Sunday, November 17, 2013

Principles of Tomato Sauces: Ketchup, Enchilada, Marinara, BBQ, etc.

Hi. It's me again.

Today I'm going to share how I go about re-creating some basic condiment sauces. Why do I bother with this when the grocery store has aisles filled with this stuff? My daughter, Lydia, is allergic to garlic. Yes, garlic. Did you know garlic is in every savory dish on the planet? Not really, but it sure seems like it, sometimes.
Ugh. Garlic. Actually, this was a stomach bug. Garlic just gives her hives. But now you know that I'm that mom. "Oh, you're not feeling good? So sorry! Let me just snap a picture real quick."
This post is going to focus on the principles of working with tomato-based sauces, rather than actual recipes for these items.

The first thing I do is read the ingredient list on a store-bought jar of whatever I'm going to attempt to make. If you like the sauce you're holding in your hand, try to gather those ingredients, or healthy alternatives if it has things like corn syrup or soy protein. The beautiful thing about sauces is that making them is, "A little 'o this, & a little 'o that." Throw the ingredients together a little at a time, tasting frequently and add what's missing as you go along.

Usually for these sauces I start with a large can of tomato puree. If I'm doing a chunky pasta sauce or a chili, I might use diced tomatoes with the juice, but tomato puree is my standard.

Tomato-based sauces yield two problems that are really two sides of one coin:

  • Too much acidic flavor
  • Not enough depth

Solution: Baking soda.

Yes, I'm serious. Add it to your tomato sauce base, a pinch at a time until those acidic flavors temper to your liking. I always try to get this balance right before I add any sugar. You may be surprised how much sweetness is unmasked once the acid is turned down a bit.

Note: I get a lame kick out of watching the fizz that's produced with each small addition of the baking soda.

Depending on what you're making, you might also find these ingredients helpful in adding depth:

  • Sugar
  • Cocoa Powder
  • Coffee
BBQ sauce and Chili tend to need more depth than Enchilada sauce or Marinara. But again, you can make it however you like by simple adding more or this, less of that, or none of the other stuff.

Depending on the final product, other ingredients might include:
  • Onion powder
  • Paprika
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Vinegar (I have a lot of vinegars - buy a few and get to know them)
  • Oil (I use Olive or Coconut)
  • Molasses
  • Brown Sugar
  • White Sugar
  • Ground Red Pepper
  • Horseradish (that's what was missing from my last BBQ sauce attempt!)
  • Dried Herbs: Oregano, Basil, Parsley
A note on using dried herbs in sauces: Begin your recipe by warming oil in the empty saucepan  adding the dried herbs to the warm oil; this releases their oil-based flavors. If dried herbs are added to the sauce later, they steep like tea which is no good. If you must add more herbs later, warm a small amount of oil in the microwave, steep herbs in the oil and add that to the sauce.

So, that's about all you need to know, except that the longer the simmer time, the more the flavors marry. Also, these sauces freeze well. I use glass canning jars filled about 4/5 of the way to allow room for expansion. 
This girl gets so excited when she sees me making "Lydia-friendly" sauces. 

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