M. Andrew Gordon

Beef Ragú with port and espresso

In Beef, Main Dish, Sauces on December 5, 2009 at 8:51 am

Somewhere along the line, I picked up a recipe that called for a red wine-espresso base for a beef ragú.  At this point I am not sure where it was, and I know I could look it up, but what fun would that be?  I’d rather make a few educated guesses and take my chances.

I decided to go with a center shank sirloin cut because of the convenient section of bone included.  Since I knew I would be leaving this in the slow cooker while I was at work, I figured the extra material in the marrow would only make the sauce more flavorful.  While I was tweaking this recipe, or what I remembered in my head, I thought I might as well try it with port instead, so in went the remainder of the 12 year old Tawny sitting in the liquor cabinet.  The rest is pretty straight forward, however, I feel I should say that I think it is worthwhile to be careful when buying tomatoes.  I am beginning to become a bit of a snob on these sorts of things and think it might be beneficial to spend a little extra on good canned tomatoes.  Too many of the cheaper options just taste tinny or metallic to me.

Sitting in the slow cooker all day allowed the beef to be falling-apart tender, perfect for a ragú, and the espresso lent a rich earthy note that was not at all obvious.  If you have ever have had any coffee rubbed steaks, it is a similar flavor.  The port gave the sauce a dose of sweetness and helped turn it a vibrant dark red.  For simplicity’s sake, this is definitely something I’ll keep in the rotation.

As for cooking the pasta, I tried a technique I had read about recently in which the pasta is cooked sort of like you would if making risotto, with frequent small additions of liquid rather than being submerged in boiling water.  I really liked the texture of the pasta this way, and although it is a little bit of a nuisance to continually stir the pasta while it cooks, it might just be worthwhile from time to time.

  • 1 lb center shank sirloin cut of beef
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Olive oil
  • ¼ cup port
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup espresso
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 3 tablespoons basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • 1 28-oz can San Marzano tomatoes, whole peeled
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 8 oz pasta
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  1. Sprinkle salt and pepper over beef.  Heat oil in heavy skillet and sear both sides of the beef.  When browned, transfer beef to slow cooker.  Combine port and water and deglaze pan and pour into slow cooker.
  2. Add espresso, red onion, half of the garlic, half of the basil, and the tomatoes.  Cook on low for at least six hours until beef falls apart.  Break up beef and tomatoes.
  3. Heat several tablespoons of olive oil in a pan.  Add remaining garlic and cook until starting to brown.  Add pasta and stir to coat in oil, cook for about two minutes.  Add one cup of stock and bring to a boil.  When stock is nearly gone, add another ¼ to ½ cup, letting it cook off before adding more.  Cook until pasta is tender.
  4. Add red pepper and remaining basil to ragout.  Stir in pasta and serve.
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