The Extra Ingredient That Takes Taco Meat To New Levels

taco night spread with bowl of ground taco meat
taco night spread with bowl of ground taco meat - Lanasweet/Getty Images

Taco night is an indisputable favorite for weeknight meals, whether you like to make it all from scratch or reach for the approachable taco kit at the grocery store. But one element of taco night that is entirely up to you to create from scratch is the meat. And seeing as it's the main protein source and star of the meal, it's important you make it flavorful and switch it up every once in a while.

One surprising ingredient that can elevate your taco meat in both taste and texture is an easy and perhaps unexpected addition: tomato paste. Just a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste adds a slight acidic pop to the meat, livening up what can otherwise become overwhelmingly savory meat from typical taco seasonings like cumin or chili powder. But the tomato paste also creates a bit of a saucy texture, acting as a binding ingredient for the taco seasonings.

Read more: 14 Liquids To Add To Scrambled Eggs (And What They Do)

Tips For Using Tomato Paste For Your Next Taco Night

tomato paste in spoon and bowl
tomato paste in spoon and bowl - Mescioglu/Getty Images

If you're skeptical about adding too much of a tomato-y taste to your taco meat, don't fret. Following the famous "less is more" cooking philosophy here is best, starting with 2 tablespoons and add more if you deem it necessary. But timing matters as well. Let the taco meat brown up a bit in the pan first, and then add in the tomato paste alongside your seasonings, whether using individual ground seasonings or a pre-packaged mix. The seasonings will blend together with the tomato paste as you stir. Just allow the tomato paste enough time to cook down, and you'll be left with an umami-rich, lighter tomato flavor instead of an overpowering one.

To help with texture, one Reddit commenter suggests adding water to thin out the tomato paste a bit so it doesn't turn clumpy. Adding a splash of water is also essential when using seasoning packets. These pre-packaged seasonings often contain corn starch, so a splash of water will help emulsify it, making for a thick seasoned sauce that evenly coats all the meat. And you don't have to just use your tomato paste-seasoned taco meat in traditional tacos. Reuse any leftover meat in a taco salad, with a bowl of pasta, or in a ground beef stuffed taco pepper recipe.

Umami-Rich Pathways To Unbeatable Taco Meat

ground beef in skillet, wooden spoon
ground beef in skillet, wooden spoon - Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock

Consider the components and steps when making a bowl of chili. Cooking down the tomato paste to a deep brown hue helps intensify the paste's savory flavors, which pairs deliciously with your caramelized ground meat. The same principle applies here! Tomato paste combined with the browned taco meat will create a mingling of unbeatable umami flavor, undoubtedly upgrading your typical taco night. But if you crave even more interesting, umami-rich flavor, there are some other ingredients you can experiment with as well.

One rich ingredient for great homemade taco seasoning is cocoa powder. The earthy, bitter powder usually found in baked goods unlocks a surprisingly complex flavor when combined with the rest of your typical taco seasonings. When added to the richness of tomato paste, this is a tasty duo that can make your taco night turn out truly gourmet. Take your time cooking down the tomato paste to unlock the most flavor, and your taco meat will have everyone asking for seconds.

Read the original article on The Daily Meal