Classic Duck Ragu

4.93 from 13 votes
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Duck ragu on the plate, being eaten
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

I’ve been making a version of this pasta sauce for close to a decade, and in that time I’ve tinkered and refined, simplified and streamlined it to were I finally think I have it where I want it. Sugo d’anatra, or duck ragu, is a classic dish in Italy. Basically it is a long-simmered pasta sauce that is intensely flavorful, so you don’t need a ton to get the flavor punch going on.

There are several important keys to the success of this recipe. First, you need a good sear on the meat. Take your time and get your duck or goose bits good and browned — if you have a thick layer of crusty stuff built up on the bottom of the pan, even better.

I used to do this in the pot I cooked the sauce in, but I find I can do it about as fast and a lot cleaner by roasting all the meat in the oven. This is a must if you are making a big batch, or you will be browning duck legs in a pot for almost two hours.

Second, you want as many ducky elements as you can muster: I use home-rendered duck fat and homemade duck broth to go with the duck meat. Of course if you don’t have these, use olive oil or butter, and chicken broth.

Finally, you need time. You can’t make duck ragu in less than 3 hours, and it’s better if it gets a chance to cook lazily all day. Duck legs, especially wild duck legs (and even moreso wild duck wings!) require time to tenderize. Domesticated birds will need only about 90 minutes to 2 hours.

And, like all stews and long-simmered sauces, this ragu is best the day after it’s made.

Duck ragu on the plate, being eaten
4.93 from 13 votes

Classic Italian Duck Ragu

This is a Sunday supper sort of sauce, something you make when you have time to hang around the house. This makes a decent amount already, but you can double the recipe for either big groups or to eat all week. As for a pasta choice, really anything goes. Wide, flat pappardelle or the slightly narrower tagliatelle are traditional, but I really like this ragu with short shapes like gemelli or cavatelli. Or you could go the gnocchi route, which is what I did here.
Course: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 6 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 15 minutes


  • 3 pounds duck or goose legs and/or wings
  • Salt
  • 1/2 ounce dried mushrooms, broken into pieces
  • 3 tablespoons duck fat, olive oil or butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 celery sticks, minced
  • 2 carrots, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 quart duck or chicken broth
  • 1 quart crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • Grated Pecorino or Pamesan cheese


  • Lay out all the duck legs and wings skin side up on a roasting pan. Sprinkle some salt over them and pop them in the oven. Turn the heat to 400°F. Don't preheat the oven, because you want the fat in the duck to slowly render out. If you happen to be using skinless legs and wings, you will need to coat them all in olive oil before you salt them. Regardless, roast until they are nicely browned, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Meanwhile, soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for 30 minutes, then remove and chop. Strain the mushroom water through a paper towel to remove debris and reserve.
  • When the duck legs have about 15 minutes to go, heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the duck fat. When it melts, add the mushrooms, minced onion, celery and carrot and brown them well. Salt the veggies lightly as they cook. When the vegetables are getting brown, add the tomato paste and mix it in well. Cook the mixture until the tomato paste begins to turn brick red, about 5 minutes.
  • If the duck legs aren't ready, turn the heat off on the Dutch oven. If they are, remove the legs and put them in a bowl or something. If there is a lot of fat in the pan, drain it off. Pour the mushroom water and the white wine into the roasting pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits. Pour this into the pan with the Dutch oven. If the legs aren't ready, hang tight until they are and then do this.
  • Mix the liquid from the roasting pan into the tomato paste-vegetable mixture and bring to a boil. Cook it down by half. Add the duck legs and any juices that have collected in the bowl to the Dutch oven. Cover with the duck broth and the tomato puree, add the bay leaves and oregano and mix well. Bring to a gentle simmer and let this cook for at least 90 minutes. It will look like duck stew at this point, which is good. You want everything to cook down slowly.
  • You're ready when the meat wants to fall off the bones. Fish out all the legs and shred the meat off, then return it to the pot. If the "stew" has cooked down into a nice pasta sauce, you're good to go. If it hasn't, turn the heat up and boil it down until it's as thick as you like. Add salt and black pepper to taste when you are ready to serve. At the last minute, stir in the parsley and you're ready to rock. Grate some cheese over everything at the table.


This sauce will keep a week to 10 days in the fridge and will freeze for a year.


Calories: 519kcal | Carbohydrates: 21g | Protein: 46g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 185mg | Sodium: 1088mg | Potassium: 754mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 4039IU | Vitamin C: 25mg | Calcium: 108mg | Iron: 6mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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  1. If swapping out for elk, what step would be altered? Thanks! Want a more tomatoey sauce as suggested in your venison recipe. Thanks!

