The Simple Ingredient That Beefs Up Pasta Sauce Without Added Meat

Are you eager to pump up the meaty flavor of your pasta sauce without adding a bunch of extra meat? Or maybe you just want to give your sauce a bit of a meat vibe without actually using any? If you want a sauce that has a super beefed up taste without making it so chunky and thick that a fork can stand up in it, this is the culinary trick for you. And it couldn't be simpler — all you need is some beef bouillon.

Think of it like adding a meat seasoning. Bouillon adds savoriness without changing the consistency, so it won't make your sauce any thicker. Even better, by using beef bouillon in powder form (instead of the cubes), you can have complete control over how much you add without having to crush it up or worry that it will melt unevenly — potentially leaving a chunk of the stuff in a single bite. But either one will work, so it's fine to go with whatever you already have in your cupboard.

Bouillon adds umami to your pasta sauce

There are some cooks who look down on bouillon as lazy or even inferior. And it might seem a little strange to wield it as a seasoning instead of using it to make broth as it's technically intended. But it's actually a common technique for a lot of people, even chefs. "Bouillon cubes have so much umami in them," Chef Aretah Ettarh of Gramercy Tavern in New York said in Food & Wine, adding,"They're filled with a deep, rich taste that really amplifies whatever you're trying to make."

And of course, the same pertains to bouillon powder from a jar — making either one the perfect ingredient to sneak in. The combination of umami and extra savory beef flavor will give your pasta sauce an incredible depth. This is largely due to the dehydrated beef stock, but also other ingredients such as powdered carrots, onions, and garlic. Some brands use yeast extract for its nuttiness (and yes, umami), while others incorporate beef fat and dehydrated cooked beef to amp up the bovine intensity.

Tips for how to use bouillon in your pasta sauce

Since you're using it as a seasoning for a simple tomato sauce and not as part of a broth, you can add the bouillon cubes or powder at the same time that you add the rest of your herbs, spices, or wine, after any vegetables have had some time cook down. You can just plop them directly into the red sauce and stir along with the other seasonings before adding any browned and drained meat. If you've used ground beef with a leaner meat-to-fat ratio and prefer not to drain it in order to reserve the fat's flavor, then you can add the bouillon directly to the meat as it browns.

It's important to remember that bouillon is a strong, concentrated flavor with quite a bit of sodium in it. So you don't want to go overboard and add too much. One cube or 1 tablespoon of bouillon powder is plenty for a small batch of pasta sauce. For an extra large batch where you will be freezing some for later, you may want to triple that. Just use your best judgment and remember, you can always add more to taste, but you can't remove it once it's been added to the pot. A little goes a long way — making this simple ingredient perfect for enhancing the beefy taste of pasta sauce.