Tomato Tips, Tricks and Techniques

It's the tail-end of tomato season. Here are some tips, tricks and advice for storing and preparing your abundance of tomatoes.

  • 01 of 04

    Should you refrigerate tomatoes?

    Should you refrigerate tomatoes?. ferrantraite/Getty Images

    I used to be an editor at the pragmatically science-minded Cook's Illustrated magazine, and we did many tests on the best way to store tomatoes. The takeaway from all our testing -- and the reasoning behind our subsequent guidelines -- was that refrigerating tomatoes breaks down key flavor compounds in tomatoes and causes some of their cells to burst, resulting in an unpleasant watery, mealy texture. So we advised our readers to never refrigerate tomatoes -- even once they were cut -- and to store half-cut tomatoes with the cut-side down on a cutting board and use the remainder within a day. 

    Other renowned food-science experts such as Alton Brown have dispensed the same "never refrigerate tomatoes" advice, and my own lifetime of experience, I have personally found that refrigerated tomatoes release a lot of water and grow flavorless and mealy rather quickly.

    But lately some Serious Eats editors have been challenging these beliefs with a series (yes, a series) of somewhat blustery articles which I wouldn't expect anyone but the most hardened food-science geek to slog through, setting off a heated controversy that some referred to as "Tomatogate." They claimed that you should indeed refrigerate tomatoes, particularly if you are planning on storing them for several days, however, it seems that in their tests they only refrigerated them for less than a day. 

    In the end, you can , of course, make your own decision on this, but science and my own taste buds tell me that out of the refrigerator is the best way -- and tomatoes never last that long in my household anyway!

    If, however, you are trying to find a way to store an overabundance of end-of-summer tomatoes -- then I suggest either freezing or canning as preferable to refrigeration.

  • 02 of 04

    No need to seed

    Halved tomato
    James Guilliam/Getty Images

    In other tests performed by Cook's Illustrated, it was determined that the pulp surrounding tomato seeds is the most flavorful, umami-packed part of the tomato -- so it's really a shame to discard them, even if a recipe instructs you to do so. If texture is really an issue and you don't want seeds in a silky sauce, for example, you can use a food mill or a fine-mesh sieve to remove the seeds without sacrificing that flavorful pulp. 

  • 03 of 04

    How to core and peel tomatoes

    To peel tomatoes: core, score, blanch and peel. DK/Getty Images

    If you need to peel tomatoes for a recipe, whether you'll be then cooking them or using them raw, the quickest and easiest way to do so is to core them (insert the tip of a sharp paring knife at an angle next to the stem scar, then cut around the stem end, still at an angle, remove the cone-shaped stem part and discard it) and then cut a very shallow X shape in the bottom of the tomato with a sharp knife. Briefly blanch the tomatoes by dropping them into a pot of boiling water for about 60 seconds, then remove them (using a slotted spoon or fine-mesh skimmer) and plunge them into cold water. When they're cool enough to handle, use either your fingers or the tip of a paring knife to peel the skin off from the points around the "X" shape -- the skin should come off easily.

  • 04 of 04

    Canned is OK

    James and James/Getty Images

    Some people believe that fresh tomatoes are the only "true" way to make a tomato sauce, and that using canned tomatoes is cheating, or will only give lower-quality results. That's just not true -- especially outside of peak tomato season, canned tomatoes can often give better results than flavorless supermarket specimens, and in fact -- as evidenced by my own experience and by this laborious Serious Eats recipe for fresh-tomato sauce that requires several passes of boiling, baking, and straining -- it can be a lot of work to get the rich, full depth of flavor that canned tomatoes and tomato paste can give when using fresh tomatoes, which, even when they're fully ripe and at their most flavorful, are often much waterier. Many Italians use canned tomatoes and jarred passata di pomodoro (tomato puree) as the basis for their sauces and other recipes. So don't be ashamed to use canned tomatoes -- whether for convenience or because it's not tomato season. Opt for whole canned tomatoes rather than crushed or diced, as the whole tomatoes often have a better texture and flavor. And note that even when using fresh tomatoes, adding a tablespoon or two of tomato paste can help build up a deeper, fuller flavor.