The Best Short Rib Ragu

the perfect way to sauce your fresh homemade pasta

A ragu (ragù) is simply an Italian meat sauce. Just about every region in Italy has its own version of a ragu – some with white wine, others with a mix of meats, sausage as the base, or even chicken liver (trust me, it’s good). But today, we’re going with a short rib version that gets slow-cooked to perfection.

Ragu is typically served over pasta, but you can certainly enjoy it over polenta, which I highly recommend, or as a sauce for gnocchi, or even as a base for one of the best pizzas you will ever have. Like I mentioned before, there are many different types of ragus, all variations depending on regionality. For example, the classic Ragu Bolognese, which is probably what comes to mind first (think spaghetti and meat sauce) – is from, you guessed it, Bologna. Then there’s Ragu alla Napoletana, Fiorentina, Genovese, Siciliana, and so on. And while I would love to make all of these on this site for you, here I’ll focus on this short rib variation. (Quick side note: should we do this as a series? Making all the various ragus from different regions in Italy. Are we into that?)

This short rib ragu has a tomato base with lots of celery, onion, and carrots cooked along with those short ribs. The final sauce is silky, and the meat is super tender. Ragu is magical – you put one thing in, and out comes something completely different and insanely delicious. Slowly cooking meat is one of those moments of alchemy in the kitchen where just heat and time can transform a tough cut of meat into something that is so, so delicious.

And, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, or seen from the photos, we’re pairing this short rib ragu with the fresh homemade pasta I made in the previous post. The texture of the fresh pasta and the size and shape of the tagliatelle work great. You can also do pappardelle, bucatini, gnocchi, rigatoni, ravioli, go wild.

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Short Rib Ragu Recipe Beef Ragu Recipe
Slowly cooking meat is one of those moments of alchemy in the kitchen where just heat and time can transform a tough cut of meat into something that is so, so delicious.
Short Rib Ragu
What is ragu?

Ragu is a meat-based sauce that is common in Italian cuisine. It is typically made with ground meat (such as beef, veal, pork, or a combination), onions or garlic, tomato, and a variety of herbs and spices. The sauce is simmered slowly to allow the flavors to meld together and the meat to become tender. Ragu is often served with pasta, such as tagliatelle or pappardelle, but goes great over polenta, gnocchi, ravioli or my fave for leftovers, as a pizza sauce!

Ragu is THE meat sauce of the regions of Emilia-Romagna and Bologna. In Italy, ragu is often referred to as “ragu alla bolognese,” indicating its origins in Bologna. However, variations of ragu can be found throughout Italy, with different regions and even different families having their own unique recipes and methods of preparation.

Ragu is fairly ancient, early versions of the dish dating back to the Middle Ages. These early ragu dishes were typically made with chopped or shredded meat that was simmered with vegetables and spices. Over time, ragu evolved, and by the 18th century, during French occupation in northern Italy, it was adapted and had become a popular sauce for pasta in Italy. The word “ragu” is believed to have originated from the French word “ragout,” which refers to a stew.

Beef Ragu Bolognese
What ingredients do you need to make short rib ragu?
Short ribs

Short ribs are a cut of beef taken from the brisket, chuck, or rib area of the cow. They are named “short” ribs because they are shorter than spare ribs, which are taken from the belly area. Short ribs are rich, beefy in flavor and have a delicious tender texture when cooked properly.

You can cook short ribs in a variety of ways, including braising, grilling, or slow cooking. Slow cooking, like we are doing here, is a popular method for cooking short ribs, since it helps to slowly break down the meat and connective tissue to create a rich, flavorful sauce.

Tomato paste

Tomato paste is a concentrated form of tomatoes that has been cooked down to remove most of the moisture, resulting in a thick, rich paste. It’s made by cooking tomatoes for several hours, then straining out any seeds and skins and then further reducing it to a super thick consistency.

Onions

While you can certainly use any onion you want here. I would recommend a yellow or white onion. You want the mild sweetness they bring once the onions become golden, caramelized and break down from the long, slow cooking in the sauce.

