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My spaghetti bolognese tastes awful (but not anymore! RESOLVED)

LieberkuhnLieberkuhn __BANNED USERS
edited April 2010 in Help / Advice Forum
Title says it all.

I'm a big fan of spaghetti bolognese, but every time I try to make it it tastes like shit. I don't really know where I'm going wrong: I fry some chopped onions and garlic in olive oil, then add some minced beef and cook it until it's brown. Then I add a tin of chopped tomatoes, some mixed herbs, and a squirt of tomato pureé, and let it simmer for 30 mins.

That should work, right? Am I missing an ingredient or cooking something incorrectly? I've been told that the problem might be that I'm using crappy meat, but that sounds like an excuse. Sure, poor quality [strike]water[/strike]meat won't taste as good as high quality meat, but this tastes awful. I'm certain that most people could do a better job with these ingredients.

Any ideas?

Lieberkuhn on
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Posts

  • VisionOfClarityVisionOfClarity Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    I use whole tomatoes and puree them for the base of my red sauces (sometimes I leave it chunkier than others). I bring that to a simmer with pressed garlic, oregano, basil and bay leaves. And then I let it simmer for 3 hours. Then I remove the bay leaves. When I'm making a meat sauce I brown the beef then add it to the tomato base and simmer for another 30 minutes or so. If my base needs to be thickened I use some tomato paste.



    You are draining the meat before you add the tomatoes and all that, right? If not, this could be the problem.

  • LieberkuhnLieberkuhn __BANNED USERS
    edited April 2010
    You are draining the meat before you add the tomatoes and all that, right? If not, this could be the problem.

    ...ah. Thanks.

    (I'm not a very experienced cook)

    While you eat, let's have a conversation about the nature of consent.
  • FrazFraz Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    First of all you're missing the other two parts of the holy trinity: carrots and celery. But that shouldn't be a big deal.

    It will also taste richer if you use meat broth and wine and let it simmer for a lot longer than 30 minutes.

  • dispatch.odispatch.o Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Lieberkuhn wrote: »
    Title says it all.

    I'm a big fan of spaghetti bolognese, but every time I try to make it it tastes like shit. I don't really know where I'm going wrong: I fry some chopped onions and garlic in olive oil, then add some minced beef and cook it until it's brown. Then I add a tin of chopped tomatoes, some mixed herbs, and a squirt of tomato pureé, and let it simmer for 30 mins.

    That should work, right? Am I missing an ingredient or cooking something incorrectly? I've been told that the problem might be that I'm using crappy meat, but that sounds like an excuse. Sure, poor quality [strike]water[/strike]meat won't taste as good as high quality meat, but this tastes awful. I'm certain that most people could do a better job with these ingredients.

    Any ideas?

    Don't use chopped tomatoes.

    Get whole peeled tomatoes. Chop them yourself.

    Taste the stuff at each phase, is it too salty? Too oily? What's "wrong" with it?

  • VisionOfClarityVisionOfClarity Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Lieberkuhn wrote: »
    You are draining the meat before you add the tomatoes and all that, right? If not, this could be the problem.

    ...ah. Thanks.

    (I'm not a very experienced cook)

    I thought so. Draining the fat from browned meat is really important. Not doing this can kill almost any dish you'll make with browned meat, even tacos. The fat is definitely what is killing your sauce then.

  • IrukaIruka Registered User, Super Moderator, Moderator mod
    edited April 2010
    Pooring of the grease is the thing. You also aren't cooking it long enough. You Have to cook Bolognese sauce on a really low heat for a while, or the flavors wont really penetrate the beef. Most recipes I know of call for 1 to 1 and a half hours.

    Betty Crocker makes some really simple, unassuming cookbooks if you are still learning the basics of cooking, and I highly recommend them.

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  • LieberkuhnLieberkuhn __BANNED USERS
    edited April 2010
    Thanks for the tips, everyone! I'll try again tomorrow and see how it goes if I drain the meat and cook for twice as long. I don't have any whole tomatoes (what I do have is several tins of chopped tomatoes I'm not gonna be using for anything else), and I deliberately omit the carrots and celery because I just prefer bolognese that way.

    I don't have any wine, but I want to try that. All I know about wine though is "red with beef". What sort should I use? Is there a special sort of wine that you cook with? (...would Buckfast work?) At what point do I add the wine?

    While you eat, let's have a conversation about the nature of consent.
  • CrossBusterCrossBuster Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Just make this recipe.

    I've been making it for a couple years. I've fiddled with the seasonings a bit, but the foundation is rock solid. It just takes time.

