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Smoky Chicken Ragu with Mezcal, Chiles and Olives

Mezcal accents smoky chiles in this rich ragu.

At Italian restaurant Don Angie in New York City’s West Village, the nightly staff meal tends to be a rich and comforting dish. Owners Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli decided to adapt one of the staff favorites for their new book, Italian American: Red Sauce Classics and New Essentials, written with Jamie Feldmar, to create a smoky chicken ragu. “We wanted to enhance the smokiness of the chiles with mezcal, but not overwhelmingly so, so we rely on lightly smoked morita chiles here,” the duo writes. “This sauce comes together quickly but packs a lot of punch. It’s full of smoky, comforting flavors, but still feels light enough to not knock you out for the rest of the night.”


  • 1⁄4 cup neutral oil, such as vegetable
  • 2 1⁄2 lbs. bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 6 large celery ribs, roughly chopped
  • 1 head garlic, halved horizontally
  • 1⁄2 fennel bulb, roughly chopped
  • 1 1⁄2 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 5 sprigs cilantro
  • 6 morita chiles, broken into halves (see note)
  • 1⁄2 cup tomato paste
  • 1⁄4 cup mezcal
  • 6 cups chicken stock, unsalted store-bought or homemade
  • 1 cup meaty green olives, such as Cerignola, crushed and pitted
  • Tools:dutch oven, large bowl, fine-mesh sieve, pot


In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over high heat until nearly smoking. Pat the chicken thighs dry and season all over with the salt. Add the chicken to the pot, skin-side down, carefully placing the thighs in one by one (work in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding). Reduce the heat to medium-high and sear the chicken until the skin is deep golden brown (do not flip it), 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the chicken and set aside in a large bowl. Do not drain the oil from the pot. Add the onion, celery, garlic, fennel, peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, cilantro, and chiles to the pot and cook over medium heat until the vegetables brown, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and cook for another minute, stirring often. Add the mezcal and stir. Cook until all the liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes. Return the chicken and any juices to the pot and add the chicken stock. Increase the heat to high and bring almost to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is very tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from the heat. Remove the chicken and set aside until cool enough to handle. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean pot (discard the vegetables, herbs, and spices). Set aside.

Pick the chicken into small pieces, discarding the bones and skin. Add the picked chicken to the pot with the strained cooking liquid. Set over high heat and cook, stirring continually, to reduce and concentrate the liquid, until it coats the back of a spoon, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the olives and stir well to combine. The sauce is ready to be used at this point, or it can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

To serve with pasta: In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water and 1⁄2 cup of kosher salt to a boil over high heat. Add 1 pound of short pasta, such as orecchiette or capunti, and cook according to the package directions. Drain and add the cooked pasta to the pot with the ragu. Add 1⁄2 cup of finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, 2 Tbsp. of fresh lemon juice, and 2 Tbsp. of unsalted butter, and stir well until creamy. Serve in individual bowls or on a platter and top with 1⁄2 cup of crumbled goat cheese, 1⁄4 cup of toasted pine nuts, and 1⁄4 cup of cilantro. Leftovers keep, tightly covered in the refrigerator, for up to 2 days.

Note: Moritas are 3- to 5-inch medium-hot red jalapeño peppers that have been dried and only lightly smoked, leaving them somewhat soft and fruity. If you can’t find them, substitute dried or canned chipotle peppers, but use only half the amount (3 chipotles).

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