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Instant Pot Southern Italian-style Pork Ragu

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I Ate Oklahoma is brought to you in part by:

#PigOutOKC is brought to you by the Oklahoma Pork Council. Twice a month we’ll be delving into restaurants and recipes that bring home the bacon (among other delicious cuts of pork). Experiencing your own pork-fueled adventure? Use the hashtag #PigOutOKC to let the rest of us in on the fun.

Since starting work with the Pork Council last year, I’ve learned a lot about cooking with pork and why so many pro chefs love it, too. Pigs are big and meaty, but also much smaller than cows and much easier to break down in a kitchen. And, like these United States, the variety of meat from one part of the animal to the next varies wildly, meaning you can do a lot of things with just one animal. 

But I’ll admit, the cut that has become so near and dear to my heart these last few months is the humble, affordable, and extremely versatile Boston pork butt. It’s just a big ol’ honking piece of meat and it can be so many lovely, delicious things.

So far we’ve made Irish pork stew, Mexican pork carnitas, and a breakfast-stuffed bacon explosion. This time, we’re going full-on Italian with one of my all-time favorite dishes: 

Electric Pressure Cooker Southern Italian-style Pork Ragu

The origins of ragu, at least the name, come from the French ragout, which is a hearty stew served as a main course. 

While many Northern Italian-style ragu sauces use minced or ground meats, like you might find in the extremely popular ragù alla bolognese, my Southern Italian-style ragu is made from much larger pieces of meat that break down into a sauce with a lot of slow cooking. 

As you have probably already guessed, I’m not much for slow cooking. I like slow eating, but I want that food NOW. Which is why, once again, I’m breaking out my Instant Pot. Instead of slowly simmering pasta sauce all day, we can have a delicious, tender, and ultra-meaty ragu sauce in about an hour—and most of that time is hands off.

Before we get into the recipe, I need to make this clear: this might not be the most traditional ragu ever, given that I’m not Italian and this is Oklahoma and I’m using modern equipment, but it might also be different from the ragu you’re imagining. You know. That big jar of sauce? Yeah. There are tomatoes in the ragu, no doubt, but the bulk of the sauce is meat. So don’t be too surprised when you’re ladling a steamy pile of finely shredded pork with some seasoned veggies onto a big plate of pasta.

Ingredients

~3 lb. boneless Boston pork butt, cut into 1½- to 2-inch chunks with any large pieces of fat removed

1 T coconut, grapeseed or vegetable oil (whatever can handle high heat)

1 medium yellow onion, diced small

6 garlic cloves, minced

2 T tomato paste

1 C dark red wine

14 oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes

1/2 T smoked paprika

3 sprigs fresh thyme

2 sprigs rosemary

2 bay leaves

Instructions

  1. Dry the pork pieces with paper towels and then season with salt and pepper. 
  2. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat, add in oil, and brown the pork pieces on all sides, taking care not to crowd the pan, which will cause the pieces to steam instead of sear. Put the seared pork pieces in the Instant Pot.
  3. Pour off all but one or two tablespoons of pork fat, reduce heat to medium low, and add the onions to the pan with a dash of salt, cooking until they begin to soften and turn a light brown. 
  4. Add garlic and cook another couple of minutes, stirring in the tomato paste for the last thirty seconds or so. 
  5. Toss in the herbs and paprika, allowing them to bloom for 15-20 seconds, before deglazing the skillet with the wine. Continue cooking until the wine is reduced by about half. Transfer the whole mess to the Instant Pot and pour over the pork pieces.
  6. Reach into the cans of tomatoes and crush them by hand. It’s fun. Imagine your enemies and how they have wronged you. 
  7. Add the lid to the pressure cooker and set it to cook at high pressure for 35 minutes. When the time is up, allow the Instant Pot to release pressure naturally for 15 minutes, then remove the lid.
  8. Using a spider strainer, transfer the pieces of pork to a platter and use a fork to shred them. 
  9. Using a spoon or ladle, remove the top layer of fat from the remaining liquid. Get what you can, but don’t stress out about it. 
  10. Add the shredded pork back to the sauce and stir to combine. 

Pasta is a great base for this. I particularly like linguine, because it’s thick enough for the shreds of pork to wrap around. If you’re lucky enough to have some, use my friend Chris Becker’s fresh refrigerated Della Terra pasta. But, again, the dried stuff from the pantry will work, too. Get the water boiling while the Instant Pot is releasing pressure, but don’t add the noodles until the sauce is finished. You don’t want to chance over-cooking the pasta. 

In a pinch, as you can see in my pictures, I went with shells because...well, because I had shells. And it still tastes great.

If you want a different Italian carb-y base, try polenta (aka grits). The blend of the corn’s sweetness with the rich fattiness of the pork ragu is hard to beat. 

The Oklahoma Pork Council represents the interests all of pork producers throughout the state, promoting pork and pork products, funding research and educating consumers and producers about the pork industry. Learn more about the OPC, find recipes and more at OKPork.org.

About the Author

Founder and Eater-in-Chief of I Ate Oklahoma, Greg Elwell has been reviewing restaurants and writing about Oklahoma’s food culture for more than a decade. Where a normal person orders one meal, this guy gets three. He is almost certainly going to die young and those who love him most are fairly ambivalent about it. You can email Greg at greg@iateoklahoma.com.

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