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  • RUNN1NGMANRUNN1NGMAN Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Also you really don't want to be sautéing the garlic for as long as you appear to be before adding the tomatoes and everything else to simmer. If the garlic and onions are starting to brown it's going to throw the taste off--you want to get them to the point that they are fragrant and then add everything else to simmer.

  • LieberkuhnLieberkuhn __BANNED USERS
    edited April 2010
    Hmm. I tend to brown the onions, because I figure browned onions are delicious. I'm also worried the onions won't be soft enough if they're not going brown, but I guess the simmering will take care of that? I don't cook the garlic for the same amount of time, though -- I add it to the onions for the last minute or two.

    While you eat, let's have a conversation about the nature of consent.
  • FrazFraz Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Lieberkuhn wrote: »
    Hmm. I tend to brown the onions, because I figure browned onions are delicious. I'm also worried the onions won't be soft enough if they're not going brown, but I guess the simmering will take care of that? I don't cook the garlic for the same amount of time, though -- I add it to the onions for the last minute or two.

    you just want to cook them until they are soft, and if they are diced that should only take a couple of minutes.

    I love making pasta sauce because I make it a little different every time and get to experiment.

  • dispatch.odispatch.o Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Lieberkuhn wrote: »
    Hmm. I tend to brown the onions, because I figure browned onions are delicious. I'm also worried the onions won't be soft enough if they're not going brown, but I guess the simmering will take care of that? I don't cook the garlic for the same amount of time, though -- I add it to the onions for the last minute or two.

    Cook onions and/or garlic low enough and they will almost melt long before they are brown.

  • starmanbrandstarmanbrand Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Tell me about these tomatoes. The quality of your tomatoes is probably going to be the biggest factor in overall taste. Some brands of canned tomatoes are terrible, some are not. Ican't recall the exact brand name, but I think its Sun Valley? or something similar Roma, peeled, seedless canned tomatoes.

    Fun tip- Tomato seeds can make stuff bitter so don't use the seeds. If I were going to get fancy and use fresh tomatoes, I would do tomato concasse to put in there.

    When you say it tastes "awful" how do you mean? There are a lot of ways for things to taste bad, so it'll be easier to fix if you tell us how it tastes specifically.

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  • FrazFraz Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    SAN%20MARZANO%20TOMATOES,%20CRUSHED%2028Z%20ITALY.jpg

    These are GREAT. But probably the most expensive at more than $3

    There are other brands that sell San Marzano tomatoes. They are pretty much the best.

  • LieberkuhnLieberkuhn __BANNED USERS
    edited April 2010
    I live in the UK and my tinned tomatoes are the home brand of a local supermarket. They don't have seeds, and they taste alright.

    When I say it tastes awful I mean it has this rancid, greasy taste -- it's pretty obvious now that I just need to drain the meat before I add the other ingredients.

    While you eat, let's have a conversation about the nature of consent.
  • IrukaIruka Registered User, Super Moderator, Moderator mod
    edited April 2010
    Lieberkuhn wrote: »
    . I don't have any whole tomatoes (what I do have is several tins of chopped tomatoes I'm not gonna be using for anything else), and I deliberately omit the carrots and celery because I just prefer bolognese that way.

    I gotta admit I've never had carrots in bolognese (sounds fucking weird, I guess its just not how my family cooks it) but I've never had it without green pepper and fresh basil.

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  • KivutarKivutar Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Lieberkuhn wrote: »
    Hmm. I tend to brown the onions, because I figure browned onions are delicious. I'm also worried the onions won't be soft enough if they're not going brown, but I guess the simmering will take care of that? I don't cook the garlic for the same amount of time, though -- I add it to the onions for the last minute or two.
    That sounds about right at least. I brown the onions over a medium high flame, add any herbs, let them fry for about a minute, add the tomato paste & garlic together, let that fry for a minute, then add liquid & crushed tomatoes. Bring the sauce to a simmer, then turn the flame to low and let it cook down for at least an hour, as much as 2. The less time it has to all sort of meld together, the more acidic & unbalanced it'll be in general.

    Like others said, there are numerous ways to interpret 'awful', so I guess to sum it up, the ways I usually see the sauce ruined are: scorching the garlic, not draining meat well, too much or too little salt, not enough time on the stove. The rest is just personal preference.

