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Take, for example, Paul Cicero, the character of that cinematographic monument that is One of ours. Let’s remember his meticulous way of laminating garlic from the sauce of tomato. With a razor blade. And in jail. We were just a little bit more confined than we are. The capo works hard to cut the garlic almost transparent so that it melts in the pan and gives a good punch to your sauce. No wonder he went to such lengths because, is there anything better in life than a tasty tomato sauce? To emulate Scorsese’s mafia cooker – or at least not die without trying – we’ve asked a few chefs about their tricks to raise the world’s most popular sauce to the nth degree. Because, among other things, we want this phased life in which we are involved does not take away the desire to do things well (in the kitchen).
Branch, pear, ox heart or tin?
In the First Division of the salseros the tune of “if it is going to be crushed, what difference does the tomato make” is not worth it. And it is that this is not going to crush, but to turn the fruit into a gastronomic delight. It’s very different. To achieve this, the first thing is to select the best quality raw material, for which Paco García, from the Ponzano restaurant (Madrid), encourages discard “those tomatoes that look like cardboard and bet on seasonal ones”, in search of juiciness and a higher concentration of sugars. As for variety, there is a division of opinion, which is good because it increases the scope.
Álvaro González de Audicana, from the Aitatxu restaurant (Madrid), recommends “well-ripened and not unripe pear tomatoes”, while Víctor Conus, from La Mesa de Conus (Vigo), prefers those with ox heart “when they are in the middle of the season , in summer”. And you don’t have to demonize tin cans, as long as you choose the right one to put in the shopping cart. Micaela Geminiani, magician of the empanadillas in Graciana (Madrid), opts for whole peeled tomatoes from Navarre can “because they have little acidity”, while Pablo Colmenares, executive chef of the New York Burger restaurants in Madrid, prefers them “Italians , peeled and whole “. Its sauce, “made for between 40 minutes and an hour on very low heat” is perfect for “some meatballs, a pasta dish or even a veal milanese with cheese”.
A garden party …
There are basics of the sofrito in a tomato sauce that nobody dispenses with, such as garlic and onion, but some chefs refine more. It is worth following in the wake of professionals such as Enrique Medina, chef of Apicius (Valencia), who likes to add “a little bit of leek, soaked ñoras and carrot “for more depth of flavor. Fernando Pérez, from La Cabezona (Madrid), also introduces leek in his recipe, and Mario Céspedes, owner and cook of Ronda 14, Cilindro y Apura (Madrid), is among the fans of adding carrots. Of course, in his case, grated.
… and a hideaway for meat
But there is life beyond vegetables. The gangsters in One of Ours knew this well: they had a habit of adding a few good chunks of meat to their prison sauce, and it wasn’t because they missed the blood of their business. It is that there are flavors that remain engraved in the memory, and giving it an animal touch is a good way for everyone to remember your sauce. If you hide it and they don’t see it, they will soon ask you about the secret. Some of our chefs turn to this wild card. José Manuel Miguel of the Valencian hotel The Cookbook is one of those who adds “a ham bone to give flavor and provide less salt”. Obviously, the bone is removed before grinding the sauce, whose fate depends, in large part, on the consistency that is given: “The denser sauces are used as a base for a stew or for a sofrito, because we want the flavor to be more concentrated. However, the more liquid ones are perfect for a Cuban rice or as an accompaniment. “
But, for meaty touches, that of Juanfran Robles, from Patio de Leones, in Madrid. The cook pulls directly on a bacon that he cooks for a little while in the sauce “so that it gives it a smoky flavor”. Warning: do not try at home without having a good bread on hand, the result is one of those that force you to dip as if there was no tomorrow.
Sugar is not the only thing that sweetens. What if you put cinnamon in it?
The best tomato sauce should include a sweet touch. Normally, one looks for this taste in the tomatoes themselves – remember that seasonal ones have a higher concentration of sugars – or onion, which depending on how it is cooked can enhance its sweetness to very striking points. Most recipes also recommend adding a pinch of sugar, but looking for formulas so you don’t have to spoon it out never hurts. Álvaro González de Audicana, who has diabetics in the family, substitutes “a little honey, which gives it an interesting touch and texture”, while Micaela Geminiani strains among the spices added by a cinnamon stick. Its slightly sweet and spicy sauce (due to the cinnamon) has no better destination than its chorizo Creole. You have to try them to notice the difference.
Broth, wine and a spicy point that also gives color
Although not listed in any canonical recipe, there is no shortage of cooks who add liquids, with and without alcohol, to enrich the tomato sauce formula. Micaela Geminiani contributes “vegetable broth and a little white wine”, while Pablo Colmenares opts for red wine. Sergi Sanz, a cook in Ramsés (Madrid) is one of those who throw in “a splash of vinegar from Jerez almost at the end of cooking, it gives it a very interesting touch because of the bittersweet point it brings”. It also flavored its slightly sweet and sour sauce with thyme, “which makes it versatile, both for fried potatoes and for a cod dish.”
Neither wine nor broth surprise in a Spanish kitchen, but what about spicy? Well, tomato sauce is a traveler, more than some people, and there are countries where it spicy. This is the case of Mexico. Sara Herrera, cook at Tepic, one of the great Mexican restaurants in Madrid, puts “one serrano or jalapeño pepper for every six tomatoes” to get a “delicious” sauce that doesn’t bite much, really. Víctor Camargo, chef at Viva Madrid, also hydrates two dry broad chilies and sautees them together with the sauce: “They hardly add spice, but they do provide a lot of extra flavor and a more vivid red color.”
From dehydration to extreme reduction
In addition to guest stars in the form of special ingredients, giving tomato sauce more flavor also depends on little tricks when cooking it. Samuel Moreno, from Relais & Châteaux Molino de Alcuneza, in the province of Guadalajara, puts the tomatoes “broken in half in the oven for a little while so that they lose water, and so that the flavors and sugars are concentrated”. This process of pasification makes the tomatoes already tastier to start with.
And from dehydration to reduction. Fernando Pérez, from La Cabezona, recommends that the sauce be cooked “over medium heat and slowly, so that the flavors come together. With about 15 or 20 minutes lowering over low heat, the sauce will be perfect”. However, Álvaro González from Audicana goes even a little further: “I love spending a long time with the tomato sauce, letting it reduce, concentrate and lose water. It should be cut in half and here the time varies: it can be from an hour to an hour and a half. The result is a very thick sauce that is vice “, he assures.
Shred or not shred, that’s the question
It is not a minor issue. There are those who love stumbling and who do not want to see them even in painting. José Luis García Berlanga, from the restaurant specialized in rice Berlanga in Madrid, is one of those who grinds it “with the turmix”, although he also uses a Chinese when he wants a finer texture. Víctor Camargo de Viva Madrid prefers to crush twice: first the tomatoes separately, before frying them with the rest of the ingredients, and then crush them again when all the ingredients are already together. Enrique Medina de Apicius passes it “through a mash” although there are days when the body asks for a more rustic texture and leaves the sauce as it is, “so that the vegetables are noticed”. It is clear that, for tastes, stumbles.
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