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- This Comforting Ragu Packs a Big Punch of Flavor (in ⅓ of the time!)
- Recipe Highlights
- What is Ragu?
- Key Ingredients
- How to Make Rich & Hearty Chicken Ragu Sauce
- Serving Suggestions: Pasta & More!
- More Tips & Tricks
This Comforting Ragu Packs a Big Punch of Flavor (in ⅓ of the time!)
Ragu is my all-time favorite thing to cook & eat because it’s one of the first foods I ever really fell in love with. 🥰 I was first introduced to it when I worked as a server at a fine dining Italian restaurant in downtown Milwaukee. Our ragu della casa, a rotating ragu sauce served with hand-cut pappardelle, was one of the most popular dishes on our menu & it was also my personal favorite. Eventually, after enough begging, Chef taught me how to make it myself. 10+ years later, ragu is one of my culinary specialties!
The fun thing about it is you can use pretty much any protein (or hearty ingredient!) to create a ragu sauce with restaurant-worthy flavor at home. We’ve published a number of ragu recipes here on PWWB over the years, from Slowly Braised Lamb Ragu to Beef Short Rib Ragu & even Wild Mushroom Ragu. This Slowly Simmered Chicken Ragu recipe is the first poultry ragu we’ve ever shared. I think you’ll love it!
This chicken ragu recipe uses a gentle braising technique, slowly simmering flavor-forward chicken thighs with sweet Italian tomatoes, aromatic fresh herbs, & dry white wine until the meat becomes meltingly tender. As you may expect, this it’s a little lighter than ragu made with short rib or pork, but it still packs a really big punch of bold flavor. As a bonus, chicken ragu sauce simmers for just 1 hour, ⅓ of the time it takes to cook a ragu sauce that highlights a heartier protein. Simple, flavorful, & always SO satisfying!
You’ll love this recipe for chicken ragu because it’s…
HANDS-OFF COMFORT FOOD. The chicken ragu sauce braises slowly so all its flavors develop into a bowl of cozy comfort food. And, while most ragu recipes simmer up to 3 hours, chicken ragu only needs 1 hour – sit back & relax while the stove does all the work!
A HEARTY MEAL FIT FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS. Serve the chicken ragu sauce with pasta, polenta, or mashed potatoes for a satisfying all-in-one meal. It’s an easy yet fancy-feeling recipe great for special occasions like date night in, Valentine’s Day, Christmas dinner…you name it!
ENDLESSLY VERSATILE. You can prepare this chicken ragu recipe on the stovetop, in the oven, in a slow cooker or Crockpot, or in a pressure cooker like the Instant Pot. Same satisfying results, howeve
Forever & always a favorite! ♡ Read on to learn more about how to make Slowly Braised Chicken Ragu, or jump straight to the recipe & get cooking!
What is Ragu?
One of the mainstays at the Italian restaurant where I used to work was ragu della casa (house ragu), a rotating ragu recipe that changed weekly based on what the cooks felt like making. On an almost nightly basis, my guests would look up from their menus & ask me, “What is ragu?!”
“Ragu” is a broad term that describes a rich, slowly cooked Italian meat sauce. It’s hearty, intensely flavorful, & always all about the meat. In that sense, it’s almost more stew-like than other Italian sauces you may be familiar with. But much like marinara or tomato sauce, ragu is traditionally served with pasta, gnocchi, or polenta. Perhaps without even knowing it, you’ve likely already enjoyed one of the most famous ragu sauces – bolognese!
Learning how to make ragu is super fun because it’s infinitely versatile. You can make a killer ragu sauce using almost any meaty ingredient: lamb, wild boar or pork, short ribs, or even ground turkey. You can also make vegan or vegetarian ragu by using a meaty veggie like eggplant or mushrooms. In my experience, poultry ragu is most commonly made with wild game like pheasant & duck. For our first-ever PWWB poultry ragu, I chose chicken since it’s much more accessible here in the U.S.
If you’ve never made ragu before, you’re in good hands! I’ve been cooking various ragu recipes for 10+ years, ever since I learned how to make ragu at home. It’s one of my favorite things to cook, & I’m excited to share it with you!
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
- Chicken thighs – I suggest using bone-in, skin-on thighs, as they’re the most flavor-packed part of the chicken & lend themselves well to a long braise. Check out the Recipe Notes, below, for guidance on using other cuts of chicken like chicken legs or boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
- Soffritto – The Italian holy trinity of onion, carrot, & celery is where all the flavor begins! While you can blitz everything up in food processor to cut down on active prep time, I like to chop soffrito by hand for bigger, chunkier pieces & a more rustic look.
