The Art Of Tomato Sauce And The Philosophy Of Cooking

May 4, 2018 | Cooking Tips

Tomato sauce is one of those items that has been cursed by its commonality. Because the sauce is used so frequently it is often overlooked and prepared with little to no thought or effort. There are a few problems with this. First of all, we don’t just eat tomato sauce. The sauce is used as a component in numerous dishes and so if it isn’t good those dishes won’t be good either. The second problem is more of a philosophical one. If we can’t put in the effort to make something fairly simple the best it can be, what happens when we tackle more complex items?

A great tomato sauce is balanced.

What separates a regular tomato sauce from a great one? The answer is simple. Balance. It is surprisingly rare to find a tomato sauce that has a balance of flavour. Sometimes you can hardly taste the tomatoes for the amount of garlic, or there are big chunks of uncooked onion. Often tomato sauces find themselves being either way too sweet or way too acidic. A great tomato sauce is balanced. There is a touch of sweetness, a hint of garlic, a mild acidity. The flavours should be subtle and leave you wanting more not overpowering and fatiguing on the palate.

The perfect tomato sauce consists of only seven ingredients.

The perfect tomato sauce consists of only seven ingredients. Tomatoes, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, sugar, and olive oil. Becuase there are so few ingredients they must be of the best quality in order to produce the best sauce. It is perfectly okay to use canned tomatoes but don’t buy the discount brand. There is only a few cents difference between good canned tomatoes and mediocre canned tomatoes. I generally use San Marzano tomatoes which are grown and imported from Italy. They are not really expensive, but honestly make a world of difference.

…taking the time to slowly caramelize the onions…means less refined sugar needs to be added… 

When making the sauce it is all about pulling the natural flavours out of the ingredients. For example, taking the time to slowly caramelize the onions in olive oil before adding the garlic and tomatoes. The natural sugars that have been drawn out of the onion will add depth of flavour and also sweetness. This means less refined sugar needs to be added to balance the acidity of the tomatoes. Cooking the garlic with the onions for a minute or two will draw the natural oils out and add to the flavour as well.

If the sauce is cooked for more than an hour the flavours and nutrients start to be lost.

Once the tomatoes have been added to the pot they must simmer for at least thirty minutes but no longer than an hour. If the sauce is cooked for more than an hour the flavours and nutrients start to be lost. Thirty to forty minutes is kind of the window to aim for. Season the sauce with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar prior to letting it simmer. Once the thirty or forty minutes have passed taste the sauce and season again with salt, pepper, and sugar as needed. Remember the sugar is to balance the acidity in the tomatoes and to complement their natural sweetness. The sauce should not be overly sweet.

this sauce is a base used to make many other sauces.

You are probably thinking that this sauce is pretty boring. There isn’t any meat or vegetables. The reason being that this sauce is a base used to make many other sauces. If we wanted to make a meat sauce, brown some meat, deglaze with a bit of wine and add a few scoops of this tomato sauce. We could then finish with some fresh basil. We could also saute some seafood then add a scoop of this sauce and a touch of cream. Because we put the effort in to make the base tomato sauce the best it could be, our derivative sauces will be that much better.

The only separation between a good dish and a great dish is the minor details.

This idea of taking the time to make the sauce the best it can be is really translatable to cooking in general. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right. Right? The only separation between a good dish and a great dish is the minor details. That little extra effort or time that makes all the difference. This really is more of a philosophy than a technique but I promise you will be able to taste the difference. Thinking about food in this way, about taking the time, and putting in that little extra will change how you cook and how well you cook everything.

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