    1. Gladstone: It might take a while longer to cook than duck legs. I’d use something like shoulder, shank or neck though.

  2. I’m considering doing this with venison shank or other slow cooker appropriate cut. Any thought on weights as deer bone and duck bone presumably have different weights?

    1. Dave: I’d use at least two deer shanks for this, depending on the size. As many as four if they are small.

  3. Totally can use duck breasts. Just braise and slow cook in wine and herbs of choice. Duck is duck if well roasted. so often breasts are under roasted and come out tough. I bring them home from the restaurant
    , add wine and slow cook for an hour. Eat next day.. win win

  4. This sounds amazing. One question, when do you add in the reserved chopped mushrooms or do you ever? Am I only using the water from them? Thanks!

  5. Tried this yesterday night. I loved it and it was a big hit with the family! So rich and delicious. As a heads up to those who may have had the same problem I did (only one duck) I was able to do this with the one duck I got last season. One carcass for broth, one set of wings and legs, popes nose and some extra fat towards the neck rendered out for the first part of the recipe. And I still have the breasts left over!

    1. Robin: Um, if you want, but this is really a recipe for legs and wings and carcasses, not breasts. Breasts are far better cooked medium-rare like a steak.

  6. I’ve made this several times over the last few years and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever cooked and eaten. First time was with some gifted duck legs, but since that time I’ve done it with chukar legs, and even odd chukar parts when I didn’t have enough for more than a scant appetizer – definitely need to add some fat with chukar and roast time is much shorter. Also need to get back in the duck-goose hunting mode.

    Simple, hearty and rich – I’ve almost always used dried porcini mushrooms, last time I made it with bolete/ porcini mushrooms I foraged and dried while working in NE Yukon territory.

    1. Ive made this three years running. I’m clearing out the freezer to make room for this years ducks and have a hodgepodge
      Of odds and ends. This is the perfect recipe to use it all up including some of the less than prime or skinless ones. I’ve also done goose. My toddlers love it.

      I will say I do hate fishing all those little bones out but I don’t see a way around it. Cost of deliciousness.

  7. Looking to make this recipe after harvesting several pounds of mallard legs. Your recipe calls for white wine where most use red,your preference?how would you describe the difference?

  8. Hank, I plan to make this with snow goose legs this weekend. Any suggestions for what to pair it with (wine or cocktail)?

  9. We’re looking at raising our own ducks (and geese). I think we’ll be using this recipe as one of our go to’s for the duck. And for those spare shoulders of lamb and pork we’ll have from that stock.

    Thanks a lot. The level of detail is really appreciated, and the extra insights and the in recipe tips and pitfalls are a big help.

    Thanks, and really looking forward to some of this with some fat pappardelle.

    We often add in some worcestershire sauce, or mushroom ketchup (with barley) to stews and ragu’s for that big-hug base note of umami. That could be a really good addition here maybe. And I’m tempted to try it with some balsamic too – a little additional acidity can really help highlight tomatoes sweetness.

    Yep. Really looking forward to trying this and riffing on it…

  10. im really enjoying your leg recipes, but starting to end up with ducks with questionable fat. question – how do duck legs taste if i thoroughly skin and de-fat??

    1. Darren: Still good. When deciding whether to skin or not, generally speaking, pintail, green teal, specklebelly geese and wood ducks will almost always have nice fat. Mallards typically do, too. As will any duck eating rice or corn or barley.

  11. is soffritto in Italian. Always onion carrot celery…but never mind how it is called…it is the heart of many great dishes the Italian way! I love the duck ragú ! gx

  12. Hank,

    I notice that you often begin your stew dishes with onions, carrots and celery (quite rightly!) but never refer to these as sofrito (or mirepoix).

    Are these term not used in the U.S.?

    Ward Horack

    1. Ward: Yep. We’re neither French nor Spanish. And besides, mirepoix can be different depending on what recipe it is. Sometimes there are no carrots, sometimes there is extra celery, etc. Only professional cooks here use the term mirepoix, and only Spanish speakers use sofrito.

      1. … and, somewhere in the deepest, darkest swamps of the American south, a Cajun, right now, is scoffing at the idea of CARROTS while he slices up a bell pepper. 🙂

    1. Darren: No. You can’t. Better to use pork shoulder or veal shanks or venison shanks or something else that wants to be cooked long and slow.

  13. Duck fat with duck broth on duck legs. Good lord, I’m pretty sure there’s no chance this recipe couldn’t be amazing. Sadly, duck is a bit hard or expensive (mostly expensive) to come by in LA, but I think I should keep an eye out! Alright, I take that back. I just saw your gnocchi has browned butter and sage in it too. Be right back, going duck hunting…