HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Help with my homemade marinara sauce...

Hi, I usually make my own marinara sauce with canned San Marzano tomatoes, onions, carrots, celery and fresh basil. But everytime I make it and refridgerate it, it is so watery. I have been having to strain it before using it, and I usually strain it a whole day in the fridge. I am not adding extra water to my sauce when I make it. I am using Lidia Bastinanich's recipe. Why is it so watery? Should I not be adding the tomato liquid from the can when making my sauce? Does anyone have a great basic marinara sauce? I love the taste of fresh basil with it...Thanks for your help!!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Add ~1T of tomato paste per quart of sauce. If you saute the veggies, add the tomato paste to the saute when the veggies are almost done.

    1. I never put carrots and celery in my sauce. For me it's because that's what my mother and grandmother did. But they also have a lot of water in them. Are you cooking it long enough? Maybe it needs to reduce down longer?

      1. you can try it with reserving the liquid and adding it bit by bit as it thickens. You can also let it simmer with the lid off so the liquid will evaporate.

        2 Replies
        1. re: brycol1

          Thank you so much for all your ideas and help. I do simmer the sauce for about an hour uncovered, so maybe next time I will try not to add the liquid. Thanks again!

          1. re: shu.girl

            My sauce is never watery but I simmer it for 3 hours and usually make 20 quarts at a time.

        2. I think adding the liquid is just fine. Fresh tomatoes give up a lot of their water when making a sauce too. The thing you need to do is simmer the sauce very slowly, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. Marcella Hazan's method works beautifully. Here is her recipe which I used with fresh tomatoes back in Sept. http://houndstoothgourmet.com/play-wi...

          It's very easy and just focuses on the essense of the tomato. Adding in basil after the sauce is made and run through a food mill would be lovely.

          1. I used to have the same problem, and I started to oven roast the tomatoes before I added them to the sauce. Just cut the tomatoes in half and place them on a foil-lined cookie sheet, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and some garlic if you like it. Let them cook until they are wrinkly on top and have lost a lot of their liquid (the salt helps with this as well) and then add to your sauce. I think I put the oven at like 350* or maybe 400*. You'll get all the flavor of the tomato without the hassle of having to cook the sauce down.

            FYI, this method works well with grocery store plum tomatoes, which can be much less expensive than San Marzanos.

            1. Add tomato paste. Someone here on another thread said she'd learned to saute a bit of tomato paste after the onions and things. This gives a "cooked-for-hours" flavor and thickens the sauce.

              Usually when I make marinara sauce I use canned crushed tomatoes in puree instead of just regular tomatoes. That way you start with it a little thicker.

              1. I think Cook's Illustrated said they didn't use all the packing liquid in their sauce for a less watery taste.

                1. I'm assuming that you like the flavor of your sauce, so don't add tomato paste or roast the tomatoes because that will change the flavor from the fresh tasting sauce you have now to something very different. The tomato liquid in the can is usually juice from the tomatoes themselves. You may want to add less of the juice from the can if you want a thicker sauce without having to cook it for a long time. Save the juice for use in other recipes.

                  The "water" that you see after refrigeration isn't H20 like from your kitchen tap but "tomato water" much like blood plasma, the clear liquid in which all of your platelets are suspended. The tomato solids are suspended in it and they've just separated out in cooking. It has a lot of flavor so when you strain your sauce, you're throwing away a flavor component.
                  Try using a stick blender to purée a bit of the sauce into the "water" and use that to thicken the entire batch. Or take a bit out and use a blender or food processor to do the same thing. This should incorporate the clear liquid back into the tomatoes from which it came.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: MakingSense

                    Actually, Cooks Illustrated recommends using Tomatoes packed in tomato juice and not using the juice at all. They say the ones in puree have a cooked taste that they don't like as much. Their recipe is 2 28oz cans, seeded and mashed, 3 cloves garlic, 6 tablespoons of olive oil. Get the garlic nice and roasted but then take out. Its purpose is to give the oil flavor. Then add the tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes.

                    1. re: ariellasdaddy

                      I usually save the juice from the can for other recipes because I agree that it makes a quick-cooked sauce too liquid for my taste. The purée is out of the question. It's made from lower quality tomatoes that weren't good enough to pack whole and it tastes cooked and old.
                      Most of the tomatoes I use are ones I can myself. When I cold pack them I add nothing, putting only tomatoes in the jars. The juice in the jars comes from the tomatoes themselves. It begins to squeeze out when the tomatoes are pushed into the jars and the heat of canning extracts more. I understand that's the same with commercial canned tomatoes in juice.

                  2. To be perfectly honest, a marinara sauce is a quick sauce. Minced garlic, red pepper flakes, EVOO, Pastene Kirchen Ready tomatoes (low sodium), chopped basil, S & P.... simmered with or without cover for one half hour at the most. ( A bit longer if you're using more than one can of tomatoes.) That's it.

