredients and the role they play in this ragu to help you get a better understanding.
Although this is a ground venison dish, and technically any ground venison will work I like to use either round or sirloin for this recipe.
These are good quality cuts with nice grain and grind well.
I like to grind venison for ragu using the large plate, this gives the dish a classic rustic feel.
When grinding the venison I like to grind in 5% of fatty pork belly.
Venison is a lean red meat, and adding the pork belly not only adds to the flavor but helps keep the dish from drying out.
This is one of the secret ingredients for my venison ragu. Pancetta offers a huge amount of flavor and enhancement to this dish.
While you could use bacon it’s typically smoked and would not work for this recipe.
It’s also worth noting that pancetta is a naturally concentrated source of glutamic and inosinic acids, also known as MSG.
Now we are getting into the heated discussion part of every ragu and bolognese.
Do you add wine or not? Red wine or white wine? Dry wine or sweet wine?
These are questions I hear over and over again and there are so many variations out there.
I always like to use wine in my ragu.
In reality, it doesn’t matter what color wine you use. However, the wine should be a dry wine.
The wine is used to balance the flavor, add to the complexity, and deepen the flavor of the dish.
I tend to prefer red wine with venison and for this recipe, I use red wine, for my bolognese recipe I use white wine.
Milk and Cream
Next on the hotly debated list is milk and or cream. Many people swear by them, and for others they are taboo.
For many, they completely transform the dish.
Using milk in this recipe makes the dish much silkier and well-rounded. The milk elevates the flavor profile of both the meat and the sauce.
The cream is added at the end to balance the dish. Ragus can often be quite sharp and cream helps to tone it down.
The stock you use for this recipe is optional, but if you have venison stock I encourage you to use it.
If you don’t have venison stock, you can use this recipe to make your own at home.
If you are using beef or chicken stock you may find that the sauce will come out a bit thinner.
The gelatine in my homemade venison stock binds the sauce to make it smooth and silky.
Also, if you are using commercial stock make sure it is low sodium, as these stocks are often quite salty.
Most types of tinned tomatoes will work for this recipe.
However, some tomatoes can be a bit sharp, this shouldn’t present too much of a problem as the cream, milk, and wine will solve that as I mentioned above.
Although, if possible I encourage you to seek out some good San Marzano tomatoes if possible.
You are probably thinking did I read that right?
Yes, you did read that right. Fish sauce is my second secret ingredient, and no it’s not traditional in a ragu.
I mentioned earlier how pancetta has natural MSG flavoring, well, the fish sauce brings even more.
It’s common in Italy to use fermented anchovies or other glutamate-rich seafood for enhancing dishes, using this sauce is a quick and easy way to enhance the flavor of this dish.
A hat tip to Chef Kenji Lopez for this tip.
The ingredient list may come across as a little overwhelming but putting it all together is not that difficult.
Grind the venison and pork belly
Cut the venison into 1 or 2-inch cubes, and dice the pork belly into small cubes.
Ideally, these should be cold to get the best texture.
Pass them through the grinder with a large plate.
If you are unsure about grinding venison, then see my article “How to grind venison“
Brown the Venison
Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add some olive oil and heat until it shimmers.
To brown the venison add it in batches. Adding too much at once will crowd the pan and sweat rather than brown.
Season the venison with salt and pepper as you brown it.
When all of the venison is browned remove it from the heat and set aside.
Preparing the Veg and pancetta
Next is the veg and pancetta.
Heat a pan over low-medium heat and add the butter.
Once the butter melts add the pancetta and lightly cook, rendering the fat.
Add the onions and garlic and continue to cook for about 2 minutes.
Add the carrots, celery, and half of the parsley, and cook for another 6 minutes.
The vegetables should be soft, but not browned.
Putting it together
Bring the Dutch oven back to the heat and increase to high.
The venison will have release liquid that you will now reduce.
Add the cooked veg and pancetta to the pot and stir while the liquid reduces.
Add the wine and reduce by about 3/4.
Add the milk, stock, tomatoes, fish sauce, sage, and bay leaves.
Stir and then move to a preheated oven at 300F
Cook the ragu for about four hours in the oven uncovered, and stirring occasionally.
After 4 hours the liquid should be reduced to a silky sauce.
Remove from the oven and stir in the cream and remaining parsley.
Place back on the stove and bring to a simmer while stirring to emulsify.
Ragu can be served with any pasta and is commonly served with pappardelle or pene.
When cooking the pasta retain a half cup of the pasta water to mix with the ragu.
The starch in the water will hold the sauce together and emulsify it.
This venison ragu will hold well in the freezer for up to a week if kept in an airtight container.
You can also freeze it in batches and it will hold for 6+ months.
The Tastiest Venison Ragu
- Dutch oven
- 3 lbs venison 5% fat (note 1)
- 8 oz pancetta chopped
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 4 shallots minced
- 1 large carrot minced
- 2 ribs celery minced
- 28 oz tinned tomatoes blitzed
- 2 cups venison stock (note 2)
- 2 cups red wine (note 3)
- 1 tbsp fish sauce optional
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup cream 30%
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley chopped
- 1/2 tbsp sage
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp sea salt ground
- 1/2 tsp black pepper ground
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Pre-heat oven to 300F
- Heat the olive oil in a Ducth oven over medium heat
- Brown the venison in the pot in batches to prevent rapidly cooling. Season with salt and pepper while browning
- Remove pot from heat and set aside
- Melt the butter in a separate pan over low-medium heat
- Add the pancetta and lightly cook for 3-4 minutes
- Add the garlic, shallots, carrots, celery, and half the parsley to the pan. Stir and cook for 6-8 minutes. Do not brown.
- Return the Ducth oven to the stove over high heat, add the cooked veg and pancetta. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated stirring continuoulsy
- Add the sage, pour over the wine and continue to cook and stir until about 75% evaporated
- Add the stock and milk and stir while you bring to a simmer. Add the bay leaves
- Transfer the Dutch oven to the oven uncovered and cook for 4-5 hours stirring ocassionaly
- While you can use lean venison for this I recommend using at least 5% fat for flavor and texture.
- I use homemade venison stock which adds a deep flavor, but if you don’t have any beef stock will also work.
- Red wine is my preferred choice for venison ragu. The wine choice doesn’t matter as long as it’s a dry wine. White wine will work in a pinch but it will lack the depth that the red wine brings.