Recipe: The Best Ground Turkey Meat Sauce

Recipe: The Best Ground Turkey Meat Sauce

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Kelli Foster
May 10, 2018
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

Step away from any thoughts you have of bland and boring ground turkey right now, because that is not the case here. Not even close. Akin to a restaurant-style bolognese, this slow-simmered sauce makes a pack of ground turkey shine in ways you probably didn't think it was capable of.

Between the full, rich flavor and mellow, velvety texture that perfectly clings to each strand of spaghetti, this is the turkey meat sauce I've been after for years — and I can't wait for you to try it!

The Secrets to the Best Turkey Meat Sauce

Because ground turkey is so low in fat, it's not a meat with a reputation for flavor, nor is it very juicy. So to make it shine, as it does here, it needs a little help, which comes in the form of pancetta, milk, and white wine.

The best turkey meat sauce starts by rendering the fat from small bits of pancetta. Extra fat gives the sauce body and a richness you simply cannot get from turkey alone. It adds flavor without being assertive and overpowering (the way the smoky flavor of bacon would). And while any type of wine can be used to make a meat sauce, this version benefits from a crisp white over a bold red (which has a tendency to overpower turkey).

A Note on Skipping the Pancetta

If you're not eating pork, you can still make this sauce without including the pancetta. The sauce will have a little less body and be a touch less rich. To be sure, it's still an upgrade from most standard turkey meat sauces.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

The Best Ground Turkey Meat Sauce

Serves 4

  • 1 tablespoon

    olive oil

  • 4 ounces

    pancetta, diced

  • 1 small

    yellow onion, finely diced

  • 1 medium

    carrot, peeled and finely diced

  • 2 stalks

    celery, finely diced

  • 2 cloves

    garlic, minced

  • 1 pound

    ground turkey, dark meat preferred

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon

    dried oregano

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    ground nutmeg

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 cup

    whole or 2% milk

  • 1 cup

    dry white wine

  • 1 (28-ounce) can

    crushed tomatoes

  • 1 cup

    low-sodium chicken broth

  • 1/2 cup

    finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

  • Cooked spaghetti, for serving

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the pancetta, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally until the fat from the pancetta is rendered and the vegetables are soft, about 8 minutes.

Add the turkey, salt, oregano, nutmeg, and pepper. Break up the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, and cook until browned and no longer pink in the middle, 6 to 8 minutes.

Pour in the milk and bring to a rapid simmer. Continue simmering until the milk has almost completely reduced and very little liquid remains, about 10 minutes. Stir in the wine and simmer again until reduced completely, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes and broth. Reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, at a low simmer for 1 hour. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan. Serve over spaghetti.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The sauce can be made a day in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Storage: Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for 3 months.

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