    Oh, and as far as using wine, don't use anything you wouldn't drink, but don't splurge on it either. I use whatever red isn't too sweet, has some body, and is cheap enough that I don't feel guilty for pouring it into a sauce. I add it to taste (1/4 cup - 1/2 cup depending the wine, how much I'm making, etc.) with just enough time to sort of swirl it around the onions, etc. before adding the rest of the liquid & crushed tomatoes. I have no idea what Buckfast is, so can't really help you there. Wine does tend to mellow out & help balance a sauce, as well as give it a little more complexity, so I would say it's certainly worth trying.

    Also, what exactly are you doing with the meat? For reference, I usually brown it first separately, set it aside to drain, then add it back in after the tomatoes & liquid.

  • mere_immortalmere_immortal So tasty!Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    I usually simmer my sauce for a good couple of hours, replacing liquid if needs be.

    Also I find a sprinkling of chili flakes usually add a nice bit of heat to it.

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  • DusT_HounDDusT_HounD Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Seconding the garlic thing; i definitely would advise against cooking the garlic for the same length of time as it takes to brown the onions.

    Personally, i'd do the onions first over a low heat, until they're at the caramelised stage, then add the garlic, cooking it just until it starts to go a little bit translucent, and immediately after add the meat. After the meat is browned on the outside (doesn't have to be cooked all the way through yet, just having a bit of colour), i then would add the tomatoes, salt, pepper and thyme, then simmer it for a good long time, and allow it to reduce a bit too, tasting frequently. I never take out the fat from the meat, though it would probably be the healthier option.

  • AtheraalAtheraal Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Try adding a jolt of sweetness. Roasted garlic, caramelized onions, or even a bit of sugar.

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  • bsjezzbsjezz Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    sugar is definitely key. it fights the tartness of the tomatoes. i use a pinch or two of brown sugar

    other than that, salt balance is hugely important - it needs salt. and i personally limit herbs to fresh oregano - basil isn't really a warm, bolognaisey flavour, it's lighter than that and demands too much attention

    i have a couple of other things that make mine pretty unmissable but that would be telling

    edit: oh, a trick for garlic i'll begrudgingly spare - put it in with the onions at the start, but put the garlic cloves in whole. roast them like that pretty much until you're ready for tomatoes, then mince them up and mix them with the bulk of the sauce. mmm.

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  • corcorigancorcorigan Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    I was about to mention how the secret ingredient of anything involving tomatoes is always sugar (or something sweet anyway). So I second the posts above.

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  • FireflashFireflash Montreal, QCRegistered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Last sauce I made was delicious, and made it pretty much randomly. I didn't drain the meat but it was moose meat, which is pretty lean already.

    I cooked the meat with some garlic and onion, then added a bit of cheap red wine. I then added some whole canned tomatoes, diced tomatoes, sliced zucchinis ( like adding zucchinis because they had some "chunk" to your sauce and are great at absorbing flavors) and some tomato sauce. Spiced it up with a mix of Italian herbs, bunch of salt and pepper, and a bit of cloves for added sweetness.

    I then let it simmer for a total of approximately 3 hours. I checked once in a while to adjust the seasoning. After 2 hours the sauce was still a bit liquid so I added a small can of tomato paste, which seemed to have sufficiently thickened the sauce.

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  • dukederekdukederek Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    try experimenting with dry frying mince. put it in a pan (on it's own) on a very low heat and it should start seeping fat, when there's a fair bit in the pan, crack up the heat and fry it in it's own delicious - you'll probably have more success with a non-stick pan but I cope fine with stainless steel. also you can soften onions without browning them, lower heat, longer time, they go kind of translucent and, well, soft.

    i also find that i get bad results when i fry with olive oil, try something a bit more neutral like sunflower or vegetable oil.

    re: adding wine. i tend to find it can overpower some of the subtler flavours so i don't tend to, I keep my wine for drinking. and Buckfast be fighting wine, I wouldn't recommend doing anything but drinking it in the street.

  • desperaterobotsdesperaterobots Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Maybe try more than a squirt of tomato puree too. I use a whole tub of the stuff and it gives it that lovely red colour.

    I don't usually drain the fat from my bolognese. There's a lot of flavour in that stuff. I just use the leanest mince I can get so there's not too much of it. The quality of the meat will absolutely affect the final product. If I were using a cheaper, fattier mince, I would definitely drain (most of) the fat.

    Maybe try more herbs too. You might be using too little for the amount of sauce you're making? I've never found that I've overseasoned with dried herbs.

    Also, let the fucker cook for ages. Lower the heat and go watch some tv. During the ad breaks give it a stir, a taste and add some water if it's getting too thick.

  • JavenJaven Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    If you're going to use whole tomatos, take out the seeds. They're bitter.

