Last month, incredibly important research was undertaken in Manchester, UK, where four scratch cooks competed in a dramatic cook off to answer the question that the nation has been asking for centuries: what is the best spag bol recipe?
The competition, of course, was fierce. Who had the magic secret ingredient that elevated their spag bol above the rest? In such a tense environment with secret ingredients being openly shared, the contestants competed to impress The Hairy Bikers, Britain’s TV chef duo and cooking aficionados.
What would be the winning secret ingredient? Would it be the out-of-left-field peach chutney? Perhaps the balsamic vinegar, or maybe even the dramatic ancho chillies? Maybe even the spag bol with SARDINES added in?
With such diversity in taste, texture, and spice, it must have been incredibly hard for our brave judges to decide upon a winner but after some gruelling taste tests, decided they did.
The secret ingredient that elevates spaghetti bolognese
The winning ingredient was... honey! Winner Jonathan Wood brought the honey directly from his local beekeeper and revealed at the cook-off that it is the key to harnessing that extra flavour kick.
Following the competition, Wood said: “To win Britain’s Best Spag Bol is absolutely amazing. My recipe boasts a rich sauce with tomatoes, herbs and caramelised beef. Sweetened with my secret ingredient, honey, the richness of the sauce is lightened by the acidity of sherry vinegar, smoked paprika and a little spice from a couple of drops of hot sauce.”
Adding, “My tip for fellow spaghetti enthusiasts is to get the best ingredients you can afford, take your time, season it well and of course, use a Knorr beef stock pot.”
What an achievement. Of course, as a nation, we will continue to insist that the best spag bol recipe is in fact the one made by our mothers because it is tradition but officially, we have a winner.
The best spag bol recipe
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
450g lean mince beef
1 Knorr beef stock pot
1/2 red pepper
1/2 medium courgette
1 1/2 sticks of celery
2 1/2 garlic cloves
Medium glass of Italian red wine (optional)
300g quality chopped tomatoes
Approx. 8 cherry tomatoes
Tomato puree (a small squeeze)
1 tablespoon of honey, tip: Use organic or local honey for a deeper flavour
Glug of Worcestershire sauce
A few drops of Tabasco Sauce
Pinch of smoked paprika
Dash of sherry vinegar
Ground black pepper to taste
Sea salt to taste
1/2 tsp Italian mixed herbs
1 tsp Oregano
1/2 tsp Tarragon
0.75 tsp Fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp Fresh parsley
1-2 medium fresh sage leaves
1 fresh bay leaf
4-5 fresh basil leaves plus extra to garnish
Heat a large saucepan and add a good splash of olive oil. Add the chopped onions and start to sweat down. Then add chopped celery and chopped carrots to make a soffritto. Gently cook the sofrito on a medium heat with 1 crushed clove of garlic, make sure not to colour. Set aside the sofrito on a plate.
Increase the heat of the saucepan and add a splash of olive oil. When hot add the minced beef, add in two batches if needed. Fry the mince until it starts to caramelise and brown, this will add great depth of flavour to the finished dish. Season with salt and plenty of grinds of black pepper.
Add the remaining crushed garlic cloves, a good glug of Worcestershire sauce, the finely chopped fresh rosemary, half ripped bay leaf, dried oregano and start to mix together.
Once browned, add the tomato puree, and cook off for a few minutes.
Add 500ml of boiling water to the Knorr stock pot in a measuring jug and whisk to dissolve.
Add the red wine to the now browned mince, stir and reduce by a half. (Optional)
Add the chopped courgettes and the chopped red pepper, stir well and cook for a few minutes. Add the soffritto back to the saucepan.
Pour the chopped tomatoes into the saucepan and add 200ml of the beef stock, stirring well. Add the chopped cherry tomatoes, half bay leaf and remaining herbs (dried tarragon, Italian mixed and chopped sage leaves). Check the seasoning, stir well and bring to a steady simmer on a low heat.
Allow the sauce to slowly come together, add the chopped parsley and more of the beef stock to keep building the flavours and making the sauce smooth.
Whilst the sauce is cooking, get a large pan of water to boil. Season water with a good amount of salt. Keep the lid on the pan so it’s ready to use to cook the spaghetti.
Now it’s time to add the final ingredients to the Bolognese sauce. A sprinkle of smoked paprika, the honey and ripped fresh basil leaves. Mix together.
Add a few drops of Tabasco sauce and a splash of the Sherry vinegar, giving a kick to cut through the now rich sauce. Stir, taste and add more if needed.
Leave to simmer and add more stock if needed to maintain the required sauce consistency.
Add spaghetti to the pan and cook for 8-10 minutes until al dente. Check pasta is cooked and drain in a colander, rinse the pasta with boiling water to remove excess starches. Return to the pan and add olive oil, this will allow the spaghetti not to stick and keep hot while you prepare the serve.
Prepare some Parmesan shavings and pick some fresh basil leaves.
Warm the plates or bowls, add the spaghetti in a spiral, top with the Bolognese sauce and finish with shavings of Parmesan and fresh basil leaves.
Optional: Serve with a garden house salad and ciabatta bruschetta slices.
That’s dinner sorted.