Marinara/Red sauce/Tomato Sauce/Gravy Help?
So making the perfect marinara sauce has been a recent quest of mine, so I was hoping some chowhounders could help me out. I should preface the rest of my post with saying that I know the "perfect" marinara is different for everyone, and while I am open to different opinions, the kind of marinara I'm trying to achieve is a full-bodied marinara with slight sweetness but also a bit spicy, just a little heat. I don't care if it's "authentic" or not, just tasty. So, a few questions ...
1. Wine. What does this contribute exactly to the sauce, aside from imparting the wine taste? I had tried using a red wine before, but I didn't like the bitterness that it left behind. It wasn't a garbage wine or anything, it's something I like to drink, but the degree of bitterness I enjoy in my wine, I don't like in my sauce. I tried another time with white wine, a pinot grigio, and I liked this much better, I thought it cut out some of the tinny and acidic taste of the tomatoes. But I traditionally see recipes call for red wine, so I was wondering what others opinion on this was. Also if you use wine, do you like to add it before the tomatoes and cook it down, or let it cook down along with the sauce?
2. Cooking duration. I always hear Italians talking about how their grandmothers cooked their sauces all day, yet I've seen other sources say that marinara sauce is to be cooked under thirty minutes. One of my Italian friends has also said that he cooks it all day in a crock pot and that it gets rid of the acidity, yet also have seen a poster on here in the past say that doing so brings it out. I want to make marinara with meatballs in the future, so the idea of tossing them in the slow cooker to absorb flavor appealed to me, but if it doesn't make much of a difference I'd rather forgo it.
3. Carrots & celery. I've read in some discussions that the addition of carrots also helps cut the acidity with their sweetness, but when I used carrots and celery in the past it actually seemed to dull the overall flavor. I didn't like the texture it added either, even though they were all finely cut and cooked down before the addition of the sauce. I've found that I don't mind them in a bolognase, but in my marinara, I can't seem to make it work for me.
4. Tomato Paste. Why are some so adamantly against tomato paste? I'd actually prefer if it was omissible, I always use just a tiny bit and have the rest go bad in my fridge!
Sorry for such a long post, and thanks in advance to any feedback!
5 Replies so Far
First allow me to address the wine you're using; a critical element (IMO) for Marinara sauce. I find that astringency in bitterness is sometimes confused with bitterness. If your wine is "bitter" there is something seriously wrong. If it's simply the astringency you want to avoid, try a medium or light red wine; perhaps a Beaujolais or Pino Noir. Bitterness in your Marinara could be coming from your garlic. It should be the highest quality possible, chopped fine and be added at the end of the saute phase so that it doesn't brown or burn.
Are you cooking with fresh tomatoes or canned?
I use a little olive oil in a pan to saute onions, peeled/chopped carrot and chopped celery (I string the celery before chopping it) and when the onions are translucent and other veggies are softened I add some chopped garlic and just warm it through before adding the crushed tomatoes, wine, a few herbs and spices and the wine. Then it cooks (uncovered) on low simmer for about an hour to hour and a half until it reduces and becomes thick. It rests in the refrigerator at least 24 hours before using.
If you're using fresh tomatoes, peel them and remove the seeds. The seeds are highly acidic.
The seeds (or more precisely the watery pulp that contains the seeds) generally have the most intense flavor in the tomato. I'd only really worry about the acidity in them if you're using especially acidic tomatoes in the first place.
Most often when I'm making sauce from fresh tomatoes, I strain the seeds and reserve the liquid. I then over-reduce the tomato sauce until it looks somewhere between tomato sauce and tomato paste (I've found that it tends to taste better and more intense when it's been overreduced a bit and then rehydrated), and at the end of cooking turn off the heat and add the liquid back in right at the end to rehydrate the sauce. This liquid gives the sauce a real brightness missing from normal cooked sauces - a big hit of fresh, uncooked tomato flavor.
Of course, using fresh tomatoes is only really worthwhile if you've got good tomatoes, so go with canned if you can't find flavorful fresh ones.
By cowboyardee about 5 hours ago
I forget where I read it(maybe Harold McGee) that the alcohol in wine is a solvent for some of the flavors in a tomato. I use 2 cups of an inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignon.
If the texture of carrot and celery bothers you you can puree them in a food processor prior to sautéing them or you can do what I do and use a stick blender to smooth out the sauce after it has been simmering for 2-3 hours. I also add 1 head of finely chopped fennel bulb to the sauce when I can get it for a decent price. Tomato sauce is also a good way to use the woody stems of crimini mushrooms.
I use an entire small can of tomato paste and add it just before I puree it with a stick blender.
By Kelli2006 about 5 hours ago
Concerning lengthy cooking times to get rid of acidity, the tomato's acids aren't volatile and, therefore, don't cook away.
Here are a few ideas or concepts you may want to consider for your tomato sauce:
Much of the tomato's flavor is found in its skin and jelly (the thick liquid in the center of the tomato that contains the seeds) (the jelly is the most flavorful part of the tomato), so cook your sauce with the tomato's skin and jelly then, once it's finished, pass it through a food mill to strain out the skins and seeds.
To freshen the flavor of a cooked tomato sauce, add a few leaves from the tomato plant (if you grow your own tomatoes) at the end of the cooking process.
The tomato's natural flavor can be intensified by adding sugar and/or acidity.
To shorten the cooking time, quarter the tomatoes and pre-dry them in a low oven. If you still need to cook it down, do so quickly close to the boil. If you cook the tomatoes at too high of a heat for too long, they will release even more moisture that will, in turn, lengthen your cooking time even more.
By 1POINT21GW about 2 hours ago
It's traditional in some parts / some recipes to use white wine in tomato based sauces so go with what you like. I always use white wine, just how I was brought up.
And I always start with the triumvirate of carrot celery onion.
I also like tomato paste and dried chilli flakes for kick.
Yep, remove seeds if you can be bothered. And skins for the final texture but yes, that takes away flavour. lots of garlic, big flavoured olive oil.
I'll simmer for a minimum of an hour, by then the flavours have melded and sugars released for that natural sweetness you want. Simmering all day doesn't taste much different to me.
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