I have been asked several times by friends how I make tomato sauce and I usually answer “cook it, cook it, cook it, and when you think it is ready, cook it some more.” Making a thick tomato sauce takes lots of time.
There is, however, much to do before you get to the cooking part and that is what I want to address today. To start with there are many, many varieties of tomatoes and although I do like to start with a paste tomato, Amish paste or roma’s, you can use any type of tomatoes for making sauce. Along with Amish paste I use any tomatoes that are ripe and will not be eaten fresh in the next day or two. I will even throw cherry tomatoes into the mix rather than see them go to waste.
In addition to taking a lot of time to make tomato sauce it also takes a lot of tomatoes to make sauce. It takes approximately 5 or 6 lbs. of tomatoes to make 1 quart of tomato sauce. So don’t be shocked when that shopping bag full of tomatoes ends up providing only a couple of spaghetti dinners for the family.
Now before you “cook it, cook it, cook it” you must first turn those tomatoes into juice and the are many ways you can accomplish this. I will share some of the methods I have used over the years including the steps involved and equipment required. If you have never made your own tomato juice or sauce keep reading.
When I first started making tomato sauce I did not have some of the equipment that I use now days so I used what I had on hand to juice the tomatoes – a blender. With any of these methods I start by washing the and any tomatoes that have rotten spots are discarded. When using the blender after washing the tomatoes I remove the skins by blanching the tomatoes. This is done by putting the tomato in a pan of boiling water for about a minute then immediately putting the tomato in a bowl of cold water. For this step I placed the tomatoes in a blanching basket or a wire basket that sits inside the pan of boiling water, then to remove the tomatoes from the pan I simply lift the basket by the handle and dump the tomatoes into the cold water. If you don’t have a blanching basket you may be able to use a metal colander or even just put the tomatoes in the boiling water and lift them out with a slotted spoon.
When the tomatoes are cool enough to hold I cut out the core of the tomato with a paring knife and then the peel of the tomato will slip right off. I then cut the tomato in half horizontally and scoop out (some of) the seeds. I don’t worry too much about removing all of the seeds because my family really doesn’t mind having seeds in their tomato sauce.
I then cut what is left of the tomato into small pieces and put it in the blender and blend it into juice. At this point I could of pour the juice through a sieve or fine mesh strainer to remove any seeds that remain. The juice is now ready to be cooked into sauce.
Over the years I have acquired some equipment has made this task easier. The first piece of equipment is this simple and inexpensive food mill. I’m sure I paid less than $20 for it several years ago when I purchased it.
This food mill will sit on top of various size pans or bowls but must be held in place with one hand while turning the crank with the other hand.
When I use this food mill I wash the tomatoes, cut out the core, cut them in quarters and cook them until they are soft. Once they are soft this food mill will easily remove the skins and seeds and turn the tomatoes into juice.
I use the medium blade and it does tend to get plugged up quickly. When it gets plugged up I need to scrape the pulp off the bottom of the blade (the pulp is part of the juice) and empty the seeds out of the top part of the food mill. The seeds are fed to the chickens later.
While this method does not require blanching and removing the skins, it does take time to cook the tomatoes before juicing them. Once the tomatoes are cooked the skins break down easily and are mostly turned into pulp adding to the thickness of the tomato sauce. I tend to use this method when I am working with smaller batches.
When I am working with larger batches – a bushel or a shopping bag or more full of tomatoes, I use another piece of equipment that I have acquired in recent years.
It is another type of food mill or juicer. I actually have two of these, one was given to me by my mother and one was given to me by my father-in-law. Both of the models I have are very old and also very functional. Similar models are still produced today but they are quite pricey.
My biggest problem with using this food mill is that it is designed to clamp to a counter top. Our home, however, was not designed with this kind of equipment in mind. The clamps will not fit over the lip on our countertops. In order to use this food mill I have to clear off this stand alone shelf that normally houses my food processor, nutri-bullet, and most of my stoneware baking dishes and move it to a location where I can clamp the food mill onto it and be able to crank the handle. I also have to set a chair next to the shelf to hold the pot that the juice runs into. Rearranging all this furniture can be a pain in the you-know-what so I usually only use this food mill if I am making a big batch. Once the food mill is set up the process goes pretty quickly. I just wash the tomatoes, remove the core and cut them up. I put the cut up tomatoes into the hopper and turn the crank and the food mill separates the juice and pulp from the skin and seeds.
I am certain that there are other methods that could achieve the same results and depending on the equipment that you have available you will figure out what works best for you.
Once your tomatoes are turned into juice it is time to cook the juice into sauce. You will be cooking the water out of it. I bring the juice to a boil then let it cook uncovered over a medium or medium-high heat until it is reduced by approximately 2/3rds to 3/4ths as the sauce gets thinker it may be necessary to reduce the heat even more to prevent scorching. Depending on how much juice you are reducing this cooking will take anywhere from several hours to a whole day. Since smaller amounts take less time to cook it may be wise to split a large batch into smaller pots to reduce the cooking time.
While the sauce is cooking I stir it occasionally, as it gets thicker I stir it more often to make sure it does not scorch. When it gets to the point where about 1/3 of the amount I started with remains in the pan I reduce the heat and I start watching it more closely. When the sauce is cooking for a while without being stirred the water will rise to the top, if the layer of water covers the entire top of the sauce I keep cooking. If less than 50% of the sauce has a thin layer of water on it the sauce is probably thick enough for me.
How thick the sauce should be is really about personal preference and how the sauce will be used. For instance if the sauce will be used in a pasta or rice dish where it is mixed in and the water can be absorbed into the rice or pasta a thinner sauce might be appropriate, but if the sauce will be put on top of pasta the remaining water will drain through the pasta and run off the plate, so a thicker sauce is what you want.
I hope that you find this post useful if you intend on making your own tomato sauce. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions please leave them in the comments section on this page, and if you like what you have read please feel free to share it.