Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Home Made Tomato Juice

You know that tomato juice you get in bottles and cans? Do you know that it's a cooked-tomato product? Yup, it is.

How cooked it is depends on a lot of things. Like, who makes it.

I spent some enlightening moments reading labels of canned tomato products one day, and there were some surprising things.

For example, some canned tomato sauces are made from tomato paste. Think about that for a minute. Or two. Or, maybe if you've never made your own tomato paste, I should explain it.

It all starts from tomatoes. I like to run them through my juicer. That gets rid of seeds and gnarly bits of skin and leaves me with juice and pureed pulp.

And then, if I want tomato sauce, I cook it until it's the consistency of tomato sauce. Not so difficult. I just simmer until it's reduced enough. If I want tomato paste, I keep cooking it until it thickens to the consistency of tomato paste. What happens is that the liquid evaporates from the sauce and at the same time the tomatoes get more and more and more of a cooked flavor. Tomato paste is a little tricky because when it gets that thick it wants to burn. So usually I stop when I've got a nice sauce.

From a manufacturing point of view, it sort of makes sense to make tomato paste first, since it's more concentrated. Then, when sauce is needed, water is added to bring it back to the consistency of tomato sauce. Maybe the paste people store the paste until sauce is needed. Or maybe they ship paste to the sauce facilities. All I know is that some of the sauces listed tomato paste and water as ingredients. Some included flavorings as well, like onion powder, but that's besides the point.

The point is that if you have a tomato sauce made from tomato paste, the sauce will have a more-cooked flavor than a sauce that's reduced to just to the sauce consistency and then canned. If I want that deeper flavor, I use paste. I'm looking for something else when I open a can of sauce.

Not every tomato sauce was made from tomato paste. Not all had flavorings. Ya gotta read the labels.

What's even weirder is that when I went on my tomato-product-label-reading binge I found some tomato juices that were made from paste.

But ... but ... shouldn't tomato juice be the least-cooked product?

I think tomato juice needs a little cooking. But I don't think it needs to be turned into paste and then rehydrated. So when I make it, I cook it just enough to get it to the right consistency. And then I add just a touch of salt.

The beauty about making your own tomato juice is that you can make as much as you want. Make a quart or make a cup. Or make a couple gallons. Of course, this is something you want to make when tomatoes are cheap and good, but every once in a while there are good tomatoes, even in the dead of winter.

Or, think about this until summer, when tomatoes are at their peak.

Tomato Juice


Prepare the tomatoes:
  • I find that the easiest thing to do is wash them and inspect for bad spots and cut those out, then core them and run them through my juicer.
  • If you don't have a juicer, there are other options. Blanch and peel them, then core them and blitz them in your blender. Then strain out the seeds.
  • Or instead of blending in a blender, use a stick blender. Then strain out the seeds.
  • Or, blanch, peel and core the tomatoes, chop them, and toss them in a pot. Cook until softened, then run through a food mill.
  • Or, I'm sure there are other methods as well. You want to get to a point where you have clean tomato pulp and juice, without seeds and skin.
Cook the tomato juice: Put the tomato puree in a saucepan and simmer, stirring as needed, until enough liquid has evaporated so you have a product that's the thickness of tomato juice.

Depending on your original method for getting the puree, you might want to smooth it out a little with a stick blender. Taste, and add salt as needed.

Transfer to a bottle or jug and refrigerate.

If you want to can your tomato juice, check a canning book for guidelines.