Tomato sauce is a sauce based on tomatoes.
There are many types: what most have in common is that they are meant to be thick.
Tomato sauce is usually a cooked sauce, but there are uncooked ones such as some fresh tomato Mexican salsas.
Tomato sauce can be a condiment — ketchup is a tomato sauce — or it can be used as an ingredient in a dish, as in tomato sauce that goes on pasta, noodles or rice.
Tomato sauces, for the most part, don’t need added thickeners. Simmering tomatoes will evaporate enough water to make a thick sauce, because tomatoes have flesh which breaks down just by simmering.
Ideally, use paste type tomatoes such as Amish, Roma, San Marzano, etc for making tomato sauce. These varieties less water in them than others — a “higher pulp-to-moisture ratio” — so require less simmering than others. That means less time, and less cooking-fuel costs.
Some tomato varieties like beefsteak or cherry tomatoes are juicier, so would require more simmering. Use these for fresh-eating, or for making tomato juice with.
In the French mind, defined tomato sauces such as “sauce tomate à la mode provençale”, “sauce tomate au naturel”, or “coulis de tomate” are Italian-style tomato sauces with no starch thickeners in them. Otherwise, in classical French cooking “sauce tomate” is thickened with a roux (flour and butter.)1
Many Italian tomato sauces start with a soffritto of the Italian holy trinity of the kitchen: onion, carrots and celery, minced and sautéed.
Typical seasonings for tomato sauces are basil, black pepper, oregano, parsley, and salt. Sometimes chile flake, olive oil, or ground meat is added. The French and the Italians call a tomato sauce with meat in it (sauce tomate à la viande hachée) a “ragu.”
Southern Italian and south of France tomato sauces will use olive oil; northern Italian and the rest of France are more likely to use butter in them.
In North America, tomato sauce can refer to a tin of concentrated, puréed tomato. It will be thicker that tomato juice, and far more liquid than tomato paste, and be variously flavoured with some very basic seasonings (there is no standard.) Tomato sauce further prepared for pasta is referred to as pasta sauce or spaghetti sauce.
Many people insist that tomatoes should be peeled before making sauce from them; others insist on peeling and seeding; still others inside on peeling, seeding, and pressing through a strainer.
Some purée the washed and cored but unskinned tomatoes in a blender, hoping that the skin will be ground up finely enough in the blender.
It is a texture preference, with the preference historically being not to have the bits of skin in the sauce.
If you are doing home canning and your tomato sauce recipe calls for the tomato to be peeled, then peel: in this case, it’s more than a preference. Your recipe will have counted on you following directions and reducing the bacterial level on the tomatoes being the sauce goes into the jars for processing. Most of the bacteria will be on the skin, and washing alone won’t get it all off. While bacterial levels won’t matter in a sauce cooked then served, they will matter in a jar sealed then let sit on a shelf. [Ed: The one bacteria in particular that is of worry in sealed, shelf-stored containers is “Clostridium botulinum”.]
It takes hours and hours to simmer a tomato sauce down; it should be reduced by half.
Some like to freeze tomato sauce; some like to bottle it.
We do recommend peeling the tomatoes for the best quality.
It’s really not a lot of work if you understand the technique. See our satellite site “Healthy Canning” for directions and discussion on peeling tomatoes, as well as tips on using the tomato skins for other food products such as tomato powder.
Instead of canned North American tomato sauce: 3/4 cup tomato paste + 1 cup water = 2 cups of tinned tomato sauce.
The differences in French:
- tomates pelées entières – canned whole, peeled tomatoes
- tomates pelées concassées – canned, peeled, crushed or diced tomatoes
- concentré de tomates – tomato paste
- purée de tomates – simple, unadorned tomato sauce
- sauce tomate – a finished tomato sauce, seasoned, added ingredients, ready to use
Bittman, Mark. An Easy Tomato Sauce Made Easier. New York Times. 1 October 2010.
Brennan, Georgeanne. From vine to freezer – tomato sauce for all year. San Francisco Chronicle. 26 July 2009.
New Larousse Gastronomique. Paris: Librairie Larousse. English edition 1977. Page 808. ↩