Homemade Ragu sauce made with chicken, mushrooms, bacon, and served up with pappardelle pasta. A hearty Italian meal that’s so good, you’re going to want to make extra, so you’ll have leftovers!
Ragu sauce is an Italian cuisine classic that turns good meals great if pulled off correctly. My family loves pasta with meat sauce, but I wanted to think beyond marinara red sauce and create something else. This hearty pasta sauce loaded with vegetables and savory bacon is the ultimate easy chicken dish.
How to make ragu sauce
Ragu is a type of hearty Italian pasta sauce made with ground or chopped meat and vegetables. I often make a beef bolognese recipe with tomato sauce that falls into this class of sauces. Typically when I think of a ragu, it’s taking less tender cuts of meat that need a lot of TLC and time to simmer and transforming it into a delicious meal.
Chicken thighs are an excellent choice for ragu sauce because they don’t dry out quickly like the breast. The more active muscles used by the chicken in the thigh area require more sustainable energy from fat, which is then converted to energy by proteins to give a more dark color of the meat. Dark meat benefits from “low and slow” methods like braising and stewing. You can take a cheaper cut of meat and yield and tasty sauce!
Braising is a moist-heat slow cooking method that helps tenderize and develop rich flavors. The chicken thighs are first seared in fat to create new flavor compounds from Maillard browning, then simmered in just enough chicken stock to partially cover the meat. This process allows the muscle fibers and connective tissues to soften for a pleasant eating experience. The cooking time is about 30 minutes for the ragu sauce.
Flour is added to the braise to help lightly thicken the sauce. The starches in the wheat absorb liquids in the sauce and separate into starch granules. The heat from the stove, plus physical agitation (stirring) helps the sauce thicken over time.
A good sauce needs aromatic vegetables and flavor boosters to take the recipe to the next level. Layers of flavor are built with sauteed bacon, garlic, onions, and fennel. As the chicken braises, all of the flavors meld together for a rich ragu sauce.
Oh, bacon how I love thee, let me count the ways. The savory, smoky notes meld all of the ingredients into one balanced dish. The crispy bacon, onions, garlic, and fresh fennel together to create a heavenly sauce base.
Thick slices of brown mushrooms are added to give some umami flavor a soft texture to the ragu, a must in my opinion! Your house will smell fragrant and rustic. You know you have a good thing going on!
Wait, we’re not done! Don’t forget to boil the nearly 1-inch thick and chewy pappardelle noodles to serve with this tasty chicken sauce. I was able to find fresh noodles at my local grocery store but dried works just as well. The large forkfuls of wide egg noodles combined with the savory chicken ragu will make your inner Italian smile.
Larger noodles mean more sauce gets soaked up and happily delivered to your rejoicing taste buds. If you’ve got a bottle of wine, now is a good time to pop it open and enjoy it with your bowl, that should be filled to the brim.
What is a Ragu?
Ragu’s are typically meat-based sauces that utilize a braising method to cook. Braising uses a combination of dry a moist-heat cooking. For this recipe, the chicken is browned in the bacon grease (dry heat) to create color and produce flavors by Maillard browning. The chicken and vegetables are then slowly simmered in the chicken stock (moist-heat cooking). This allows the ragu to infuse the flavors from all of the ingredients in the pot, and dissolve the meat’s collagen into gelatin that helps thicken the dish and make the meat more tender over time and low temperature.
Ragu Sauce with Pappardelle Pasta
- 6 ounces bacon, cut into ¼-inch strips (about 6 strips)
- 2 cups yellow onion, ¼-inch dice
- 6 cloves garlic, minced (2 tablespoons)
- 2 cups fennel bulb, ¼-inch dice
- 8 ounces brown mushrooms, cut into ¼-inch slices (about 3 cups)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 ½ pounds chicken thighs, boneless skinless, fat trimmed
- 1 teaspoon thyme, chopped fresh
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups unsalted chicken stock
- ¼ cup basil, thinly sliced for garnish
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese, shaved for garnish
- 8 ounces pappardelle noodles, fresh or dried
- In a large dutch oven or heavy pot with a lid, cook the bacon over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, occasionally stirring until the fat has rendered out and the bacon is crispy.
- Drain grease and reserve, adding 2 tablespoons back to the pan.
- Stir in the onion, garlic, and fennel until coated with oil. Cook over medium heat for 8 minutes or until soft and glistening.
- Add the mushrooms and cook for 4 minutes until tender. Transfer cooked vegetables to a medium-sized bowl.
- Turn the heat to medium-high and add 2 tablespoons olive oil.
- Sear the chicken thigh pieces in the hot oil for 3 minutes, flip and cook 2 minutes. Add the vegetables back to the pot and the fresh thyme.
- Stir in the flour until combined with the vegetables and chicken. Pour in the chicken stock, bring to a boil and then lower to medium-low heat to a simmer.
- Partially cover the pot and cook for 30 minutes or until the chicken is very tender.
- Remove the chicken from the pot and transfer to a medium-sized bowl. Using two forks to shred the chicken and add back to the pot.
- Cook the pappardelle noodles according to manufacturer's direction. Divide the pasta amongst 4 bowls. Top with chicken ragu and garnish with basil and shaved parmesan cheese.
- Make 16 ounces of pasta if you want a larger noodle serving per person.