- Aromatics – Garlic, fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, & bay leaves build a boldly flavored sauce. A parmesan rind is also optional but encouraged – it’s the secret to infusing the chicken ragu sauce with a rich umami taste!
- Tomatoes – Whole peeled tomatoes add velvety body while tomato paste adds concentrated flavor. I like to use double concentrated tomato paste for an even bigger punch.
- White wine – While most rich ragu sauces use red wine, I suggest a dry, unoaked white wine for this chicken ragu recipe. Something like Pinot Grigio or an unoaked Chardonnay don’t overpower the lighter poultry flavor.
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How to Make Rich & Hearty Chicken Ragu Sauce
Preparing chicken ragu sauce is a pretty straightforward process with 3 main steps: browning, deglazing, & simmering. Patience is key here – the goal is to pull big flavors out of relatively simple ingredients, which takes some time! The good news is that most of the work is entirely hands-off & this chicken ragu sauce only simmers for 1 hour – just enough time to relax with a glass of wine!
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Sear the chicken thighs. Pat the chicken completely dry, season, & place them skin-side down in a heavy large skillet or pot. Let them sear, untouched, for a few minutes per side until deeply browned. Why? ⇢ Flavor, flavor, flavor! Thanks to a chemical process called the Maillard reaction, the chicken deepens in rich flavor as it browns. This also leaves browned bits on the bottom of the skillet (fond), which creates the base of flavor for the ragu sauce.
Brown the soffritto. Add the carrots, celery, & onion to the same pot used to brown the chicken thighs & cook until borderline caramelized, about 20 minutes. Then, add in the garlic & tomato paste & cook about 5 minutes more until deeply browned. Why? ⇢ Deep browning coaxes out all the flavors & creates more fond on the bottom of the pan. Resist the urge to rush through this step – the results are worth it!
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Deglaze. Slowly pour in the wine. It will immediately simmer upon hitting the hot pot, creating steam that releases the fond. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up all of the browned bits on the bottom of the pot, then let the wine reduce until it’s almost completely absorbed by the soffritto. Why? ⇢ The combination of flavorful fond & bright wine infuses a TON of rich flavor into the base of the sauce.
Build & simmer the chicken ragu sauce. Add the fresh herbs, bay leaves, parmesan rind, tomatoes, & the browned chicken thighs into the pot. Let everything simmer over low heat until all the flavors blend & meld together. Quick Tip! ⇢ Rather than taking the time to chop all fresh herbs, use kitchen twine to tie them together whole. The fresh thyme & fresh rosemary leaves infuse a ton of flavor into the chicken ragu, & the twine makes it easy to remove the spent stems all at once before serving.
Shred the chicken. Once the sauce is simmered, take the chicken thighs out of the pot & use a fork to shred them. This should be pretty easy – the chicken will be fall-apart tender! Discard the skin & bones as you go, then add the shredded chicken back into the pot.
Alternate Cooking Methods
An oven-braise is my favorite alternate cooking method for this chicken ragu recipe. You achieve the same rich flavor of a long braise without having to worry about keeping a pot on the stovetop. Simply follow the stovetop directions & transfer your ragu sauce to the oven for 1 hour. Refer to the Recipe Notes, below, for full directions!
Slow Cooker or Crockpot
The gentle, low-heat environment of a Crockpot or slow cooker is also great for cooking the chicken until meltingly tender. You should still brown the chicken, soffritto, & aromatics on the stovetop for maximum flavor before building the sauce in your slow cooker. If your slow cooker has a browning feature then you can do everything right in its crock! Refer to the Recipe Notes, below, for full directions!
Electric Pressure Cooker or Instant Pot
While this is a definite time-saver, it’s probably my least favorite cooking method for this chicken ragu recipe. Electric pressure cookers like the Instant Pot are effective at cooking & tenderizing quickly, but they don’t achieve the same deep, rich flavor as a slower, gentler braise. That said, if it’s all you have time for, go for it! Check out the Recipe Notes, below, for full directions.
Serving Suggestions: Pasta & More!
The most critical mistake I see home chefs make when it comes to serving pasta at home is plopping the beautiful braised sauce on top of a pile of pasta. Please don’t do this! Al dente pasta should always quickly cook with the sauce to build a cohesive dish. This simple step is the secret to a restaurant-quality ragu! Learn more! 🤓 ⇢ How to Cook Pasta Perfectly Every Single Time.