Carrots

Nothing fancy here. Just two large carrots. They bring sweetness to the sauce that balances out the ultra rich beef. I actually forgot to stock up on carrots before making this ragu, so the version you see here doesn’t actually have any carrots in it and it was still absolutely delicious. But, plan ahead and get the carrots, it’ll be better with them!

Celery

Celery adds a slight earthiness to the whole dish. You can certainly leave it out if you’re opposed, but the combination with the carrots and onions creates a great base to build your sauce on.

Bay Leaves

Bay leaves are aromatic leaves from the bay laurel tree, also known as Laurus nobilis. The have a subtle, slightly floral flavor that can enhance the overall taste of a dish without overpowering it. You’ll add them in whole and take them out before serving, they are not pleasant to chew on…

Thyme

I’m using fresh thyme here, but dried thyme would also work well. Fresh thyme has a more vibrant flavor, while dried thyme has a more concentrated flavor. Rosemary is also a nice addition.

Wine

Wine adds acidity, flavor and complexity to the ragu. Typically a red wine would be used here. I didn’t have any at the time, so I made it without. I’ve also used white wine before and it’s great too. You want to use something that is dry and that you would enjoy drinking on it’s own. Add in a glass or two after you browned the tomato paste. Add it in and deglaze the pan, make sure to scrape up any bits of browned, caramelized aromatics at the bottom fo eth pan. Let it come to a simmer and then continue on with the recipe by adding in any water, if you need it, and then adding your short ribs back in.

And, if you don’t want to add in any wine, or don’t have any available, skip it altogether. The ragu will still be absolutely delicious!

The Best Short Rib Ragu
Can I use a pressure cooker to make the ragu? Or do I need to cook my ragu on the stovetop?

There are several ways to cook this ragu. I personally prefer using a pressure cooker, but you can also cook it on the stovetop, in the oven, using a slow cooker, or even an Instant Pot. Regardless of the method you choose, you’ll know it’s cooked long enough when the meat is super tender, easily falls apart, and the bones slide right out. If the final sauce seems too thin, let it simmer and reduce for a bit. If it’s too thick, you can add a touch of water. When saucing your pasta, you can also add a good amount of pasta water to achieve a silky, saucy consistency.

Pressure Cooker

I use a pressure cooker, because I love it. I’ve been using it for years. If you are cooking this is a pressure cooker you will want it to cook for 40 minutes at pressure, and then do a natural release. And then reduce the sauce at a simmer if it needs it.

Stovetop

If you’re cooking this short rib ragu on the stovetop, you’ll cook it covered at a low simmer for at least 3 hours.

Oven

Another great option is to cook this ragu in the oven. Use an oven-safe pot with a lid and cook it covered at 350°F (175°C) for about 3 hours.

Slow Cooker or Crockpot

If you are making your short rib ragu in a slow cooker you’re probably going to be looking at around 6 hours on low heat.  But, it may take as long as 8 hours. Keep an eye on it, and check for doneness periodically.

Instant Pot

An Instant Pot is essentially an electric pressure cooker with a built-in timer. Similar to the instructions for a pressure cooker above, you’ll want to cook your ragu for 40 minutes under pressure and let it naturally release.

A little bit about pressure cookers, because I love them. And use mine very frequently.

A pressure cooker is a kitchen appliance used for cooking food quickly under high pressure. It consists of a pot with a locking lid and a valve that controls the pressure inside the pot. When food is cooked in a pressure cooker, steam is trapped inside, raising the pressure and allowing the food to cook at a higher temperature than it would under normal atmospheric pressure. This results in faster cooking times, making pressure cookers ideal for preparing meals quickly.

Pressure cookers are often used to cook tough cuts of meat, beans, lentils, and other foods that benefit from long cooking times. Pressure cookers are available in stovetop and electric models, with electric pressure cookers offering additional features such as programmable settings and safety features.

How do I store short rib ragu?

