Saffron Chicken Ragù

September 28, 2021
8 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Megan Hedgpeth. Food Stylist: Lauren Lapenna.
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

This sauce will make your entire dwelling smell really good. So good that you’ll find yourself wandering into the kitchen just to sneak a taste as the sauce cooks (try to be patient!). Made with fragrant Diaspora Co. Kashmiri Saffron, this ragu is inspired by classic Italian bolognese. The base starts out with onions, carrots, and fennel instead of celery, all cooked until soft and just starting to caramelize. Instead of the usual mix of pork and beef, we’re using chicken here, which allows the flavor of the saffron to shine. The chicken and vegetables are layered with white wine, chicken stock, and milk. After a few hours of low ‘n’ slow cooking, the milk imbues the ground chicken with a silky, luscious, melt-in-your-mouth texture that perfectly clings to every twirl of pasta. Don’t skip the parsley and lemon zest sprinkle at the end—it brings freshness and a little sharpness that cuts through the richness of the sauce. Pro tip: Spend the extra time chopping the vegetables and make a double batch. Your future self will thank you when you find half of the sauce in the freezer later. —Asha Loupy

Test Kitchen Notes

Head here to check out Diaspora Co.’s single-origin saffron in the Food52 Shop.
—The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 medium carrots, finely diced
  • 1 large leek, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, finely diced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 big pinch (40 to 50 threads) Diaspora Co. Kashmiri Saffron (see Author Notes)
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 pound dried egg noodles or pappardelle
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (1 to 2 teaspoons)
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the chicken in large clumps, season with ½ teaspoon of salt and the pepper, and let cook undisturbed until one side is deeply golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a medium bowl, leaving any drippings in the pan (the chicken might not be cooked through).
  2. Reduce the heat to medium, then add the carrots, leek, fennel, remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften and just start to turn golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, tomato paste, and red pepper flakes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the tomato paste turns brick red and starts to caramelize, about another 3 minutes.
  4. Stir in the white wine and saffron, making sure to scrape up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Simmer until the liquid has reduced by one-third, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the browned chicken, using a spatula, and break it into small pieces. Add the stock, milk, and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the meat is very tender and the sauce has reduced by half, 1½ to 2 hours.
  5. When the sauce is ready, turn off the heat and cover the pot to keep warm while you cook the pasta.
  6. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat, then abundantly season with salt. Add the egg noodles and cook to al dente, according to the package’s instructions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain and transfer the pasta to the sauce.
  7. Increase the heat under the sauce to medium-high, add ¼ cup of pasta water, and cook until the sauce coats the pasta, about 1 to 2 minutes. If the sauce looks a little too thick, add a couple more tablespoons of the pasta cooking water until it reaches the desired consistency. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter.
  8. To serve, transfer the sauced noodles to a large serving platter or individual bowls. Mix the parsley and lemon zest in a small bowl and sprinkle over the pasta.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Hannah
  • Asha Loupy
    Asha Loupy
  • twinchell
  • EF Slattery
    EF Slattery

11 Reviews

twinchell April 6, 2023
Found this to be pleasing; but, lacking. We think pork or lamb might be better paired with the saffron. I love ground chicken recipes; however, this was not the right protein to pair with the more complex flavors
Hannah December 24, 2021
I made this dairy free with oat milk and it was absolutely delicious. I roasted some broccoli and cauliflower and turned it into a one-bowl pasta dinner.
EF S. November 23, 2021
This is excellent. Like sunshine in a bowl. I served it over brown rice, and my family loved it. A keeper!
Asha L. November 24, 2021
Ohhhh, I've never thought to serve over brown rice. Love that idea! Thank you for cooking the recipe, I am so happy to hear it went over swimmingly. <3
amidanruo October 25, 2021
Great recipe! Like all ragùs it is a labor of love and makes your house smell amazing. It's also forgiving to substitutions! Mine were: onion and celery instead of leek and fennel, rosé wine instead of white, Better than Bouillon roasted chicken stock base. I am just realizing now that I never added the butter at the end — we didn't miss it! This makes enough for two meals for two people plus leftovers for one lunch. We ate one meal with fresh pappardelle and one with dried mafaldine, both were excellent vehicles for the ragù.
Asha L. November 24, 2021
Totally agree with ragùs being flexy! Love all your subs. Better than Bouillon Vegetable Base is a staple in my kitchen :) I ate this with polenta one night and it was amazing.
Terri October 17, 2021
I cooked this for my husband and kids. We enjoyed this hearty recipe on a fall evening. The parsley and lemon garnish was a nice finish to the flavors. I also added only 12 oz of noodles, in my opinion this ratio was good. A full pound of noodles would have been too much. Thanks for a great recipe.
Asha L. November 24, 2021
Yay! I am so happy your family enjoyed this recipe. When I was testing this, I also served it over polenta and it was delish!
La B. October 14, 2021
Yum! Just made this using ground turkey. My stove runs super hot, so added a bit more chicken stock as it reduced quickly. Added all the reserved pasta water at end, and kept 1/4 of the egg noodles out as we like saucy sauce. Earthy saffron flavor with a bit of heat from chili flakes...we did sprinkle a bit of cheese on top;)
Asha L. November 24, 2021
I'm so happy you liked it! And, definitely here for anyone who wants to add cheese :) A snowdrift of cheese is always welcome on my bowl of pasta. I also love this on top of polenta!
Karen F. October 10, 2021
I made this last night. While the photo shows the ragu on top of the pappardelle, the recipe calls for the al dente pasta to be put into the ragu with some of the pasta water. Not good. It turned into a sloppy, unappetizing mess. Flavors were OK, but I won't make again based up the reception it got. Also, why no cheese? It was begging for a sprinkle of cheese.... and - nowhere in the recipe does it call for the cubed butter that's in the ingredients list.