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
How to Make Chicken Ragu Pasta
Boil your choice of pasta. Generously season boiling water with salt & cook the pasta to al dente according to the package directions. Important! ⇢ Before draining, carefully dip a liquid measuring cup into the pot to reserve some starchy cooking water. From there, drain the pasta but do not rinse it.
Finish the chicken ragu sauce. As the pasta cooks, finish the ragu by stirring in a bit of heavy cream & grated parmesan. Why? ⇢ Cream adds beautiful richness to chicken ragu while parmesan adds extra flavor & helps tighten up the sauce.
Add the cooked pasta to the ragu & simmer. Toss the pasta, coating it evenly in the chicken ragu sauce. If things seem a little too thick, loosen it up with a splash of the reserved cooking liquid. If things feel a little too loose, sprinkle in an extra handful of parmesan. Allow everything to meld together over medium low heat for a few minutes to create the perfect chicken ragu pasta!
What’s the Best Pasta for Chicken Ragu?
Rich, hearty sauces like ragu are best paired with wider or heartier pasta. My favorite long pasta to serve with any ragu is pappardelle or tagliatelle (pictured here). Fettuccine, linguine, spaghetti alla chitarra (flat spaghetti), or bucatini (tubular spaghetti) work well too. If you prefer shorter pasta, rigatoni is my top pick, though egg noodles are a fun choice for chicken ragu pasta too!
In the mood for a fun project? 👩🏻🍳 ⇢ Try Homemade Pasta & Fresh Pasta Dough!
Other Serving Suggestions
While I love serving ragu with pasta, this chicken ragu sauce is also fantastic pairing for any other cozy carbohydrates! Toss it into pillowy gnocchi or spoon it over a large serving bowl of warm polenta, rice, or even mashed potatoes. I love how the richness of the sauce soaks into the creamy, warm starches. 😍
Easy Recipe Variations
Add bacon or pancetta: For extra richness, kick off your chicken ragu sauce by rendering a little bacon or pancetta. Once it’s crispy, use a slotted spoon to remove it from the pot, then add in a little olive oil as needed to ensure there’s enough oil to brown the chicken well. (No need to use your best extra virgin here, given the long cook times!)
Soffritto: Swap out the onion with shallots or leek for milder allium flavor or add in some finely chopped fennel for a little extra sweetness.
Tomatoes: If you don’t have whole peeled tomatoes on hand, swap it out with your favorite jarred sauce – you’ll want about 2 cups marinara sauce for this recipe.
More Tips & Tricks
Cooking chicken ragu sauce ahead of time is a great timesaver at dinnertime! Like other stews & sauces, ragu only gets better as it sits & the flavors have a chance to meld & deepen. To make ahead of time, simply simmer the chicken ragu sauce as directed & store it in the fridge until you’re ready to enjoy it. From there, reheat & toss the sauce with your pasta of choice, gnocchi, or polenta. Super easy! Refer to the Recipe Notes, below, for full directions.
Ragu is one of my favorite things to have stocked in the freezer. To freeze any leftovers, divide the cooled chicken ragu sauce into a few smaller freezer containers & freeze for perfectly portioned meals. Then simply thaw, heat, & enjoy as you desire. Refer to the Recipe Notes, below, for more guidance!
I can’t wait for you to try this Slowly Simmered Chicken Ragu! It’s Italian-inspired comfort food at its finest, & your kitchen will smell heavenly as it simmers away.
If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations! ♡ Happy cooking!
More Recipes Like This:
Classic Italian Comfort Food
Slowly Braised Chicken Ragu
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 2 hours
- Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
- Yield: serves 8–10 1x
- Category: Pasta Recipes, Main Dish
- Method: Stovetop, Braise
- Cuisine: Italian
“Ragu” is a broad term used to describe a rich, slowly cooked Italian meat sauce. It’s hearty, intensely flavorful, &, unlike a slowly simmered marinara or tomato sauce, ragu is all about the meat (or a meaty ingredient, like mushrooms!).
I learned how to cook ragu 10+ years ago, working at a fine dining Northern Italian restaurant. To this day, it’s one of my favorite things to cook! We’ve shared many ragu recipes over the years here on PWWB, but never a poultry version…until now!
While traditional Italian poultry ragu sauces are made with wild game, like pheasant or duck, I chose to center this particular recipe around what’s most accessible here in the U.S. – chicken. While you can easily make this recipe using a variety of cuts (see Recipe Notes for more!), I opt for chicken thighs, as they’re the most flavor-packed part of the chicken & lend themselves well to a long braise.
