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Frying Tomato Paste

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24 replies to this topic

#1 Brasshopper

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 03:36 PM

So, it was in about 1980 when someone told me, "I have a secret for you that I just learned. You can replace hours of simmering of a tomato sauce, give it an overall better, fresher flavor, and it is so simple. Watch."

I had been planning on making a spaghetti dinner, that night and it was about 10AM. I was getting out my canned tomatoes, Tomato paste, dried herbs and such (it was going to be a meatless sauce, one of my guests was vegetarian) and was going to stir them all together, adjust for simmer and then simmer until thick and reduced enough to get the flavor that a sauce gets after hours. And Pasta with a non-meat sauce was something that one could make without it slapping the guests in the face that one of the attendees was a veggie, this was a long time ago. The ingredients taste raw when not simmered for some time, though, justifying the time to make sauce, or the purchase of prepared sauce when you didn't have time for the long simmer.

He then put a layer of oil in the pot, and tossed in the garlic. When it started to brown, he added the tomato paste. It started out bright red, over medium high heat, then after a few minutes of stirring in the intense heat, it changed all at once to a darker color. He then said, "Give it as long as you want once it has had that color change, but the change is important."

Then he stirred it for a couple more minutes and it really didn't change any more, he threw in one of the cans of tomatoes, and stirred it until it was all mixed. "Taste it," he said.

I did. It had a fresh taste from the chopped tomatoes that had no time to reduce, but the tomato paste was clearly no longer raw, it tasted like it had simmered for way more than the 10 minutes or so it had been cooking.

Since then, whenever I start a sauce and use paste in the cooking, anywhere, I cook the paste until it has that color change and, I think, the sugar carmelizes like I think it does and it no longer has the raw flavor. Even when I start with a puree, I try to fry it off somehow. It still takes a half hour to whip up the sauce with a can of paste and a big home style can of chopped tomato, but if you start it at the same time you start the big pot of water boiling, you can eat them at the same time. Add (to taste):

  • 3-4 TBSP minced garlic
  • 1-2 TBSP olive oil
  • 1-2 small can paste - and "fry off"
  • 1-2 large home can chopped tomato
  • 1-2 tablespoons Italian Seasoning
  • 1-2 tablespoons dried Oregano
  • 1-2 tablespoons dried sweet basil
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried red pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste

To the above you can add parmesian cheese, chopped beef that has been fried and drained, sliced Italian Sausage, or anything else you want to add for flavoring. You can even roast and slice peppers, chop garden vegetables, add onions and a zillion other things, but this is the base.

I've web searched for this before and found nothing - then I just looked for it again, and found a couple references to "fry off" tomato paste until you get a color change on the Food Network, so maybe this is common knowledge that I'm just unfamiliar with. But a few years ago I made pasta sauce for a local spaghetti dinner and no one I was cooking with knew the technique, so I don't know.

My grandmother, from Bare, put the tomato through the cranking food mill, and then simmered it for hours, adjusting it with paste early in the reduction if needed, so this is a trick she never learned.

Is this common knowledge these days? Is it someone everyone knows?
 
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#2 haresfur

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 03:42 PM

Cool. New to me.
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#3 Big Joe the Pro

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 03:48 PM

America's Test Kitchen turned me on to this technique I believe, via their recipe for Chicken Tikki Masala. Great stuff.
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#4 gfweb

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 04:08 PM

I've done it for a few years. Was it a Batali show where I saw it? Or an Indian one?

#5 Emily_R

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 04:12 PM

I've also done it for a few years, and also can't remember where I read about it! One question about your sauce -- a whole can of tomato paste sounds like a lot to me -- it doesn't wind up too... pasty? Looking forward to trying it though, as I find I rarely manage to make a pasta sauce from scratch that I prefer to (gasp, can't believe I'm admitting this) Classico Four Cheese...

#6 Dave the Cook

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 04:27 PM

It's called pincage (peen-sahj) -- at least it is in French cookery -- and dates back to before Escoffier. It's not just for tomato sauces, either. I use it for almost any stew or braise where a little umami depth would be welcome in the finished dish.

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#7 ScottyBoy

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 04:45 PM

My first real mentor in the kitchen taught me this. One of those things that stuck with me.
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#8 Crouton

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 07:05 PM

Both Batali and Lidia have been doing this on their respective shows for years. Definitely something I always do when tomato paste is involved.

Check or Mario Batali's "Weeds with Sausage" recipe. It instructs to fry the tomato paste until a deep rust color is formed. Fantastic dish btw.

#9 tmriga

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 04:15 AM

I learned this as a child - one of the few things I learned from my mother's kitchen (she didn't have a widely varied menu in her kitchen, but what she did make was fabulous). I was surprised to see it, years later, in The Godfather, when Clemenza was cooking sauce for the crew while they were hiding in their safehouse.

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#10 Mjx

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 05:10 AM

I think if you grew up with/have a background in one of the southwestern European culinary traditions, it's standard knowledge (I'm basing this on my own experience, growing up in Italy); in other cultures, it might be unfamiliar, so possibly a 'secret'.

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#11 conifer

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 06:57 AM

It's also something that I do when making curry sauce. Not sure if that's how it's done in India, though.

