Plum tomatoes (left) are most common for tomato sauce. They have more flesh and fewer seeds, making for a thicker sauce.
Beefsteak tomatoes (right) — also called globe tomatoes or slicing tomatoes — are larger than plum tomatoes, which means less peeling. They are often sold on the vine, but don’t assume that this makes them better quality. A good way to judge a tomato is by its weight relative to its size (the heavier, the better). And, don’t choose tomatoes with ripped skin or bruising.
Heirloom tomatoes (at left) are delicious, but they are also expensive, too expensive to be cooked down into a mushy sauce.
Cherry tomatoes (right) will take forever to peel because they’re so small, and don’t have much flesh anyway.
Before you do anything, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Do not salt your water. If you do, the flesh of the tomatoes will get mealy and start to disintegrate. Then fill a bowl large enough to hold all of the tomatoes with ice water. Now you’re ready to start prep.
Step 1: Cut out the cores of your tomatoes with a paring knife. (pictured top left)
Step 2: Make a small “X” on the bottom of each tomato. This will allow the skin to separate from the flesh. (pictured top right)
Step 3: Plunge the tomatoes in the boiling water for about 30 seconds. Take your tomatoes out of the boiling water IMMEDIATELY when the skin starts to peel away. You don’t want to cook the flesh, you are just trying to loosen the skin. This shouldn’t take more than thirty seconds, and definitely not more than a minute. (pictured center)
Step 4: Immediately put the tomatoes in the ice water bath once they come out of the boiling water. This will stop the cooking process. (pictured bottom left)
Step 5: As soon as the tomatoes are cool (This should take a couple of minutes), gently peel the skin off. (pictured bottom right) This is best done with a paring knife. Don’t leave the tomatoes in the ice water for too long or they’ll start to get water logged, which will dilute the flavor. The skin should come off clean; if bits of flesh are sticking to the skin as you peel, it means your tomatoes are a little bit overcooked. Not a huge deal, but take them out of the boiling water sooner next time.
Step 6: Put the peeled tomatoes in a large bowl and crush them by hand. You don’t need to break them into small pieces; you’re really just breaking the tomatoes open to release the juice. See how much liquid comes out? That will be important later on.
Tomatoes are canned during peak season and ripeness, so they’ll be better than the tasteless, mealy tomatoes that you’ll find during late fall, winter and spring. Stick with those labeled “whole peeled” or “crushed,” as “diced” canned tomatoes tend to have more liquid and won’t give your sauce as much texture. Also, “fire roasted” canned tomatoes are fine, but stay away from those with added flavors, like basil or garlic. Those things are best added fresh.
That’s about four 28-oz cans. If you’re using fresh tomatoes, just weigh them at the grocery store.
The easiest way to roast garlic: Take a whole, unpeeled head, and cut about an inch off the top, exposing the individual cloves. Season with oil, salt and pepper, then wrap tightly in aluminum foil. Roast at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until the cloves are completely soft and slightly brown (you can unwrap the foil to check). Cool for about 10 minutes, then squeeze the soft, almost paste-like cloves out into a small bowl and set it aside.
Don’t stress too much about cutting the vegetables perfectly; you’re going to blend them eventually, anyway. The key is to make them small and uniformly sized so that they cook quickly and evenly.
Mirepoix should be cooked slowly so that the vegetables get super flavorful. In a large sauce pot over low heat, add about two tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add vegetables, and cook just until the vegetables are soft. At this point, the onions should be translucent. Then, add your roasted garlic.
Salt deepens flavor. It doesn’t add new flavors, just brings out flavors that are already there, making food taste more intense. It’s important to add salt as you go, so that you bring out the flavors of every ingredient. Add salt to vegetables while they sweat. Add salt when you pour the wine in. Add salt with the tomatoes.
As a general guideline, add salt 1/4 teaspoon at a time, tasting after every addition and adding more when necessary.
Don’t be afraid of sugar — 1/4 cup of sugar will bring out the natural sweetness of your vegetables. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar right after you’ve sweated your vegetables, then add the rest with your tomatoes.
Add 1/2 a bottle of red wine BEFORE you add the tomatoes. The wine will help neutralize that slightly acidic aftertaste that tomatoes sometimes have.
Because you’re adding wine before any other liquid, it will come to a boil quickly. Let it reduce by about 2/3. This way, you’ll get the sweet flavor of the wine, but the alcohol with have a chance to cook out.
Add your crushed tomatoes, along with the remaining sugar and some more salt. Do NOT puree immediately. Cook for 15 minutes over medium heat, so that the tomatoes are soft.
Because the tomatoes are warm and slightly softened, they will be easier to puree. Puree with an immersion blender, just until all the big pieces of tomato have been broken up. You still want your sauce to be a little bit chunky.
Sear your meat before you add it to the sauce pot.
Don’t add raw meat to your sauce. Searing it first will make it more flavorful. Plus, it’ll cook faster.
Or, add chicken thighs.
Smaller cuts of meat are best, since you want them to finish cooking and braising by the time your sauce is done.
Make sure your chicken gets cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees. Searing thighs, then simmering them for an hour and a half will cook them all the way though and give them a chance to braise and get really tender.
Big-batch tomato sauce is great, but you probably need to store the leftovers in smaller batches. Figure out how much sauce you’ll use at a time — the more people you cook for, the more sauce you’ll need at once — and divide sauce into airtight containers (ball jars, tupperware, etc.) based on that amount. Sauce that you’ll use within a week can be stored in the fridge. Everything else goes in the freezer for up to three months.
Tomato sauce pairs well with pasta and a big pile of cheese.
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