Caramelizing Tomato Paste: A Time-Bending Chef Trick
Long cooking times let tomato sugars enrich the flavors of any dish, but if you can’t wait for that, caramelizing tomato paste is the perfect cheffy way to let those flavors sing in a fraction of the time.
When making a tomato based sauce or other dish like a soup or stew, cook tomato paste in the bottom of your pot or pan in a drizzle of olive oil until it smells rich and fragrant and loses that fresh tomato-y tang. Make sure to keep it moving with a spatula and not to burn it, so pay attention to the tomato paste as you work with it.
Then add your aromatics like onion and garlic (or a chopped shallot - mmm!) so they can cook down and caramelize in the tomato paste. Add some Kosher salt and pepper during this step to speed up the process. The salt draws out moisture from the onions and garlic and makes the mixture like a magic aromatic tomato jam. It’s heaven.
Add the rest of your ingredients and cook as normal.
This will make your dish so much richer and you’ll swear it was cooking for HOURS vs. less than that. (Another way you can make your sauce taste like it was cooking for a loooooong time is to use oven-roasted tomatoes, but then it might be TOO good.)
Also, it’s worth it to look for tomato paste that comes packaged in a tube. This style of packaging keeps it much fresher than the stuff that comes in a can because you can screw the cap back on, and it’s much easier to just squeeze it into your dish. Also it saves you from dirtying a can opener and a spoon.