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Chef Essentials: Tomato Sauce

Chef Essentials: Tomato Sauce

The Culinary Institute of America

Tomato sauces of all sorts, from simply seasoned and fresh to complex and highly seasoned, are featured in cuisines around the world. Tomato sauce is a generic term used to describe any sauce that is based mainly on tomatoes. Tomato sauces can be made several ways. They may be raw or cooked, anywhere from ten minutes to several hours. In some versions, olive oil is the only cooking fat. For others, rendered salt pork or bacon is required. Some recipes call for roasted veal or pork bones; others are made strictly from tomatoes and the desired vegetables. Some tomato sauces are puréed until smooth while others are left chunky. Escoffier’s tomato sauce relied on roux as a thickener.

Good tomato sauce can be made from fresh or canned tomatoes. When fresh tomatoes are at their peak, it may be a good idea to use them exclusively. At other times of the year, good quality canned tomatoes are a better choice. Plum tomatoes, sometimes referred to as Romas, are generally preferred for tomato sauces because they have a high ratio of flesh to skin and seeds. Fresh tomatoes may be skinned and seeded for sauce, or they may be simply rinsed, cored, and quartered or chopped. Canned tomatoes come peeled and whole, puréed, or a combination of the two. Tomato paste is sometimes added to the sauce as well.

There are many choices for additional flavoring ingredients. Some recipes call for a standard mirepoix as the aromatic vegetable component, while others rely simply on garlic and onions.

Choose a heavy-gauge pot that is made of nonreactive materials such as stainless steel or anodized aluminum because tomatoes have a high acid content. Because of the high sugar content of some tomatoes, you will need to establish an even heat without hot spots so the sauce will not scorch. Use a food mill to purée the sauce. For a very smooth texture, you may wish to use a blender, immersion blender, or food processor.