Meet the new Bolognese on the block that not only boasts big, full bodied flavor but also is quick on cooking time (under an hour!) compared to a traditional Bolognese sauce recipe. White bolognese with chicken manages to be rich, tender and meaty thanks to using ground chicken thighs while skipping tomatoes, heavy cream or whole milk. A pasta meat sauce recipe the whole family will crave on repeat!
I have to admit that when I first conceptualized this twist on a classic Bolognese recipe, I wasn’t prepared to like it so much. Scratch that…love it so much. Since my red Bolognese recipe has become one of my all-time favorite pasta sauces, I couldn’t imagine a simple white Bolognese with chicken passing it up.
Boy, was I wrong. Maybe it’s the way the fresh herbs marry with the white wine and help flavor pound the chicken? Or maybe it’s the whole garlic cloves that season the sauce as the parmesan rind works its magic?
It all just…works.
Red or white bolognese?
How they’re different
So what makes white Bolognese meat sauce different from red Bolognese sauce?
If it already occurred to you that white Bolognese doesn’t have tomatoes in it, you’re on your way to being called a meat sauce maestro! White Bolognese sauce has no tomatoes of any kind in it, whether they’re San Marzano tomatoes, tomato paste or a passata.
The second main difference is the type of ground meat. This white Bolognese sauce recipe is made with chicken instead of beef and pork. More on that below.
And the last difference lies in the cooking time. A standard red Bolognese earns its famed-flavor from gently bubbling away on the stove for hours. This version cooks in about 1/3 the time making it a great weeknight comfort food recipe when the whole family is home.
How they’re the same
Ironically, you’d think that a white Bolognese would have white wine and a classic tomato Bolognese would have red wine, right? Nope, they’ve each got white wine in their ingredient list.
White wine adds more of a delicate flavor to both meat sauces and would force a name change from white Bolognese to pink Bolognese (future recipe idea?🤔)
Keeping things simple with the ingredients because less can definitely be more and that’s the way I like to cook. Fresh, simple and good.
Ground dark meat. If you’ve peeked at my chicken parm meatball post (or better yet —made the unbelievably tender meatballs), you’ll remember I’ve talked about why I love using ground dark meat. Head to your favorite butcher counter and ask them to grind up some chicken thighs instead of buying a packed of already ground chicken. It’s fresher and guaranteed to result in a moister chicken bolognese sauce.
Pork. Present in both ground pork and some diced pancetta both which pack big flavor and a salty touch.
Fresh herbs. It might sound like a Thanksgiving lineup or the lyrics to a Simon and Garfunkel song but fresh parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme make the sauce sing.
Holy Trinity. Just like in our classic Bolognese, you’ll chop up some carrots, celery and onion. Also called a mirepoix by the French (you can find pre-chopped packaged offerings at Trader Joe’s or even Walmart in their grocery sections).
Parmesan rind. When you’re cutting or grating parmesan cheese, trim the tough yellow rind (if it’s Parmigiano Reggiano) into big pieces and save them! Toss a piece into the chicken Bolognese recipe while it simmers to thicken and to add amazing umami flavor. Great for broth based soups (like this super yummy and easy tortellini soup) too!
Whole garlic clove. Drop in a whole garlic clove to bathe in the meat sauce and conjure up a sweet hint of garlicky flavor.
How to make chicken bolognese sauce
Favorite pasta shapes for Bolognese
My favorite and the most classic pasta shape for Bolognese sauce is pappardelle. Pappardelle is a wide, flat egg noodle with a delicate bite and is perfect for holding the small pieces of chopped meat you’ll find in Bolognese.
Other pasta shapes worth trying:
Storage, reheating and freezer tips
Storage. Refrigerate any leftovers in a resealable container or bag for up to 3 days.
Reheating. Heat leftovers in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until warmed through. Add water or a little butter as needed to loosen the sauce and get things going.
Freeze. White Bolognese sauce(separate from pasta) can be frozen in a freezer-safe container or bag for up to 3 months. Defrost in the fridge overnight before reheating per the instructions above.
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White Bolognese with Chicken
- 4 T unsalted butter, divided
- 3 oz pancetta, I use the diced pancetta from Trader Joe’s
- 2 carrots, finely diced
- 2 celery stalks, finely diced
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 lb ground chicken, dark meat if possible
- 1 lb ground pork
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 T flour
- 1 cup white wine, you want it to evaporate completely
- 1 ½ cups chicken broth, more as needed
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 3 leaves fresh sage
- 2 cloves whole garlic, peeled
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese + more
- Heat a large wide Dutch oven over medium heat. Add 2 T of butter and saute the diced pancetta until browned but not charred. (That will affect the flavor of the sauce.)4 T unsalted butter, 3 oz pancetta
- Use a slotted spoon to remove the pancetta to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. Set aside.
- Add the carrots, celery and onion to the pan. Saute the vegetables until cooked and softened a bit for 5-10 min.2 carrots, 2 celery stalks, 1 yellow onion
- Add the ground chicken and the ground pork to the vegetables. Season with the salt and pepper.1 lb ground chicken, 1 lb ground pork, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Using the edge of a wooden spoon, finely mince the meats. Brown (but don't let it get too dark), over medium high heat until cooked about 8 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Add in the cooked pancetta.2 T flour
- Pour in 1 c wine and the nutmeg and cook until the wine evaporates and the meat is almost dry in the pan. This might take 5 minutes or so.1 cup white wine, ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- Add the chicken broth and the herbs along with a whole clove of garlic. Reduce the heat to the lowest of simmers. The Bolognese sauce should barely bubble (but it should bubble.)1 ½ cups chicken broth, 3 sprigs fresh thyme, 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, 3 leaves fresh sage, 2 cloves whole garlic
- Simmer the Bolognese for 30 minutes on the lowest temperature.
- Add pasta water and a pat of butter at the end. Toss with pappardelle and fresh grated parmesan and some fresh herbs on top to finish.2 Tablespoons butter, ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese + more
About Lori Murphy
Lori has over 30 years in the food industry as a marketing strategist, culinary instructor and chef for three kids with discerning palates. As the chief content creator at Josie + Nina, Lori is dedicated to helping home cooks create food memories through fresh ingredients and Italian flavors.