Chicken Dinners: Chicken Bolognese

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

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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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