Chicken Dinners: Chicken Bolognese


Rich and meaty without all the fat. [Photograph: Yvonne Ruperti]

I truly savor digging into a big bowl of rich and meaty pasta bolognese. This classic rustic Italian meat sauce is immensely comforting and satisfying. Thick and tomato-y, with full beef flavor, it's just the ticket for a chilly night. While I usually go for the no-holds-bar beef version, I set myself a challenge: to see if I could cook up a pot of this rich sauce using chicken instead.

At first, I planned on simply swapping chicken for beef. Knowing that chicken is leaner than beef, I thought I'd just add in a few fattier ingredients (butter, cream) to replicate the full bodied richness of the dish. But then I realized that, honestly, the only reason anyone would want to make a bolognese with chicken would be to cut down on the fat. Therefore, my goal would be to create robust meaty flavor and full bodied texture, without adding a ton of extra fat.

To start, I limited myself to just two tablespoons olive oil to sauté the veggies. Once soft, I added in the minced chicken. I could tell right away that chicken creates a lean sauce, as the cooked chicken left not a smidgeon of fat in the pan. In many classic bolognese recipes, the meat is simmered in dairy and usually a wine to add flavor and to keep the texture of the meat soft. I followed suit, choosing milk, and then stirred in a full-bodied red wine. Next, I pulled out a few tricks from my days working in a test kitchen. Because chicken lacks the full flavor that beef has, I had to do something to make this sauce more interesting. I knew that umami-clad ingredients work wonders to boost meaty flavor, so I threw in a small amount of three of 'em: tomato paste, soy sauce, and...anchovies. I kept a light hand though. No one wants a fork full of fishy bolognese.

I had one more trick up my sleeve. Without beef fat, chicken bolognese lacks the hallmark creaminess of a good meat sauce. Stirring in a small amount of softened gelatin into the sauce added just enough body to mimic a collagen-rich beef sauce. Hearty and complex, this variation on a classic is sure to satisfy. Trust me, you won't be asking where's the beef.

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About the author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Easy Artisan Bread. You can also watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. She presently lives in Singapore as a freelance writer for Time Out Singapore. Check out her blog: Follow Yvonne on Twitter.