#12 Paul Bacino

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 08:16 AM

Yes, Toasting the Paste helps develop flavor, I do it.. but not all the time. If I do I'll add a good amount of olive oil too.
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#13 JBailey

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 09:14 AM

Thank you for sharing this. What a beautifully simple, but effective step. Once again this site is helping expand my knowledge, technique and overall skill set.
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#14 Beebs

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 09:41 AM

This is absolutely brilliant, genius.

I do this when I make homemade ketchup, but it has never, ever crossed my mind to fry tomato paste for tomato sauce. I am so making spaghetti & meatballs this week!

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#15 Keith_W

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 10:42 AM

This step is described in Heston Blumenthal's "In Search of Perfection" series - the episode where he goes in search of the perfect Spaghetti Bolognaise.
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#16 Pierogi

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 10:48 PM

As others have said, Mario/Lidia have advocated this for years. I also see in other "ethnic" cookbooks (Indian, Mexican, etc.) "blooming" your powdered spices (or whole seeds) in hot oil before you add the rest of your sauce ingredients. I think all of my Indian books (by Madhur Jaffry and Julie Sahni) instruct you to bloom the dried herbs/spices/seeds. I always do it. It always smells amazing, and I think adds tremendous depth to the dish.
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#17 kaszeta

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 06:46 AM

I also first learned of this from Indian cookbooks.

#18 Keith A

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 07:44 AM

I do this making short ribs and other meats braised in tomato sauces and will usually let it almost completely blacken (scraping fond off the pan and letting it reform, if necessary). It looks disgusting at first but the depth of flavor it adds to the sauce is incredible, especially after deglazing.

#19 Alcuin

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 08:20 AM

This is a great technique and of course the French have a term for it: pincage.
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#20 jrshaul

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 08:26 AM

You do WHAT now? :D

#21 EatNopales

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 09:30 AM

All the Mexican cooked sauces (Moles, Adobos, Chile Verde etc.,) are almost always seared in this way as well. In Pre-Hispanic cooking it was done without oil (and still the common technique among indigenous cooks)... adding paste to heated volcanic rock mortar & a steady stream of salted water to keep it from sticking too bad.

#22 JTravel

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 09:38 AM

I almost always do it. I'm sure I learned it from either "The Galloping Gourmet" Graham Kerr, of the "Frugal Gourmet", Jeff Smith in the early days of watching cooking on t.v. Is it the Maillard Reaction?
It does seem that a whole can of paste would be too much, I usually use two large cans of tomatoes and the little can of paste.

#23 scott123

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 09:47 AM

I appear to be the minority opinion here, but tomato paste, regardless of the brand, has almost always been cooked too long and has lost almost any semblance of bright tomatoey flavor. Further cooking may bring out sweetness, but at a cost of dark metallic notes. I can't speak for other dishes, but for pasta sauce, I would never cook paste any further than it's been cooked. If I want sweetness to balance the slight acidity of the paste, I'll find it elsewhere (caramelized onions, sugar, etc.).

#24 ScoopKW

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 10:11 AM

I appear to be the minority opinion here, but tomato paste, regardless of the brand, has almost always been cooked too long and has lost almost any semblance of bright tomatoey flavor. Further cooking may bring out sweetness, but at a cost of dark metallic notes. I can't speak for other dishes, but for pasta sauce, I would never cook paste any further than it's been cooked. If I want sweetness to balance the slight acidity of the paste, I'll find it elsewhere (caramelized onions, sugar, etc.).


That's why a one-two punch is necessary, I think.

I fry the paste. (Thanks, Clemenza!). But I also use fresh tomatoes, San Marzanos, sundried, etc. as appropriate to the season to kick up the tomatoey flavor. I haven't noticed a dark metallic taste in my sauces.



"Heh, come over here, kid, learn something. You never know, you might have to cook for 20 guys someday. You see, you start out with a little bit of oil. Then you fry some garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste, you fry it; ya make sure it doesn't stick. You get it to a boil; you shove in all your sausage and your meatballs; heh…? And a little bit o' wine. An' a little bit o' sugar, and that's my trick."


I've made this exact sauce, emulating the amounts by watching the DVD. It's a good sauce -- needs more herbs, but maybe Clemenza used meatballs and sausage that were loaded with herbs.
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#25 EatNopales

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 10:15 AM

I appear to be the minority opinion here, but tomato paste, regardless of the brand, has almost always been cooked too long and has lost almost any semblance of bright tomatoey flavor. Further cooking may bring out sweetness, but at a cost of dark metallic notes. I can't speak for other dishes, but for pasta sauce, I would never cook paste any further than it's been cooked. If I want sweetness to balance the slight acidity of the paste, I'll find it elsewhere (caramelized onions, sugar, etc.).



Do serious Italian cooks use paste? As far as I know they just used the canned tomatoes.

Of course in Mexican cooking both the Italian canned tomatoes & paste are frowned upon for any sauce (they got some use in broths) as you have noted they are already cooked to death... but I think in real Italian cooking the tomato is merely used as a base for more aggressive flavors like Italian Oregano, Fresh Garlic & Wine.. whereas in Mexico the tomato usually takes a more prominent role, the garlic is roasted... and overall a more subtle "fresh" flavor is desired over the more robust, sweet flavors of Italian sauces.

I think if you are going with canned tomatoes & paste.. the searing & simmering is d'rigeur to temper the "raw" / concentrated off putting flavors... otherwise start with fresh tomatoes.





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