Cooking Class: The Best Canned Tomatoes
Andy Anderson !
This recipe post is the first in a series of posts where I will discuss working with canned tomatoes. In this class we’ll discuss working with canned tomatoes. If you’re a fan of fresh tomatoes, you might be surprised why a lot professional chef’s prefer canned to fresh.
So, you ready… Let’s get into the kitchen.
How to Make Cooking Class: The Best Canned Tomatoes
- Chef's Note: Here’s an interesting bit of information: When you’re using fresh tomatoes versus canned tomatoes, on a salad or other uncooked dish, fresh tomatoes will win out every time. However, in cooked sauces, and especially in pizza sauce, canned tomatoes win out almost all of the time. I find that interesting.
- Plum tomatoes are the hands down winner in the canned tomato department, and most chefs go out of their way to make sure their canned tomatoes are this variety. The reason is because they have a larger percentage of tomato meat to seeds. If you compare them to the typical round tomato variety, which can contain five to seven seed pockets (called locules), the majority of plum tomato varieties have only two.
Bottom Line: Look for the word Plum Tomatoes, on the label.
- The San Marzano tomato, has a longer, curvier shape with a slightly sweeter taste and softer skin than its Roma cousin. The San Marzano region of Italy, from which the variety gets its name, grows some of the best tomatoes in the world, and their price reflects that. However, because of severe industrial pollution in the San Marzano area of Italy, the quality of Italian tomatoes has decreased. It also doesn’t help that we impose a one-hundred percent tariff on all imported tomatoes.
- Many cans of tomatoes have the letters DOP, proudly displayed on the label… is that important?
DOP stands for denomination of protected origin (Denominazione di origine protetta). Tomatoes that receive this designation have to go through a demanding set of standards to receive the DOP designation. They are checked from the original seeds, to the fertilization process; finally, how they are harvested and packed is closely monitored. They must meet the standards, or they will not receive the DOP designation. In addition, DOP tomatoes are organic tomatoes.
Bottom Line: Look for the DOP designation on the label.
- Fresh tomatoes are picked from the vine before they fully ripen. The grower knows that those tomatoes will be on the grocery-store shelves, sometimes for days, before being picked up by the consumer. The problem with allowing the tomato to ripen off the vine is that they begin to lose flavor. And the longer they sit there, the more flavor they loose.
- On the other hand, tomatoes grown for the can are allowed to remain on the vine until they fully ripen, and then are immediately processed. This helps to retain that fresh tomato flavor.
For example, after harvesting, the Muir Glen company immediatly takes their tomatoes to Gilroy, California for processing, where they are packed in lead-free steel containers that have been lined with white enamel. They claim that from field to can is less than eight hours.
- Some cans of tomatoes come with the sodium free label. Salt is added to tomatoes for several reasons: however, the primary reason is that salt added to an acidic product, such as tomatoes, makes the tongue transmit more of a flavorful taste sensation to the brain. If salt intake is a concern, then you might want to consider a sodium free variety. However, when I work with sodium free, or regular canned tomatoes, my only consideration is the amount of additional salt I’m adding to the dish while cooking.
Bottom Line: The addition of salt to a can of tomatoes is primarily a flavor enhancer.
- Because of their high meat-to-seed ratio, we want plum tomatoes, of the San Marzano variety (only two locules versus five to seven in other tomato varieties).
We’re looking for DOP on the label, because it guarantees a specific process for the growing and harvesting of the tomatoes.
Because of industrial pollution, we’re shifting our location from Italy, to the American West Coast.
- I’ve listed several brands of canned tomatoes that work well in anything from an Italian tomato sauce, to a mouth-watering pizza sauce. I wanted to be fair here and not just include tomatoes that will break the bank. Some of them are DOP, and some are not. Some come from Italy, and some from California. I’ve listed them in the order, from what I consider the best tasting and versatile to the least. But all of them are good, and all of them will make good sauces.