This is my first post. It was supposed to be a simple offering of tomato sauce, prior to asking for help with pizza. It grew somewhat. I haven’t read every thread about sauce, so I hope I’m not going over too much old ground.
This sauce is designed to deliver a bright clean tomato flavour to a dish without screwing up its other flavours. It usually has pepper, salt & onion, but they might be omitted for pizza use. No herbs either, as that is usually handled elsewhere.
Theory: I've read a few times now, that the human brain can never discern more than three flavours simultaneously, however they can be summarised. Garlic & Mushroom can become garlic-mushroom. I'll assume this is true.
Thus for pizza sauce, the relative intensity levels of each flavour component should be:
The tomato flavour must be first, and head and shoulders above the rest. This way on the pizza, the three distinct flavours will usually be buffalo mozzarella, sourdough crust & tomato. When you are licking the sauce from your lips you'll have the full complexity of the sauce.
Concept: 'freshness parameter'. For pizza sauce, I usually want the flavour to have equal elements of fresh and cooked. 50/50, right on the line, at the moment it hits my tongue. Having said that, 'freshness' can be varied with great results. For pizza use, I usually just take some moisture out of it, and let the pizza oven do the rest.
My tomato sauce has a special ingredient: Thai fish sauce. My tomato sauce doesn't taste fishy in the slightest. Few can identify it, and sophisticated palettes have missed it. I suspect that a better sauce than mine is made with a very clean fish stock. (What do you think?). I doubt that say… veal stock, could match fish sauce for power, subtle sophistication or cleanliness (although would doubtless make a fine sauce). Fish sauce is cheap and lasts for ages.
I use a very sharp knife to dice the onion as finely as I can. Garlic is OK, but not both. I suspect that a bulb vegetable I'm yet to identify is better than either of them.
I usually skin and fillet fresh tomatoes and put those through an irregular shaped food mill. The chunkier bits cook with a slight difference to the runnier bits, adding character to the sauce.
It's my belief that starting with fresh tomatoes helps with 'brightness', and allows wider 'contrast' on the freshness parameter. Sugar and red wine vinegar can do wonders for freshening up bad tomatoes, however good food is about allowing each component to be the best thing it can be, rather than compensating with additives. I don't see how any commercial tomato can compete with a half decent home grown.
This sauce was entirely developed by feel, long before I purchased a digital scale. Although the measurements are guessed, I think they are usable.
best olive oil
1/2 finely chopped onion
5 drops of fish sauce
2 Kg of processed tomato
optional: salt, pepper & onion
banned: herbs, garlic & vegetables
1) Heat Pan: Place your widest pan on your biggest burner, to a medium-low heat
2) Add Oil: A generous amount of your best oil. The oil is going to carry the onion & stock flavour through the sauce.
3) Add Onion: Heat makes oil bitter, so add the onion well before the wisp of smoke occurs instead of just after. Hopefully your oil will
withstand the pizza oven too.
4) Add Fish Sauce: Shortly after the onion goes in, it will shed a lot of liquid. That is an excellent moment to add fish sauce.
5) Wait a bit: Some liquid must be allowed to evaporate, or you will end up with a slightly fishy sauce. You can let the onion go for a while, however you're just looking to soften the onion, not to caramelise it. Move the onion around a bit.
6) Stir in Tomato: Use a wooden spoon to stir the onion and oil off the bottom of the pan & through the tomatoes. Now is also the time to add a tiny bit of pepper or salt.
7) Lively Simmer: You need a high flame to stay on the fresh side of 50/50. The exact timing depends on so many factors, but it's very short. You really need the tomato spread thinly across your widest pan. A lively simmer, but definitely not boiling.
8) Cool it: Exactly when you should do this depends on your pizza oven, so do what you thinks' best. Put the pan on something cool, or move the sauce to a cool container. Just don't let it overcook after you've taken it off the heat.
The combination of onion and fish sauce, while both powerful and subtle, I feel can be improved upon. It's just not perfect, so I'm very keen to identify new things to try in this area.
What about my procedure? How can that be improved?
What do people think about this three flavours thing? Chefs? Other experts? Will someone please explain this phenomenon properly?
Another area I'd like to see discussed more is heirloom vegetables. Download the PDF catalogue from diggers com au (first post, would someone please fix that?) and be amazed by pink beans, black watermelons, purple and aqua cabbage, and an extraordinary variety of tomatoes, some of which have got to be extremely tasty.
I emailed them about tomatoes to grow in pots on a Sydney (Australia) balcony, & they said: You could try any of the determinate or dwarf varieties. However all tomatoes are fairly vigorous plants and do need decent size pots and soil to grow properly. The best varieties for you to try are Siberian (S233) or Principe Borghese (S294). Happy gardening, Diggers
From the catalogue: Siberian – This cold tolerant compact trailer produces massed of 7cm fruit. Perfect for pots. 90 days, 4 kg/plant. 40 seeds. Dwarf. S233 Certified Organic.
Principe Borghese (heirloom) – As its name suggests this was the tomato for the average Italian, providing tomatoes for the salad as well as preserving. Its low sugar, seed and moisture content make it ideal to sun-dry for tomatoes for winter. Crops all at once for easy batch processing. Dwarf. 77 days, 2.9kg/plant. S294
Marco seems to be recommending those.
Food Mill: With the two textures created by the irregular shaped food mill blade, something magic happens. It's hard to describe, however the words shimmering and rippled spring to mind. Perhaps it's simply that the runnier stuff mixes with flavoured oil, while the larger stuff braises. Maybe they cook at different rates. It never seems to happen with whole crushed tomatoes, or even hand crushed flesh. Maybe the textures are too far apart, maybe there are chemical problems. I don't know, but whatever it is, I love it. The first time this happened I ate the entire sauce from the pan. I couldn't believe my luck.
I lost the mill blade when I moved a couple of months ago, although I can describe it. It has a few differently sized smallish holes spread around the place, which more or less make passata. The defining feature though, is 2x 3cm 'slit'. Some pieces of tomato flesh that emerge from this 'slit' remind me of a thin sliver of Sashimi. I only have the finest blade now, which is my least favourite ;-(
One last thing: Thank you everyone, for your outstanding contribution to pizza!