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  • bowenbowen Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Frying with olive oil is a pain most of the time. Peanut oil is the one I've had the best luck with. I notice when I use olive oil things tend to start burning relatively quickly, but with peanut oil I can leave it on the stove for a good 10 minutes before I really need to worry about burning.

  • desperaterobotsdesperaterobots Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Deseeding tomatos sounds like an unnecessary hassle. Never done it and never had a problem with my bolognese being 'bitter'.

  • ShogunShogun Hair long; money long; me and broke wizards we don't get along Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Deseeding tomatos sounds like an unnecessary hassle. Never done it and never had a problem with my bolognese being 'bitter'.

    Ideally you would get tomatoes that do not have seeds, but the seeds are in fact bitter and can detract from overall flavor. However just because they are there will not necessarily mean your food will taste bitter/bad overall.

    OP your bolognese is missing traditional flavors, also 30 minutes is not nearly long enough. My bolognese usually takes at least a couple of hours.

  • FrazFraz Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    corcorigan wrote: »
    I was about to mention how the secret ingredient of anything involving tomatoes is always sugar (or something sweet anyway). So I second the posts above.

    Use carrots! Also, San Marzano tomatoes are already pretty sweet. And think caramelized onions would add too much sweetness.

  • tinwhiskerstinwhiskers Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    I'd avoid adding oil to the pan at all. Just fry the garlic & onions along with the meat, and after you drain the grease(if theres tons of it), use some red wine to deglaze any tasty bits off the bottom of the pan.

  • GungHoGungHo Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Tomato-based pasta sauces are often improved by letting them set for a day after the initial preparation. Slow heating/cooking is also a good idea. It's just not one of those things that you can hurry and get anything good out of.

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  • LieberkuhnLieberkuhn __BANNED USERS
    edited April 2010
    dukederek wrote: »
    and Buckfast be fighting wine, I wouldn't recommend doing anything but drinking it in the street.
    Haha but I like Buckfast! I know, I deserve ridicule, but I can't deny my feelings.

    Anyway, folks have mentioned adding sweetness, which I hadn't considered, but I like the sound of that because I have a real sweet tooth. Considering that Buckfast is really sweet anyway, I'm starting to consider it more seriously. What do you think?

    And on the note of adding booze to food, would beer work instead of wine? I'm just wondering what I can do with the food already in my cupboards.

    While you eat, let's have a conversation about the nature of consent.
  • GungHoGungHo Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    For fried foods or sweet sauces, sure. For marinara? No. You're better off with wines, sherrys, brandies or even vodka for that. Anything else will bring in the wrong flavors.

    "Adios, mofo" -- TX Gov Rick Perry (R)
  • LieberkuhnLieberkuhn __BANNED USERS
    edited April 2010
    Ah, okay. I thought it might work because I know beer goes well in gravy sauces.

    While you eat, let's have a conversation about the nature of consent.
  • ArtereisArtereis Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
  • RyeRye Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Lieberkuhn wrote: »
    I deliberately omit the carrots and celery because I just prefer bolognese that way.

    I don't have any wine, but I want to try that. All I know about wine though is "red with beef". What sort should I use? Is there a special sort of wine that you cook with? (...would Buckfast work?) At what point do I add the wine?


    dot dot dot ...

    Without the wine/meat broth, celery and carrots, it's not bolognese. What you are cooking is simply meat sauce or spaghetti sauce.

    An expensive secret ingredient for Bolognese is pine nuts. Put them in as early as you can to soften them up, but they are AWESOME in any red sauce.

    Also, tomatoes are acidic and salty by nature, so adding a pinch or two of sugar balanced them out pretty well, especially considering the amount of salt/herbs you are already adding.

    If you can't buy lean meat, drain that shit.

  • CrossBusterCrossBuster Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Pancetta and chicken liver, in my opinion, really make Bolognese sauce.

    Of course, I don't view Bolognese as "tomato sauce with meat." I think it's more like meat sauce with tomatoes.

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  • mtsmts Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    i add sugar depending on how tart i want it. sometimes the tartness is a good thing.

    what i have been doing lately that i feel adds a lot of depth is to throw in a tin of sardines with the onion/garlic. then add some red wine while it simmers.

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  • BeckBeck Registered User
    edited April 2010
    I get a lot of compliments on my sauce, and while I don't have a recipe for it, http://www.foodnetwork.ca/recipes/Main/Beef/recipe.html?dishid=8475 This one is pretty similar to what I use, but I would substitute extra veal for the ground beef he uses.

    I've never heard of adding sugar to the sauce, and I don't think it's necessary if you're cooking with veal and pork.

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