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How-To

A Concassée Makes Tomatoes Recipe-Ready

Fine Cooking Issue 40
Photos: Judi Rutz
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You may have made a tomato concassée without realizing it. A term that’s bandied about in cooking schools and some professional kitchens, tomato concassée is essentially shorthand for the line in a recipe that says “tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped.”

But even if you don’t use the word concassée—it’s pronounced kohn-kah-SAY and literally means “broken apart”—it’s helpful to know the best way to prepare this useful ingredient.

Use tomato concassée raw, or cook it for a more intense flavor. Raw concassée is the main ingredient for Mexican salsa. Seasoned with lemon juice or vinegar and flavored with basil, it makes a great topping for bruschetta or grilled chicken or fish. I also like to add it at the last minute to sauces for extra body, texture, and acidity.

Cooking tomato concassée concentrates the tomato’s juices and intensifies the flavor. Instructions for cooking tomato concassée often say to cook the chopped tomatoes until their liquid has evaporated, but this turns the tomato flesh to mush. Instead, I’ve developed a technique that gives me the same concentrated flavor yet preserves much of the texture and freshness of the tomato flesh.

If my tomatoes are truly fabulous, I simply add a little salt and pepper, and at times some extra-virgin olive oil and chopped basil, to the cooked concassée before tossing it with pasta. If your tomatoes are less than perfect, give them a flavor boost by sweating some onions and garlic in olive oil before adding the raw tomatoes to the pan.  If you have an abundance of tomatoes, you can make a lot of this basic fresh tomato sauce and freeze it.

Here are some tips for making the best tomato concassée:

Use the most flavorful tomatoes you can find. Because a concassée is all about the tomatoes, the tomatoes need to be bursting with flavor. Out of season, plum tomatoes—which have a nice, meaty texture—are your best bet. But when tomatoes are in season, just look for whatever’s best. Choose tomatoes that feel heavy for their size, and, ideally, smell like a tomato, feel slightly sticky, and have part of the stem still attached. They don’t have to be red; orange and yellow tomatoes make a slightly sweeter concassée with a pretty hue.

Blanch tomatoes for easy peeling. Peeling tomatoes isn’t something I bother with unless absolutely necessary. For concassée—especially cooked concassée—it is. If you leave the skin on, it ends up as little curls floating in the sauce. Peeling also improves the texture of less than perfect tomatoes.

Blanching tomatoes—submerging them briefly in boiling water and then shocking them with cold water—loosens their skins and makes them much easier to peel. To keep tomatoes from getting waterlogged, I don’t core them until after blanching. For the same reason, I don’t bother to score the bottom of the tomato, as you see in some recipes.

If I’m blanching just a couple of tomatoes, I simply run them under cold water after scooping them out of the boiling water. But a large bowl of ice water near the boiling water is handy for cooling a few tomatoes quickly at one time. If I’m blanching many tomatoes, I do them in batches—so they’re only in the hot water for 15-seconds—or some may boil for too long while I’m retrieving others.

Blanch tomatoes to loosen their skins for easy peeling

Plunge the tomatoes into boiling water and then shock them in cold. Boil ripe tomatoes for 15 seconds; underripe for 30.
Core the tomatoes after blanching. The hole left by the stem will give you a place to start peeling the skin. Peel off the skin with your fingers, or by pinching it between your thumb and a paring knife and pulling it off in strips.

Seed and chop to the consistency you like

Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise and squeeze out the seeds. Don’t squash the tomato; if the seeds are stubborn, use your fingers to pull them out.
Slice and then chop the tomatoes to the size you want. You’ve now got raw tomato concassée—great for bruschetta.

Cook the juices separately to intensify flavor

Bring the tomatoes to a simmer in a wide pan, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until they release most of their liquid but haven’t lost their shape, about 5 minutes. Strain the juices into a saucepan, reserving the flesh.
Boil the juices until concentrated in color and flavor and reduced by two-thirds. Recombine the juices with the tomato flesh.

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