Chef’s Note: The one thing all canned tomatoes have in common, is what is called the “canned” taste of the tomatoes. In some cheaper cans of tomatoes, the taste is more pronounced; while in other, more expensive labels, it’s much less. Our goal is to reduce that “bitter” taste, and wind up with a great-tasting tomato that we can then use in virtually any tomato-based dish.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
You will need the right can of tomatoes, so if you want some help with that, go to this recipe post I put together on the best-canned tomatoes:
Understand that nothing you do can fix a really bad can of tomatoes… NOTHING. Imagine spending hours working on that special tomato or pizza sauce only to have it ruined by a bad can of tomatoes.
Let’s get started.
Open a can of tomatoes and give it a taste.
Chef’s Tip: Even cans of tomatoes from the same brand name will have subtle differences from can to can. This can mostly be explained by seasonal differences in the picked tomatoes.
Good labels like: Strianese, and Nutrilia work hard to limit the difference; however, you simply can’t grow the same tomato, with the same taste, over-and-over again… So, open the can and taste it.
Chef’s Note: Before I’ll ruin one of my sauces, I’ll throw away a can of tomatoes that taste too bitter or, better yet, I’ll return them to the store. I’ve purchased two cans of tomatoes from the same brand name, brought them home and opened them… One was useable, the other wasn’t. Good chefs will taste as they go.
Chef’s Note: Yes, it is possible to return a can of open tomatoes, or whatever, to a store. My store knows me so well, that all they expect me to do is return the can.
Before buying, pick up the can and give it a shake, if it sounds real watery, it’s probably too bitter. Put it back and shake another one.
Shake, Rattle, and Roll.
You’ll looking for a can that sounds more viscous, or thick. If you shake a really cheap tomato brand, it will probably feel like you’re shaking a tin of water.
Chef’s Note: How can you tell if a can feels watery or viscous? How can you tell when you taste the tomatoes if they are too bitter to use? Experience is the teacher here. In my classes, I have good and bad cans, and I let my students shake the cans to get experience on what to expect. The same is true with tasting tomatoes. The more you do it, the better you will get. Go into the store, and find the most expensive can of tomatoes you can and then shake it… Now find the cheapest, junk can of tomatoes you can and then shake that one… Notice any difference?
DESEEDING THE TOMATOES
Chef’s Note: This step is only necessary if you are buying whole plum tomatoes, not crushed or diced. However, I do recommend in almost all cases that you buy whole plum and crush them yourself.
Pour the tomatoes, juices and all, into a non-reactive bowl.
Remove the stems, from the tomatoes with a small pairing knife, and discard.
Squeeze the tomatoes to extract the seeds, but do this by squeezing them back into the bowl with the juices.
If you choose you can even cut the tomatoes open to extract as many of the seeds as possible. Again, return the seeds to the bowl with the tomato juices.
After extracting the seeds place the tomatoes into a separate bowl.
Use a medium mesh strainer to separate the seeds out of the tomato juices. You want all the juice (every bit), and the only things left in the strainer will be all those seeds.
Add the juices to the tomatoes, and discard the seeds.
Lightly crush the tomatoes, but don’t puree.
Chef’s Note: I usually use my hands to crush the tomatoes. The best tool a chef has is his/her hands.
RINSING THE TOMATOES
That’s right were going to give our tomatoes a quick shower.
All canned tomatoes will have a certain amount of bitterness. If you’re using some of the more expensive brands, you might not need to do a rinse; however, as I’ve mentioned before, every can of tomatoes is different; even two cans from the same brand name.
Place the tomatoes in a fine mesh strainer, and allow them to drain, this might take a couple of minutes.
Chef’s Note: You will need a very fine mesh strainer for this operation to work correctly.
Chef’s Note: DO NOT push on the tomatoes, just let them drain naturally.
Once drained, you should have a bowl of clear water (the tomatoes are still in the strainer).
Chef’s Note: If the water is really red, carefully pour it back on top of the tomatoes, and strain again. Eventually, you should have a bowl of mostly clear water, and every bit of tomato is still in the strainer. Or, you might need a finer mesh strainer.
Chef’s Tip: If you taste the water, it should be bitter.
Discard the bitter water, and rinse again with a bit of fresh water.
Chef’s Tip: Don’t mess with the tomatoes; just let them be, and pour the water over them… around a half a cup.
Chef’s Note: Now when you taste the second batch of water, it should be less bitter.
Repeat the straining process until most, but not all of the bitterness, has been removed from the tomatoes. On most canned varieties two to three rinses is all you are going to need. Remember, we don’t want to remove all of the bitterness and acid.
All your wonderful tomatoes are still in the strainer.
At this point, you have now removed the bitterness and acid, and what you have is good-tasting tomatoes that you can now use in anything from a pizza sauce to a marinara.
Chef’s Tip: Here are some other ways to help in reducing the bitterness of canned tomatoes:
Sugar (just a touch): For some sauces this will work; however, when I’m making a pizza sauce, I don’t use sugar. I don’t like a sweet pizza sauce.
Salt (just a pinch): Adding salt might sound a bit counterintuitive; however, salt working with the acidic tomatoes will reduce their overall bitterness.
Dried Oregano (crushed in your hand before adding): The released oils will help to reduce the bitterness.