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Rosemary chicken ragu with polenta

Cooked by Celine S

Written by Saki A

Yield: 4 servings


4 ounces pancetta, cut in 1-inch pieces

2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

Kosher salt

Fresh ground pepper

6 garlic cloves, smashed

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 small fennel bubble, tops trimmed

Crushed red pepper

1 sprig rosemary

Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed

1/2 cup white whine

1 (14-ounces) can whole peeled tomatoes

2 cups polenta (not quick-cooking)


1. Place pancetta in a heavy pot with a lid over medium heat. Cook until fat renders and pancetta is golden brown and starting to crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a small plate with a slotted spoon.

2. Season chicken with salt and pepper and cook, skin side down, until very well browned, about 10 minutes. Don't rush this step! Turn chicken and cook until seance side is golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

3. Add garlic, onion, and fennel to renderings in pot. Season with salt and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon and scarping up browned bits, until vegetables start to reuse some liquid, about 3 minutes.

4. Add a big pinch of crushed red pepper and the rosemary and cook until onion is trasnslucent, 5 to 6 minutes. Smash the garlic into smaller pieces and drizzle in some oil.

5. Add wine, increase heat to medium-high, and simmer until almost completely evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add half the reserved pancetta and stir to combine.

6. Nestle thighs into sauce, skins side up, so that flesh is submerged but skin is exposed. Bring liquid to a very gentle simmer, then cover pot and cook until chicken is totally tender and sauce is thickened, about 1 hour 30 minutes.

7. Meanwhile, combine polenta and 9 cups water in a pressure cooker, season generously with salt, and whisk well to combine. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, whisking frequently. Seal lid and cook at high pressure for 9 minutes. Bring water to a simmer, season with salt, then slowly stream polenta into water, whisking constantly until polenta is tender, 35 to 40 minutes.

8. Remove chicken from sauce and coarsely shred meat (discard skin and bones). Return chicken to sauce. Serve ragu over polenta.

A birthday dinner

I love birthdays. Less so now that I'm getting older, but I still like how it brings family and friends together. For my roommate's birthday, her sister Celine cooked this beautiful dinner for her. She is always reading recipes, planning the next meal, and whipping something creative up in the kitchen.

I was especially excited for this dinner, because I've never had ragu before. After googling a little before dinner, I learnt that ragu is an Italian sauce bound by meat and tomatoes often served over pasta. Among Italians, ragu symbolizes the warmth and comfort of home and family. Although considered as staple home food, it is very difficult to not find ragu in restaurants in Italy and in New York, where the great early 20th century Italian emigration took place.

It is a simple a dish, yet the identity of the dish can be distinguished by the kind of meat and the technique used to build the liquid up. Ragu recipes are highly personal and can be distinguished between different households, neighborhood, town and region. As you might expect, the most notable difference is between the north and the south.

In northern Italy, the meat is cut-up into small pieces to be an integral part of the sauce. In southern Italy, however, the meat is not the most important part about the sauce -- the meat is, in fact, cooked whole in the sauce then removed. Pasta is typically served with the sauce, followed by the meat as a separate, second dish.

Which means, the ragu that Celine made for us would be considered ragu from northern Italy, with the chopped-up meat served over polenta. It was delicious. It tasted like home and family.


Recipe adapted from Where Cooking Beings Uncomplicated Recipes to Make You a Great Chef (Lalli C, 2019).

From the heart of the city, real ragu (Asimov E, 1999). New York Times. Retrieved on April 19th 2020 from https://www.nytimes.com/1999/11/03/dining/from-the-heart-of-the-city-real-ragu.html

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