                    Once in a while I swish a 1/2 cup of red wine in the can after I've added the tomatoes, just for a different flavor. Also, there are days when I add a load of various vegetables. Never had a watery sauce in many moons of sauce making.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Gio

                      I agree 100%. Never have understood cooking them to death and losing all the fresh flavor.
                      Could this be an American habit because for so long people used watery salad tomatoes that had to be cooked for a very long time to evaporate the liquid, and even though now people are using plum tomatoes, they've stuck with the old recipes?

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        I'm not entirely sure about the "American habit", but rather I think it may be a reference to the proceedure for making a meat sauce. Especially one with a variety of meats. In that case the cooking time after browning the meats would be longer, so the meat in the finished sauce is falling off the bone, and very tender.

                        My entire family uses the Pastene Kitchen Ready, in part because the company was founded in the North End of Boston 125 years ago.. It's the oldest branded Italian company in North America. The consistency is always perfect.

                        For a quick marinara sauce the water is put on to boil, sauce started, macaroni thrown/cooked/ drained, sauce finished. 4 easy pieces.

                        1. re: Gio

                          So, maybe American think that because you cook one sauce a long time, you cook all of them a long time? I think there's a distinction, such as you seem to make, among the quick marinara (a simple fresh meatless tomato sauce), a long-cooked tomato sauce that's much more homogenous (that might have meat or seafood), and sauces like bolonese in which tomatoes aren't the stars. The lines seem to have become blurred and certainly the terminology.
                          The method you give for your "Four Easy Pieces" Sauce is pretty much what I do and I can't remember the last time I bought bottled sauce or made a plain long-cooked tomato sauce.

                    2. Regarding the juice from the can, I say keep it and cook the sauce down to concentrate the flavor and evaporate liquid. This pertains to making sauce from whole tomatoes too.
                      Pertaining to the liquid in San Marzano cans, it is tomato puree which is cooked. This is why CI and many chefs use American canned tomatoes.
                      Italy is able to reduce the tax on exports by selling san marzano's as a sauce, insteaded of a vegetable. This is why Italian tomatoes are packed in puree.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: monavano

                        Are you sure that Italy taxes exports? Most countries encourage them because it helps their balance of trade so they wouldn't tax exports, only imports. If the US duty is lower on sauce than vegetable, it might keep the shelf price lower in the US although how can DOP S. Marzanos cost much more?

                        I was told by friends in Italy that the reason that the purée is used is that it's a way of using the overripe and imperfect tomatoes and adding to the net weight of the cans. The tomatoes that can be packed "whole" are used that way and all the others are puréed and cooked down a bit to be used as filler in the cans around the whole tomatoes. Canning tomatoes in their own juice is more expensive, requiring more tomatoes in perfect condition to get the same net weight.

                      2. A la David Rosengarten (sp?) from the Taste days, I never add carrots or celery to my marinara and garlic is used in place of onions. Some, but not all, the reserved liquid from the (whole & seeded) tomatoes are used to make the sauce liquid enough to simmer. Never had a watery problem following this method.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Ali

                          CI advises using the juice and then cooking the pasta in the sauce. If you think about it, it makes sense because the pasta absorbs some of the liquid and also the flavor.

                          1. re: ariellasdaddy

                            This bit about cooking the macaroni to the almost al dente stage, then cooking it in the sauce is a recent addition to the whole proceedure. I always saw relatives, and now do myself, drain the macaroni, put it in a serving bowl, add sauce over top and mix gently to combine. Extra sauce goes into a large sauce boat for those who want more. Sometimes, the cooked macaroni is poured directly into the sauce pan, mixed, and dishes served from the pan. Oh the horror.
                            Grated cheese is added at the table.

                        2. Solution: crusty bread to sop the liquid. :)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: rockandroller1

                            Let it simmer, I put it in the oven at 350 for more even heat. I use 1 tsp of paste and add the juice from the tomatoes after it's been cooking for a while. The sauce should be thicker the next day and IMO tastes better too,

                          2. Instead of using canned tomatoes, I use either crushed tomatoes or tomato puree (in 28 oz. cans). I find that both taste great in my marinara sauce recipe and alleviates the watery problem.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ctflowers

                              If i am wrong about this I apologize to any previous poster, but I use carrots, onions and celery in addition to whole tomatoes, San Marzano and/or Domestic Plums in large number ten cans.

                              I have not seen it mentioned before, but I put the tomatoes through a food mill or the food processor before I start cooking and too much liquid is not a problem. It's possible the tomato chunks are too large and have not broken down.

                              I rarely cook plain marinara more than 90 minutes and I have not encountered too much liquid at the end of that cooking period of time. I usually like it cooked for about an hour with good results for flavor and consistency.

                            2. I always leave the sauce uncovered for a long while after cooking on the counter so no steam can collect on the lid and drip back down into the container,

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: billyjoe00

                                I'd stay with whole San Marzano tomatoes, I lthink they taste much better that crushed and especially puree. I like to see the whole tomato before I hand crush them in the pot. YUM!

                                1. re: treb

                                  I wasn't overly thrilled with SM tomatoes, so I put my good old Tuturosso puree in with them.

                                  Much better.

                                  I think SM are overpriced and overhyped.