When slowly simmered with aromatic veggies, fresh herbs, wine, & Italian tomatoes, the chicken thighs become fall-apart tender. The resulting homemade ragu sauce is a little lighter in flavor than those made with beef short ribs or pork, but it still packs a big punch of bold flavor. Serve tossed into pasta, over rice or polenta, or alongside hearty mashed potatoes for the ultimate comforting meal!
To learn all about ragu, be sure to check out the blog post, above, & for alternate cooking methods, like slow cooker or Instant Pot ragu, check out the Recipe Notes, below. ♡ Happy cooking!
for the Slowly Simmered Chicken Ragu:
- 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (approx. 2.5–3 pounds), trimmed of excess fat & skin
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 large carrots, peeled & diced
- 1 stalk celery, finely diced
- 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
- 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup dry, unoaked white wine
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 8–10 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- optional: 1 parmesan rind
- 1 (one) 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped or crushed
- 1 cup water or chicken stock
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
for Chicken Ragu Pasta:
- 20 ounces dried pasta of choice
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- heaping 1/2 cup grated parmesan
- for serving, as desired: grated parmesan, finely chopped fresh herbs, etc.
- Brown the chicken thighs: Add the olive oil to a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid, such as a Dutch oven, over medium-high heat. Use paper towel to pat the chicken thighs as dry as possible. Generously season the chicken with 1 tablespoon kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired. Once the oil is hot & shimmering, carefully add in the seasoned chicken thighs, skin side facing down. Work in batches, as necessary, to avoid overcrowding the pot (which prevents browning). Cook 5-6 minutes, until the skin is golden brown & rendered, then flip & cook 3-4 minutes to develop a similar golden brown color on the second side. Transfer to a plate & set aside.
- Brown the soffritto: Carefully drain all but 1-2 tablespoons of the rendered fat from the pot, setting aside for later use or to discard once cooled. Reduce heat to medium. Add in the soffritto (carrots, onion, & celery), seasoning with 1 teaspoon kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired. Stir to combine & cook, stirring occasionally, until deeply browned, 15-20 minutes.
- Add the aromatics & deglaze: Add the garlic to the pot with the soffritto. Cook until fragrant, stirring constantly, 1-2 minutes. Add the tomato paste to the pot, stirring to coat the soffritto. Cook 2-3 minutes, until browned. Increasing the heat to medium-high, pour the white wine into the pot. Stir constantly, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits that may have formed at the bottom of the pot. Cook for 4-5 minutes, until the wine is almost completely absorbed into the soffritto.
- Build & simmer the chicken ragu: Tie the herbs together using kitchen twine (or finely chop if you do not have twine), then add to the pot with the bay leaves & parmesan rind (if using). Add the chopped tomatoes & their juices, water or stock, & browned chicken thighs from Step 1. Season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a low. Partially cover the pot (place the lid on the pot such that it’s just partially covered, allowing some steam to escape as the sauce simmers) & simmer, stirring occasionally, for 55-60 minutes, until the chicken is fall-apart tender. If the chicken ragu sauce begins to reduce too much (i.e. it loses too much of its liquid too quickly), feel free to add in a splash more water &/or reduce the heat further.
- Finish the chicken ragu: Carefully transfer the braised chicken thighs to a plate or cutting board. At this point, you can remove & discard the spent herbs, bay leaves, & parmesan rind from the pot, as well. Use tongs or 2 forks to shred the meat into bite-sized pieces, discarding the skin & bones as you go. Return the shredded chicken to the pot with the ragu sauce. Stir to combine. At this point, you can cool & store for later use (see Recipe Notes for storage & freezing directions), or proceed with making the chicken ragu pasta (below).
Chicken Ragu Pasta:
- Boil the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is cooked to al dente according to package directions. Carefully dip a liquid measuring cup into the pot, reserving about 1 cup of the starchy pasta water, and set aside. Carefully drain the pasta – do NOT rinse it! (Learn more ⇢ How to Cook Pasta Perfectly Every Single Time!)
- Finish the chicken ragu sauce: Meanwhile, as the pasta boils, bring the chicken ragu sauce up to a simmer. Stir in the heavy cream & parmesan cheese. Continue to simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally.
- Chicken ragu pasta: Add the cooked pasta to the pot with the chicken ragu sauce, tossing to coat. The sauce should evenly coat the pasta. Add in some of the reserved pasta water if the ragu needs to loosen up a little; add in an extra handful of parmesan if it needs to tighten up a little. Cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, allowing the pasta to meld with & absorb some of the ragu.
