My wild version of ragu, a hearty Italian meat-based sauce, makes use of an underutilized cut of meat: the neck.
If you have ever tried cleaning a neck then you know that you can’t possibly carve all the meat off the bone, the vertebrae has far too many nooks and crannies. The best way to get every morsel is to keep the meat on the bone and let it slow cook overnight in liquids until fork tender. Think of how braising a turkey neck makes the base of your thanksgiving giblet dressing so amazing and magnify that times ten. The braising liquid in the crockpot gets strained and a portion of it gets used for the ragu.
The neck of our last buck was far too big to fit inside of my slow cooker so I used a reciprocating saw to cut into large hunks so that it would fit. My neck weighed almost 6 lb which made roughly 3lb. of shredded meat. When combined with the tomato sauce and noodles, this recipe is enough to feed a small army so be prepared to use a big pot and serve a crowd or have leftovers.
If you’ve already started to skin down and glance at the recipe, don’t let the length of it intimidate you. There are a lot of steps and this ragu is time consuming because the neck has to braise for so long, but it is certainly not difficult. As far as timing goes, I placed the neck in a crock pot the night before and then strained the meat from the braising liquid in the morning. I stored the meat and liquid in the fridge until I was ready to cook the rest of the ragu for dinner.
Note: If you live in area with CWD you should trim as much meat off the neck as possible (trying to keep in big pieces) and still cook this recipe. You will likely need to adjust the amount of ingredients accordingly.
- 5-7 lb. bone-in neck from a deer or antelope * see note
- 1 C. of diced yellow onion
- 1 C. each of roughly chopped carrots and celery
- 2 – 3 lb. of shredded neck meat
- 1/4 yellow onion, minced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 C. red wine
- 2 1/2 C. broth from neck braise
- 2 cans of crushed tomatoes (28 oz ea)
- 1/2 of one Nutmeg pod, grated (sub. 1 tsp.)
- 1/2 tsp. white sugar
- 2 tbsp. dried sage
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt, plus extra to taste
- olive oil for cooking
- pappardelle noodles
- fresh chopped parsley
Place the bone-in neck portion into a large crockpot.
Heat oil in a saute pan over medium heat and add the soffritto (onions, carrots and celery). Saute for 5-8 minutes until translucent and transfer to the crockpot with the neck. Add as much extra water as needed to submerge neck or fill crock pot. Cover the lid and place on low heat for roughly 8 hours or longer until fork tender. Do not over cook the meat so that it falls apart in crockpot when picked up.
Remove the neck bone and use a fork to start pulling meat off the bone. Set all the shredded meat aside. Strain the broth using a fine mesh strainer and discard the solids. To clarify the liquid you might need to do this step a couple of times, the second time lining strainer with a paper towel. Reserve 1 1/2 C. of this broth for the ragu. Save the leftovers for another use in a stew or freeze.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large dutch oven/pot and saute the onion and garlic over medium heat. Once fragrant or translucent, deglaze the pot with the red wine. Bring to a simmer and let the alcohol cook off. Ad the broth, crushed tomatoes and season with the spices. Let this tomato sauce cook down for about 30 – 45 minutes to let the flavor develop. During this time you can start to boil salted water and cook the pasta. Taste the tomato sauce for extra salt and pepper and when satisfied, stir in the shredded neck meat. De-pending on how much meat you were able to retrieve off your neck, you may not need to mix all of it in. Use your best judgment and the desired ratio of meat to sauce. If needed you can add pasta water to the ragu to lighten. Be careful not to over stir or add too much meat as it tends to soak up the liquids.
Serve the shredded neck ragu over the cooked pappardelle, using to tongs to mix gently. Garnish with parmesean and fresh parsley.
Note: You can use neck meat trimmed off the bone, just weigh out and adjust the amount of ingredients needed for the braise, you will probably only need about half. You can also substitute a roast from the hind leg.