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Why Some Chefs Add Soy Sauce to Their Bolognese

The easiest way to make meat sauce taste even meatier.
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Published Mar. 18, 2023.

Sure, you could make a regular batch of bolognese to toss with your pasta. But why would you do that when there’s a supersimple way to make your meat sauce taste even more meaty and savory?

Some recipes achieve this by adding meaty-tasting mushrooms, which are delicious and nutritious, but prepping them involves knife work or the food processor.

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Instead, take a cue from James Beard Award–winning chef Ken Oringer, who adds a splash of soy sauce or tamari to the bolognese served at his restaurant, Coppa.

While soy sauce often contains cracked wheat in addition to fermented soybeans, tamari typically contains little to no wheat, making it a better choice for those on a gluten-free diet, such as Kens 13-year-old daughter, Verveine, who has celiac disease. (Get Kens bolognese recipe in Cooking with My Dad, the Chef, the cookbook he wrote with Verveine.)

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Tamari and soy sauce are chock full of glutamates, the molecules responsible for savory umami taste. Adding just a tablespoon to a big batch of simmering bolognese adds a boost of meaty oomph to the sauce’s background flavor and requires practically zero effort.

You can apply this same thinking to other dishes as well: Ken likes to add a dash of fish sauce to any seafood-based pasta sauces, and adding a few tablespoons of miso paste takes mushroom risotto to the next level. 

But back to that bolognese. Want to take the umami factor up one more notch? Serve your bolognese with a generous sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese, another supersavory ingredient.

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