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Old 08-03-2009, 04:52 PM   #1
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Please help me make my beef tacos beefier

Hi everybody!
I'd love some opinions and advice on a recipe I'm working on. I'm striving for a great-tasting taco filling made from lean ground beef, spices, and aromatics. I do like the americanized highly spiced ground beef like you'd get from a packet of ortega seasoning or the like, but I want to make it myself with quality spices, less salt, onion, and tomato sauce.
Here's where I'm at right now:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped small
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon dried mexican oregano
teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt
1 lb. 90% lean ground beef (or leaner)
cup tomato sauce
cup water
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons vinegar (preferably cider vinegar)
ground black pepper

I started with the Cooks Illustrated beef taco recipe and have made many modifications, but the method I use is still theirs, so I can't post it here. Basically it goes like this: cook the onion until translucent, add the spices and cook briefly until fragrant, add the beef and cook until browned, add the remaining ingredients and simmer until thickened, around 10 minutes. Adjust salt, assemble tacos, grab cold beer, enjoy.

I feel like the recipe is really close, but it's missing a bottom note, if that makes any sense. It doesn't have a deep beefy flavor and I'm not sure how to get it. I want a recipe that works with lean ground beef, so a fattier cut isn't an option. I also don't want to use bullion or anything with tons of salt or artificial ingredients.

What do you think? Any ideas or suggestions? Your help is greatly appreciated.

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Old 08-03-2009, 05:28 PM   #2
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I know what you mean by a bottom note.

I'd brown the beef separately over high heat until it's a rich dark brown, not just gray. Then combine it with the separately cooked onions and spices. A higher fat content beef would help as well (say 80%-85%)

Also, you could try beef broth in place of water.
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Old 08-03-2009, 06:16 PM   #3
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It sounds great! When I make a beef dish and want a deeper beef flavor, I use beef broth and reduce it. I do that especially when making a bolognese sauce. Get a reduced sodium version if you are going to further reduce it.
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Old 08-03-2009, 09:57 PM   #4
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Add a teaspoon of beef base, or beef bullion powder or a bullion cube. I think you are looking for the umami... the savory.
Personally, I would add more chili powder too.

The vinegar is an interesting ingredient. I might have to give that a try next time
it is Taco Time here!
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Old 08-04-2009, 05:09 AM   #5
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Looks very similar to what I use, except I would add a organic stock cube (beef) or homemade stock, and I use balsamic vinigar in mine. I use the same spices, but in different proportions (more chili powder, less cumin).

I also cook mine in my slow cooker for hours, and hours, and ..... well, you get the picture.

I have to use regular oregano, as I can't find a supplier of mexican oregano in the UK. I wanted to get hold of some seeds and grow it myself, but they just don't appear to be available here in the UK
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Old 08-04-2009, 09:51 AM   #6
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This is very unorthodox (particularly for a Mexican-style dish) but I recommend browning the meat with about a tablespoon per pound of Worcestershire sauce. That sauce just has a knack for bringing out the "meaty" flavor of ground beef and ground pork.
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Old 08-04-2009, 09:54 AM   #7
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That sauce just has a knack for bringing out the "meaty" flavor of ground beef and ground pork.
Because of the glutimates (sorry MC, I couldn't resist ).

Seriously though, MC is onto something here. while it is not traditional, it will certainly bring out the meatiness.

I also like GF's idea of using a little beef base. Just be careful of that though, because while a little would be good, too much would make the dish too salty.
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Old 08-04-2009, 09:55 AM   #8
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Because of the glutimates (sorry MC, I couldn't resist ).

Seriously though, MC is onto something here. while it is not traditional, it will certainly bring out the meatiness.

...as will Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce.
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Old 08-04-2009, 09:56 AM   #9
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...as will Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce.
The quote was about Worcestershire sauce, but yes soy sauce would do the same thing. Good call Andy.
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Old 08-04-2009, 09:59 AM   #10
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Ooops. Time to brush up on my reading comprehension. Sorry guys.
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Old 08-04-2009, 10:01 AM   #11
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Its OK Andy. We won't beat you too much this time around.
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Old 08-04-2009, 10:11 AM   #12
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Quote:
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The quote was about Worcestershire sauce, but yes soy sauce would do the same thing. Good call Andy.

As will fish sauce. Or miso for that matter.
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Old 08-04-2009, 10:14 AM   #13
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How about Ac'cent?
;p
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Old 08-04-2009, 10:37 AM   #14
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As will fish sauce. Or miso for that matter.
Fish sauce?