- Serve: Portion the chicken ragu pasta into individual pasta bowls, topping with additional grated parmesan, chopped fresh herbs, &/or crushed red pepper as desired. Serve immediately. Enjoy!
- Chicken Parts: If you prefer to make your chicken ragu sauce with a different cut of chicken, there are a few options that work well. Chicken legs are my top choice as a substitute for thighs – they have similar rich flavor & will stay super juicy & succulent throughout the long braise. If you prefer to use skinless chicken thighs or legs, that will work just fine too – be sure to leave the bone in for extra flavor & richness & reduce the Step 1 sear to 3-4 minutes per side. I don’t suggest using white meat for this recipe since it’s prone to drying – it will cook through & dry out before the ragu sauce has the chance to develop the rich flavor we’re after here. If you really prefer white meat, I suggest bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts – simmer them just until they’re cooked through, then let the sauce continue to simmer for the full hour before adding the shredded chicken back into the sauce.
- Make-Ahead, Storage & Freezing:
- Chicken Ragu Pasta Storage & Reheating: Once assembled, chicken ragu pasta will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave until warmed through.
- Make-Ahead Chicken Ragu Sauce Storage & Reheating: This chicken ragu sauce is also the perfect make-ahead recipe because it stores so well – it gets even better as it sits & its flavors meld together! To store, prepare according to Steps 1-5 of Recipe Directions, above. Once cooled, transfer to an airtight container & store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Finish according to “Chicken Ragu Pasta” Steps 1-4 of Recipe Directions, above, heating the ragu sauce on the stovetop – if needed, loosen up the sauce with a splash of water or stock.
- Chicken Ragu Sauce Freezer Instructions: This chicken ragu sauce is also incredibly freezer-friendly. To freeze, prepare according to Steps 1-5 of Recipe Directions, above. Once cooled, transfer to a freezer container or divide between multiple freezer containers for smaller portions – these are my favorite freezer containers! Freeze for up to 3 months. To thaw, place the frozen chicken ragu sauce in the refrigerator overnight or submerge the freezer container in room temperature water for a quicker thaw. Finish according to “Chicken Ragu Pasta” Steps 1-4 of Recipe Directions, above, heating the ragu sauce on the stovetop – if needed, loosen up the sauce with a splash of water or stock.
- Alternate Cooking Methods:
- Oven Braised Chicken Ragu: Prep the recipe according to Steps 1-4, above. Rather than braising on the stovetop, transfer the covered pot to a 325 degree F oven. Braise in the oven for 1 hour, until the chicken thighs are fall-apart tender, then finish the chicken ragu sauce as directed in Step 5 & complete the recipe according to “Chicken Ragu Pasta” Steps 1-4.
- Crock Pot / Slow Cooker Chicken Ragu: Prep the recipe according to Steps 1-3, above. Transfer the soffritto mixture to the slow cooker, along with the aromatics, tomatoes, broth/stock (or water), & browned chicken thighs as directed in Step 4. Slow cook on high for 2-3 hours or on low for 5-6 hours, stirring occasionally. Finish the chicken sauce as directed in Step 5 & complete the recipe according to “Chicken Ragu Pasta” Steps 2-4, which you can do right in your slow cooker. If your slow cooker has a searing/browning feature, you can use it to cook the entire chicken ragu sauce recipe (Steps 1-5) in the slow cooker.
- Electric Pressure Cooker / Instant Pot Chicken Ragu: Use your Instant Pot’s “Sauté” setting to build the sauce according to Steps 1-4, above. Cover & seal the pressure cooker and cook on manual high pressure for 12 minutes. Allow the pressure cooker to naturally release pressure for 10 minutes before carefully flicking the valve to its “venting” position to vent out any residual pressure. If the ragu seems a little too liquidy, feel free to turn on the Sauté setting again, letting the sauce simmer down a little before finishing as directed in Step 5. Complete the recipe according to “Chicken Ragu Pasta” Steps 2-4, which you can do right in pressure cooker pot.
- 10-Minute Meal Prep: Nearly all of the active prep work for this chicken ragu recipe comes from prepping the veggies. Take care of this in advance – it takes 10 minutes, tops – & you can jump straight in to cooking during the week:
- Prep the veggies: Dice 2 medium carrots, 1 stalk of celery, & 1 medium yellow onion. Transfer to an airtight container & store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. (10 minutes active prep)
Keywords: chicken ragu recipe, braised chicken ragu, chicken thigh ragu recipe
Recipe & Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.
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