The Ultimate Five-Hour Meat Ragu

Gather ye round, friends, and hear the tale of a ragu that cooked for five hours, perking away on the stove as the many pieces of meat that went into it–lamb shoulder, pork ribs, short ribs–slowly broke down and contributed their fat and flavor to the tomatoes and onions and garlic that made up the sauce, along with a secret ingredient (anchovies) we best not tell our guests about. Unlike Sunday gravies that I’ve made before, this ragu–which comes from Canal House Cooking Volume No. 2–asks you, at the three hour mark, to shred the meat by hand and return it to the pot. What happens then is that the meat continues to break down over the next two hours, as the sauce thickens, and what you have at the end is something so remarkable, so utterly delicious, you may as well throw away any other ragu recipe you possess because there’s no topping this one.

One of my favorite things about recipes like these–where you brown lots of meat, then add aromatics and cooking liquid (basically a braise)–is that you can start the browning the second you get home which (a) saves you time and (b) ensures that you get the meat really dark. So when I got back from the store, a Wednesday or two ago, I immediately poured olive oil into my Dutch oven, turned up the heat, seasoned the lamb shoulder right there in its plastic wrapping (after patting it with paper towels) and added it to the hot oil to brown.



While that was browning, I finished unpacking and started prepping vegetables. When the lamb came out, in went the pork.


And once the pork was brown…


In went the short ribs.


Again, if you take your time in this step, the flavor will be so intense at the end, you’ll marvel. And it allows you to spend time prepping everything else so it’s a perfect cooking scenario. And look, just as the meat’s done, the vegetables are all chopped and ready to go in.


Out comes the meat…


…in comes the veg. (And some freshly grated nutmeg, which I love.)


Once they soften, you add a good glug of dry white wine.


Let that boil a bit and then add your meat back in along with tomatoes, tomato sauce, and water. Bring to a simmer and your work–at least for the next three hours–is done.


At that point, it’s time to remove the meat to a cutting board. Hopefully you have asbestos hands.


If you don’t, let the meat cool until you can handle it then shred all of it (well, as much as you can) back into the pot with the sauce. You may be tempted to snack. No one will know.


Stir that in and cook for two more hours. At that point, you will have a ragu so ridiculously rich and meaty and wonderful, you may have to bat neighbors away so you can feed it to the people you want to feed.


Now that you’ve made it, you can do anything you want with it: spoon it over polenta, eat it by itself. Me? I knew that I had to cook up some pasta, so I boiled 1 1/2 pounds of rigatoni in salted water and when al dente, I stirred it all into the ragu.


That, my friends, is a dinner fit for a hungry god. And when sprinkled with Parmesan and freshly chopped parsley? It’s a work of art.


Prayers may never get answered, dreams may never come true, but this ragu proves that if you brown meat and simmer it for five hours with tomatoes, garlic, and, yes, anchovies, heaven really is a place on earth.

Recipe: The Ultimate Five-Hour Meat Ragu

Summary: Adapted from Canal House Vol. 2.


  • 1 pound lamb shoulder chops (or lamb necks)
  • 1 pound pork spareribs
  • 1 pound beef short ribs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 ribs celery, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 5 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • A healthy grating of nutmeg
  • 1 – 2 cups white wine
  • One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • One 15-ounce can plain tomato sauce
  • Handful of fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped


  1. Pat the meat dry with paper towels; season with salt. Heat olive oil in a large heavy pot (I used my Dutch oven)–enough to coat the bottom–until very hot. Brown the meat in batches on all sides, taking your time (lower the heat if it’s browning too fast) until you have a big pile of beautifully golden brown meat. Set aside.
  2. Add a little more oil to the pot. Add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and anchovies. Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and nutmeg. Add the wine and cook for about 3 minutes, letting the alcohol evaporate.
  3. Return the meat to the pot and add the crushed tomatoes, the tomato sauce and 2 cups of water. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and simmer the ragu for about 3 hours, stirring from time to time and adding more water if it gets too thick.
  4. Remove all the meat from the pot with a pair of tongs and when it’s cool enough to handle, shred the meat, getting rid of any bones or gristle. Return the shredded meat to the pot and stir. Simmer for another 2 hours, adding water if the sauce gets too thick. Just before serving, add parsley. And a sprinkling of Parmesan, even though it’s not on the ingredient list.

Quick notes

The original recipe calls for 2 pounds lamb shoulder, 2 pounds pork spareribs, and 2 pounds beef short ribs, but if you want to make this in your Dutch oven (like I did) I don’t think you can with all that meat. Also, halving the recipe like I did yielded such rich results, I don’t think you need to spend the money on all that extra meat. (Though you could do it and have more leftovers.)

30 thoughts on “The Ultimate Five-Hour Meat Ragu”

  1. I’m a bit surprised that there is no detail on the kind of tomatoes to use, and more so with the use of tomato sauce. I’ve noticed quite a difference with in the final product based on what tomatoes a started with, and I would never use tomato sauce: I much prefer to do my own seasoning.

  2. I was curious as well regarding how many this would serve, or how many cups this created. BTW, looks absolutely delicious. Would a pinot nior or chianti work just as well?

  3. marcia silverstein

    I also want to know what tomatoes you used e.g. San Marzano? and why use the tomato sauce. It seems as though 2 28 oz cans of tomatoes would be better with all that meat?

    1. Adam Amateur Gourmet

      I used San Marzano yes and a can of Hunt’s tomato sauce, just because I wanted to follow the recipe as written. I agree you don’t need it, but the end results here were so fabulous, I’m not sure I’ll ever change the methodology.

      1. Hello Adam, you cut quite a dash, in your winsome portrait whoops please do not become personal Margo. I’m New Zealander calling from London. Please explain just what San Marzano is. One WHOLE tin of Hunt’s tomato sauce ! Whe ! That is hoting things up. FAB indeed.

    2. Why follow a recipe if you’re going to make changes? Most people seem to do this. Why do people needs recipes then, if all they’re going to do is change things.

  4. Arlyn Lichthardt

    I’m curious about why you don’t cut the meat first instead of waiting for the messy task of removing it after 3 hours of cooking in all that sauce.

    1. Adam Amateur Gourmet

      If you cut it first, it would dry out after all of that long cooking. Keeping it whole keeps it moist (and also close to the bone, where so much of the flavor is).

  5. Puts me in mind of a recipe in the original Atkins cookbook…didn’t have lamb though, but very, very good…

  6. I did this in a slow cooker for a longer time and it was great. Weird thing, I froze half of it and used it about 2 weeks later…. and it had become much spicier. It never really had much of a kick spice wise, but it certainly did after two weeks. Can you explain?

  7. Sometimes I sub oxtail for the beef short ribs. Both ways are good, but I think the oxtail is much beefier, it just needs to be browned first and have the fat rendered out and poured off.

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