Since this recipe does take a while to make, whether you are cooking it on the stovetop or using the pressure cooker, you might as well make a bunch and then store it for later. I recommend letting the sauce cool completely to room temperature, then adding it to large freezer bags. Portion it out to however much you think you would eat for a meal, lay it flat, and stash it in the freezer. Freezing the sauce in a thin, flat rectangle makes it much easier to thaw later on. You can also use any other reusable storage container you have. I would just recommend freezing in quantities that would be one meal so you don’t need to thaw everything out if you’re only going to eat a small portion of it.

What are some other ways to serve my short rib ragu?

Need some other ways to serve Ragu that doesn’t involve pasta? Ive got you!

Over Polenta

This short rib ragu is incredible over polenta. The slight contrast in the soft textures is great.

As a pizza sauce

I also like to use any leftovers that wouldn’t quite be enough to make a full meal with, as a sauce for pizza. I have a great pan pizza dough recipe you can check out! I’ll use the ragu as the base, add some fresh mozzarella and grated Locatelli on top. Honestly you could just make the sauce to have it like this, it’s so good!

On Baked Potatoes

If you’re a potato lover like I am, top a baked potato with a big helping of Ragu. Then chop up a little parsley and add some grated cheese. You can thank me later!


The Recipe

Short Rib Ragu
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5 from 3 votes

The Best Short Rib Ragu

The best short rib ragu, a twist on the classic Italian meat sauce, Ragu Bolognese. Slowly cooked and served over fresh homemade pasta.
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time25 minutes
Stovetop Simmer3 hours
Total Time3 hours 40 minutes
Course: Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: pasta sauce, ragu, sauce, short rig ragu
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs short ribs flanken cut or a crosswise cut is preferable, but not essential
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 stalks celery diced
  • 1 large carrot diced
  • 15 oz tomato paste
  • 1 small bundle thyme leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 glass wine
  • 1 c water more or less to cover the short ribs
  • olive oil
  • grated Locatelli or Parmigiano

Instructions

  • Season the short ribs with salt. Brown them in a pan with some olive oil over medium-high heat. Ensure all sides are browned by turning them as needed to get a good sear. More browning means more flavor.
  • Once the short ribs have plenty of color, remove them from the pan and set them aside. Add diced onions, celery, and carrots to the pan. Cook them until they have softened and slightly browned, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • After the vegetables have cooked, add tomato paste and cook until it changes from bright red to a brick red color, almost rust-colored. This step cooks the tomato paste. Stir constantly to prevent burning; it should only take a few minutes.
  • Add wine or water to the pan and scrape off any bits stuck to the bottom.
  • Return the short ribs to the pan, along with any juices they released. Add thyme and bay leaves, ensuring the short ribs are covered at least 3/4 of the way with liquid. If needed, add more water, and it's fine if the short ribs are fully submerged.
  • Cover and let the sauce cook. Depending on your cooking method, it may take 40 minutes in a pressure cooker, 3 hours simmering on the stovetop, 6-8 hours in a slow cooker on low, or 3 hours in the oven at 350°F (175°C). You'll know it's cooked long enough when the meat is super tender, easily falls apart, and the bones slide right out.
  • To finish the sauce, remove the thyme bundle and bay leaves. Remove the short ribs; they should be falling apart. Remove any bones and gently shred the meat. Also, remove any excess bits of fat or connective tissue that hasn't broken down.
  • Add the shredded meat back into the sauce. If the sauce seems too thin, let it simmer and reduce for a bit. If it's too thick, add a touch of water. Once it reaches your desired consistency, adjust the seasoning if needed, and then serve!
  • If serving over pasta, you can add a good amount of pasta water to achieve a silky, saucy consistency. Enjoy!
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One thought on The Best Short Rib Ragu

  1. 5 stars
    I’m reading this at 8:30 in the morning and it sound and looks so delish I know I’ll be thinking about it all day. Maybe with polenta. Manga!!

5 from 3 votes (2 ratings without comment)

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