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Tomato Sauce. . .Or Soup?

By Brian Geiger, contributor

October 8th, 2009

Kitchen Mysteries is a weekly exploration of oddities surrounding cooking and food. They could be recipes that fail when they shouldn't, conflicting advice from different sources, or just plain weirdness. If it happens in a kitchen, and you're not sure why, send a tweet to The Food Geek to find out what's happening.

AprlFin asks via the twitters:

Hi, April,

The major difference between a soup and a sauce is the amount of water content. I checked out your blog entry on The Great Tomato Massacre to get a better idea of what was happening.

In each of the cases, you were on the right basic track. I've noticed with Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone that there are the occasional step that I disagree with, or might add in, and they occasionally seem a bit optimistic with their time estimates. So let's start with your first batch, where you cooked the tomatoes whole to break them down, ran them through the food mill, then cooked some more.

Instead of breaking down the tomatoes whole, I would suggest cutting them in half and seeding them first. This will save your trouble in the food mill, as you won't have nearly as many seeds to contend with. If I knew a way to do the same with concord grapes, fresh grape juice wouldn't be nearly as dangerous as it is. Although that may be why it tastes so good.

The second part of this recipe that will help is to let it reduce a lot more. A whole lot more. Leave it simmering for a few hours to get it to the right consistency if you need to. That will pep up the tomato sauce tremendously.

For the second recipe, I think the biggest problem was that you weren't using the tongs, and you didn't put the tomatoes in cool or ice water before you tried to peel them. That combination would have saved you some grief. But the real problem is pretty much the same as the first recipe: time. Because you have so many tomatoes, there's a lot more volume there. If you're using a tall cooking vessel, you don't have very much surface area for the water to break free through, so it takes longer to reduce. 

I think you would have had the best results if you'd have used the roasted tomatoes from your third batch and turned that into a sauce. I know you'll likely do that in the future, so keep in mind that they should be great. The roasting process took out all of the water early on, which concentrates the flavor. There's probably even some maillard reaction going on there that will help out the flavor as well.

Why is this not a problem with canned tomatoes? Well, a couple of reasons. The first may be if you drain the water from the can and just use the tomatoes. The second may be that you're a little more patient for the rest of the cooking if you've not had to do a bunch of work on the tomatoes already. The third is that the tomatoes, when canned, have some acid added to them for the canning process. That will add a little extra spike that you're missing.

Mostly, though, it's all about the water. Reduce that sauce down and you'll have something much more like the tomato sauce that you're looking for.

posted in: Blogs, food geek, tomato, sauce, fresh, juice, blanch, peel, seed, food mill, grape, concord
Comments (4)

jeannereed writes: I read your recipe about using roma tomatoes to make tomato sauce. You suggested to freeze it after making it. Do you have a recipe that is good for canning tomato sauce? Posted: 6:38 pm on May 14th

TheFoodGeek writes: That's a great tip. Something similar also works well on some fruits for pies, which have pretty much the same problem. Freeze, for example, blueberries, heat in a sauce pan and reduce, and you have a very tasty pie filling base. Posted: 11:10 am on November 2nd

brooksgoode writes: Here's a trick I learned years ago. If you freeze the tomatoes first, just overnight, and then thaw them in a colander, quite a bit of liquid renders off and it's great to add to stocks and such. The tomatoes themselves cook into sauce a lot faster. I also like to toss the thawed tomatoes with oil and spices and slow roast them before I make the sauce. The caramelization from the roasting adds a lot to the sauce's flavor.

Brooks Posted: 9:13 pm on October 18th

AprilFin writes: Thank you so much for the thoughtful answer. This is really helpful. I will make sure fresh tomato sauce is strictly a weekend project from now on! Posted: 8:46 am on October 9th

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