Our easy meat sauce recipe delivers a rich flavor base where umami, savory aromatics, roasty notes, acidity and sweetness are balanced to delight the palate.
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- Read on for relevant tips and step by step pictures (1-2 mins).
This tomato based pasta sauce with stout is one of our favorite recipes with ground beef. Even though it hardly takes an hour to make from scratch, the meat sauce can be considered slow cooked because the beef is allowed to slowly simmer in the flavorful liquids and practically begin to melt into them, absorbing all their flavors.
The role of the stout is to impart subtle roasty notes and add a malty depth, and for good measure we add a bit of brown sugar to counter any residual bitterness from the roasted barley used in the grain bill of the style. The brown sugar also balances the tomatoes’ acidity. The sauce is finished with heavy cream, a la Bolognese, for a richer, smoother mouthfeel.
Ingredients You Will Need
- Ground beef. We prefer to use 80/20. If we have only lean beef on hand we first crisp up a small handful of pancetta or diced bacon (leaner parts) before we begin cooking the onion and carrot base. You can add diced bacon regardless, even if using 80/20 beef, it adds a great deal to the overall flavor.
- Olive oil. Extra virgin for its stronger, fuller taste.
- Onion and carrot. Yellow onions have stronger taste so we recommend them here.
- Beef base. To fortify the beefy umami of the sauce.
- Crushed tomatoes. Depending on how much tomato flavor you want to create you can add a bit more than the recipe calls for.
- Brown sugar. To balance any bitterness from the stout and the acidity of the tomatoes.
- Stout. You can use Irish stout, milk stout, oatmeal stout and even chocolate stout here. Don’t hesitate to use a whole 12 oz bottle. The liquid will reduce relatively quickly and infuse the sauce with its flavors. Other beer styles that work well in this recipe are porters, nutty American brown ales, German dunkel lagers (Munich or Franconian) or black lager (Schwarzbier).
- Herbs and Seasonings. Dried thyme and oregano (if using fresh make a bouquet garnie so you can remove them easily). For even fuller flavor consider adding garlic powder and/or onion powder, to taste, but you do not have to. Salt and pepper to taste, be mindful of the saltiness of the beef paste.
- Heavy cream. Be sure to use heavy cream, not regular or half and half. Its fat content and sweetness play a role in this meat sauce.
TIP: The culinary partnership between onions, thyme and dark ale with roasted malt or roasted barley (used to brew stouts and porters) is a very successful one. Stout is also a classic choice for braising and stewing beef and the affinity the two have for each other unfolds perfectly in this recipe.
Method of Preparation – Step-by-Step
- Make the base. Finely chop the onion and carrot, then heat a small Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot and sauté them in the olive oil until they soften. (If using diced pancetta or bacon, dice small and crisp up in the oil first, then add the onion and carrot).
- Brown the ground beef. Add the ground beef, break it up with a wooden spoon, stir the mixture and let the beef brown until the juices it releases have evaporated and all you can see is the oil at the bottom of the pot.
- Flavor and add tomatoes and stout. As soon as there are no more juices coming from the beef add the beef base paste, the brown sugar, thyme, oregano (garlic/onion powder if using) and crushed tomatoes. Mix well, stew for a couple of minutes, then slowly add the stout. Mix well and reduce the heat.
- Simmer and finish. Let the sauce stew until the liquids reduce and the thickness gets close to what you’d like it to be. Stir the heavy cream into the sauce, season as needed with salt and pepper. Simmer for another couple of minutes and remove from the heat.
TIP: If you can afford to stretch out the phase where the sauce stews to reduce (#10 above) by 15-20 minutes (at lower temperature, when there are only slight bubbles on the surface of the sauce) you will be rewarded by even deeper flavors.
Ways to Use This Ground Beef Tomato Sauce
- Short cut pasta – elbow macaroni, penne, fusilli, etc. Also great with gnocchi.
- Noodles – noodles ranging in thickness from spaghetti to pappardelle welcome this sauce, the wider the better, but anything from papardelle to thin spaghetti is delicious with it.
- Spaghetti squash – baked until just tender, shredded with a fork.
- Lasagna or stuffed pasta shells
- Eggplant parmesan
- Stuffed zucchini boats – cut zucchini in half lengthwise, brush with olive oil, season and par bake until tender, fill with sauce, top with cheese and return to the oven to finish
- Sloppy Joes
- Filling for individual meat pies
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- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb ground beef, preferably 80/20
- 2 1/4 cups crushed tomatoes*
- 1 tbsp beef base**
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano (or marjoram)
- 12 oz stout ale***
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- salt and pepper, to taste
1. Sweat the finely chopped onion and carrot in the olive oil, over medium heat until soft.
2. Add the ground beef and break it up with a wooden spoon. Stir the mixture and allow to cook until all the juices released by the beef evaporate and there is only olive oil left. Stir frequently during this stage.
3. Add the beef base, brown sugar, thyme, oregano and tomatoes. Stir well and stew for a couple of minutes.
4. Slowly add the stout, stir well and allow to stew at medium-low or low, until the liquids reduce and the sauce thickens. (Depending on how strong the heat this simmering can take between 15 and 30 minutes; slower is better=more flavor).
5. Once the sauce has thickened, stir in the heavy cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for another 2-3 minutes.
Optional: You can enhance the flavors in this meat sauce by adding a handful or diced pancetta or leaner bacon (crisp it up before you begin sweating the onion and carrots) and adding garlic and/or onion powder to taste (at the time you add the oregano and thyme).
*about 18 oz
**sold as paste; substitute with 1 or 2 cubes beef bouillon, crushed to facilitate its dissolving
***you can substitute with a porter, English brown ale, German dunkel lager (Munich or Franconian) or black lager (Schwarzbier)
The sauce can be refrigerated (up to 4-5 days) or frozen (up to 3 months). Be sure to cool it down completely first.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 613Total Fat: 36gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 20gCholesterol: 120mgSodium: 961mgCarbohydrates: 22gFiber: 4gSugar: 11gProtein: 35g