Never would have thought of that in a red meat preparation. Might have to try it sometime...
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Old 08-04-2009, 11:53 AM   #15
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Wow, thank you for the replies! You guys rock! This gives me loads of ideas to try.
Andy M's post knocked loose a hazy memory of a ground beef technique I read about somewhere, though I can't remember where, in which ground beef is put into the pan and then sort of left alone for a few minutes to develop a dark brown color. That may be worth a try. This post also made me realize that the moisture from the onions was probably inhibiting true browning. So, I think I'll either try cooking the onions in a separate pan, or cook them first, set them aside, wipe out the pan, and then add the beef to cut down on dirty dishes.
The rest of the posts gave me a lot to think about along the lines of additional ingredients to add to coax out that beefy flavor. I would have never thought of worcestershire sauce! But that's a good idea and something I always have on hand. I think I may try that first, as I don't normally keep beef base or bullion on hand. If the worcestershire sauce doesn't work, I think my next step would be beef broth. I like the idea of reducing it, too! I could do a reduction and then freeze it by the tablespoon to use as needed.
I'm also going to up the chili powder a bit. The original CI recipe had a ton of chili powder in it, to the point where it tasted like thick, beanless chili to me. I may have gone too far in the opposite direction when modifying the recipe. I'll try 2 tsp next time and see how that works.

Thank you all again for your suggestions! I'll let you know how it turns out!

JJSH - I got my mexican oregano from Penzeys Spices (sorry, I'm not allowed to post links yet). I know they ship internationally, but they may charge dearly for it. Might be worth looking into though?
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Old 08-04-2009, 12:03 PM   #16
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I'm not an expert on Mexican cooking, but have thought about cooking a good beef roast and slicing it very thin for your burrito? I'm talking about a roast that your sear until there are brown goodies in the bottom of your pan, and then add beef broth, cover, and simmer until done. You could rub the roast with chili powder and cumin (+S&P) before cooking.
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Old 08-04-2009, 12:49 PM   #17
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I'm also going to up the chili powder a bit.
*warning - personal pet peeve alert*

I never use pre-mixed chili powder. The flavors of virtually every pre-mix I've tried taste muddled, stale, and old to me.

I prefer using the base components of the chili powder as separate additions to the dish. You'll notice that the recipe you posted has additional cumin powder in it - that's because chili powder, while having cumin as a main component, almost never has ENOUGH - so correction is necesssary...

I say, why bother correcting someone else's failed mix? Add cumin (toasting and grinding your own seed = YUM!), cayenne pepper (or whatever ground pepper you prefer - I grow my own habanero and cayenne and grind them together), oregano (or marjoram, or even cilantro - you may like that flavor better), and garlic (fresh > powder in anything that isn't a rub...)

/end rant.
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Old 08-04-2009, 01:17 PM   #18
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LOL - sorry I touched a nerve! But I appreciate the info on making your own chili powder. I always knew it was a blend, but didn't realize that people made their own until just a few days ago, coincidentally, when I was looking through Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, which I recently checked out from the library. He's got a recipe for making your own chili powder in there that includes ancho chiles, black peppercorns, and coriander in addition to what you mentioned. I'm trying not to kill a tomato plant in my "garden" this year, as I have a bit of a brown thumb apparently, but if it goes well, I might try raising some chiles next year to dry and grind myself. Especially since my husband loves mexican/tex-mex foods!
For now, the chili powder I use is from The Fresh Market, and I think it's actually really delicious. Very pungent. I love their cumin too. But, I bet it won't hold a candle to making my own. :)
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Old 08-04-2009, 01:19 PM   #19
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Constance - that sounds delicious. I definitely want to expand my repertoire to include more pork, more chicken, and sliced or pulled beef dishes too.
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Old 08-04-2009, 01:47 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Constance View Post
I'm not an expert on Mexican cooking, but have thought about cooking a good beef roast and slicing it very thin for your burrito? I'm talking about a roast that your sear until there are brown goodies in the bottom of your pan, and then add beef broth, cover, and simmer until done. You could rub the roast with chili powder and cumin (+S&P) before cooking.
Yeah, this works well.
Cut your beef into little chunks, remove most of the fat. Season as you wish... I like to coat the meat with (egads) taco seasoning!
Brown quickly, reduce heat, add a bit of liquid (i like dark beer), toss in a couple garlic cloves, onion and a seeded, cut jalapeno.
Reduce heat and braise until the meat is nice and tender.
Remove the garlic, onion and jalapeno. Chop or toss, take your pick. I chop it well, and return it to the pot.

Reduce that liquid in the pot and thicken. I use a seasoned flour mixture in a bit of water. Makes a great sauce!
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