Food & Drink

Venison Bolognese Sauce

A weekend-worthy sauce from Hank Shaw

Photo: Holly A. Heyser

“Have you ever had pasta with Bolognese sauce? I mean a real, honest-to-goodness Bolognese? Probably not. A true Bolognese is just different from a typical meat sauce for pasta: smoother, meatier, mellower and a lot richer than a typical ragu or sugo. A little goes a long way. There is a reason that the guardians of this sauce are so strict about what is and is not an authentic Bolognese.

This is a sauce with rules. It is built on a base of onion, carrot and celery. No garlic. Nor does it have lots of herbs in it. I love lots of herbs in a meat sauce, but that’s not a Bolognese. The sauce contains dairy products. Tomato, while present, is not the star of the sauce. Meat is. And to make a real Bolognese, it must cook a long, long time.

Every cook has a personal version. This is mine.

Don’t try to make this sauce on a weeknight. It takes a long time to come together, and the time spent slowly simmering really makes this sauce special. But fear not, it keeps in the fridge for up to 10 days, and freezes very well. I suppose you could even pressure-can it, although I never have. It is a perfect sauce to make on a weekend and eat after work all week.

Porcini mushrooms are my first choice here, but any dried mushroom will work; I know a lot of deer hunters also pick morels, so use them if you have them. One tip on getting the onion, carrot and celery minced well enough: Chop roughly, then buzz in a food processor. Don’t make a paste out of the vegetables, though.” —Hank Shaw


    • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

    • 1 cup minced onion

    • 1 cup minced carrot

    • 1 cup minced celery

    • 2 pounds ground venison

    • 1 ounce dried mushrooms, reconstituted in 2 cups hot water and chopped

    • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste

    • 1 cup venison or beef broth or water

    • 1 cup white wine

    • 1 cup milk

    • ½ nutmeg, grated or ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

    • Salt and black pepper to taste

    • Pasta (tagliatelle, penne, etc)

    • Grated cheese for garnish


  1. Heat the butter over medium-high heat in a large, heavy pot like a Dutch oven. Add the onion, celery and carrots and cook gently for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring often. Do not brown them. Sprinkle a little salt over the veggies as they cook.

  2. When the vegetables are soft, stir in the chopped mushrooms and tomato paste and allow everything to cook for 3 to 4 minutes, again, stirring often. When the tomato paste begins to turn the color of brick, add the ground meat, the mushroom soaking water and the broth. Bring to a simmer.

  3. Allow this to cook down over medium-low heat. Take your time here and resist the urge to do this over higher heat. Stir from time to time. When the liquid has mostly evaporated, add the wine and repeat the process. When that has mostly evaporated, add the milk, nutmeg and black pepper and stir well. Bring back to a simmer and add salt to taste. Let this cook until it is the consistency you want.

  4. When you add the milk to the sauce, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add enough salt to make it taste like the sea. Once the Bolognese sauce has thickened, add the pasta and cook until its al dente.

  5. To serve, put the pasta in a large bowl and add a healthy ladle of sauce. Toss to combine. Give everyone their portion, then top with a small ladle’s worth of sauce. Grate the cheese over the top and serve.

Recipe and text reprinted with permission from Buck, Buck, Moose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Deer, Elk, Moose, Antelope and Other Antlered Things © 2016 by Hank Shaw.