Tomato Liquor

Tomato Liquor – but not the kind you think! Do not be intimidated by the length of this recipe. It takes a lot of words to describe a really simple, very easy process!

I call this  “liquor” because it is almost a distillation of tomato flavor. This has so many uses – I use it to boost flavor in dishes with lesser quality tomatoes, such as as a pasta sauce or a clear soup base. Reduced to a syrup, tomato liquor can be used as a glaze. It can be used to sweeten a dish, or can substitute for tomatoes in a way. I used it in a ratatouille-like dish when the first eggplant and summer squash appeared at market and I didn’t want to wait for tomato season. Making this also gives the perfect opportunity to make Tomato Oil, another fun way to work tomato flavor into, or to boost the tomato flavor of a dish. Because the tomatoes are roasted, the oil will pick up a smokey, roasted flavor that is really appealing.

This is best made using a larger quantity of tomatoes. If you try to do it with less than 5 pounds, you will probably burn the tomatoes and the liquor will evaporate faster than you can retrieve it. 10 – 15 pounds of tomatoes is about right. The amount of liquor may seem a lot at first, but it freezes really well and can also be reduced down. When making tomato liquor, make sure to use a non-reactive pan that is at least 3″ deep to avoid spillage. Nice, ripe tomatoes, or even over-ripe and splitting, tomatoes are best for this endeavor.

INGREDIENTS:

5 pounds of ripe to over-ripe tomatoes. (Doesn’t matter what kind, as long as tomatoes are really ripe. A variety is nice for depth of flavor.)

Optional: A bottle of extra virgin olive oil. Not a sharply flavored Tuscan type. Look for something a little mellower, and not super expensive. This is optional and only if you wish to make the tomato oil that is separate from the tomato liquor.

 

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 450°F.

In a pan (roasting pan, Pyrex oblong dish, etc.) at least 3″ deep.  Place cleaned tomatoes so they are close, but not packed in the dish. They can be stacked, but air should be able to circulate. Poke tomatoes with a knife tip or fork, just once or twice if the tomatoes have really tight skin.

Put pan in oven and cook until tomatoes begin to give off liquid. If this seems to be happening at a snails pace, turn up the heat, but stand by and don’t burn the tomatoes.

As the liquid fills the pan, pour off the liquid into a receptacle such as a steel bowl or glass measuring cup (large volume). You might want to do this over a baking sheet until you get the hang of doing this without spilling. You can also use a ladle until the very end when you want all of the liquid out of the pan.

Keep pouring off the liquor until the tomatoes have given off all their liquid.

Now it is time to make the tomato oil if you wish. If not, skip this and dispose of your tomato pulp.

TOMATO OIL

Return tomatoes to the oven and cook until most of the liquid remaining has evaporated and the tomato pulp is starting to color and give off a roasted aroma. Pull the pan from the oven and pour at least a 1/2 liter of olive oil over the pulp. Lower the heat in the oven to “warm” and allow the oil to steep for 2 hours. You do not want the oil to cook (no bubbling), just to stay warm and to infuse with the tomato flavor. Taste the oil, it should have a distinct tomato flavor- if not, allow some more time (1 hour).

At this point, pour the oil through a fine mesh strainer into a non-reactive vessel. Allow to cool and settle overnight, then decant again. I usually run it through the strainer lined with an old clean piece of cloth such as an old napkin, and just before the oil with liquid still in it pours out I stop.

Put the oil into a bottle that can be capped tightly and store in the refrigerator. As the level of oil decreases, pour the oil into a smaller bottle to keep the volume of air in the bottle to a minimum to prevent oxidation. I have used the oil on salads, drizzled on grilled slices of bread with sautéed arugula, on cold shrimp salads. It also features in a dish I do with seared halibut dusted with toasted ground cumin. I drizzle cumin and tomato oils around the fish and garnish with a little salsa. The oil works as a real quick pasta sauce, too.

TOMATO LIQUOR

Now, back to the tomato “liquor.” Pour the liquor through a fine mesh sieve into another non-reactive vessel, then line the sieve with a clean cloth (or some paper towels or coffee filter) and strain again. The liquor is now ready to be used. It can be frozen as is, but I always reduce a quantity of it as well. This saves time as I use the reduced glaze for sauce, as a sweetener, or a booster in a dish that needs more tomato or that could use a touch of acid to bring flavors into line.

I have used the unreduced liquor as a cold soup base. I rubbed soup bowls with a garlic clove, added some chopped tomato and cooked shrimp, basil shreds, and the liquor. A little salt and pepper and a spoon of sour cream and had a quick tour du fridge starter on a hot evening. To make a soup with more depth, sauté some carrot, celery, onion, and a little garlic with some herbs, and add the tomato liquor and simmer over very low heat to extract the vegetable flavors. Strain and use the liquor as above.

The liquor freezes well, and I do not recommend storing it in the refrigerator for any length of time longer than a couple days. The flavor drops off with exposure to air and the liquor is prone to rapid spoilage.

YIELD: Variable. Based on quantity of tomatoes used and liquid in the tomatoes.

SOURCE: Chef Andrew Cohen