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Tomato Sauce - How to know when cooked?

I have recently started cooking my own sauce for pasta, pizza, etc. I'm curious about how to tell when the tomatoes are cooked. I'm using canned tomatoes in puree. I've heard that you cook them until the oil seperates but I'm not sure how to tell when this happens. I hope someone can explain the basic idea of how to make sauce from canned tomatoes

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  1. In my experience making tomato sauce from canned tomatoes, the sauce is done when it gets, well, "saucey". Basically, when there are little to no discernable chunks of tomato left and it has really started to thicken. This can take a while depending on how much sauce you're making. More cooking time is better than not enough. Sometimes I get impatient and help it along by mashing up the remaining chunks towards the end then cooking a little while longer.

    If you're using canned, whole, peeled, tomatoes; drain them, cut out the stems and remove as much of the seeds as you can. Add them to some sauteed garlic in olive oil, then add seasonings (red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, etc) to your liking. Good Luck!

    1. My rule of thumb - never over an hour on med- low in a pot (I use dutch oven - coated pot).
      I know some cooks swear to let the sauce simmer for like 6 hours, but not me.
      I dont' know if you are in the "adding sugar" to sauce camp, but that also changes cooking time.

      I also cut a bit of butter into the sauce to lessen the acid content. It really makes a difference.

      Good luck on your sauce.

      1 Reply
      1. re: stellamystar

        I usually do 45 minutes or so - this is usually with Marcella's sauce that just has the tomatoes, onion cut in half and butter. I find that it's usually ready when the sauce no longer has any acidity to it. I generally use whole tomatoes (San Marzano) as I find the pureed and chopped ones have a tinnier flavor. I used a jarred passata (sp?) for the first time the other day with good results though. I usually just smash the tomatoes with a potato masher, but one could also run the sauce through a food mill.

      2. If you're using canned tomatoes it's pretty much half done when you empty the can. Shouldn't take more than about an hour to finish the sauce.
        Here's a recipe with some ideas that might help:


        1. Cooking tomatoes it is about evaporation. Use a wider pot and the sauce will cook faster. I cook tomato sauce until it reaches the consistency of cooked oatmeal. I like my tomato sauce fairly thick so that the pasta isn't too soupy.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Romanmk

            Re: the pot - I pretty much always use a large saute pan, rather than a pot, for that reason. Sometimes I add a little pasta water if the sauce has become thicker than I want it to be.

          2. Thanks for the help. There is nothing like homemade sauce. I've tried a few of Marecella Hazan's recipes and are delicious. Can't wait to try some of your suggestions.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Brock Oley

              You might enjoying perusing this thread:


              It's from when one of her books was the "cookbook" of the month aka COTM. Also, there are some great threads about her bolognese recipe - if you search using "title:hazan" you'll find them (omit the quotation marks).

            2. It depends on who taught you to cook tomato sauce. If your grandma was Sicilian, two days is sufficient :) If she was Napoletana, about 90 minutes for a pot filled with meatballs.

              Seriously, I think it depends on what you are going for. Do you want fresh and chunky with strong basil overtones? Thin and spicy, for fish? These cook very fast - thirty minutes or so. Sunday "gravy" -- about 90 minutes, (at my Grandma's house). At my friend's Grandma's house, the sauce was a thick, rich, dark tomato sauce with a sweet taste that took many hours on low heat. It all depends on what you want.

              1 Reply
              1. re: RGC1982

                I like your description. To add to what you say: one thing with the two day sauces (my aunt in Napoli makes the two-day and the 45 minutes versions!) is that they often begin with chunks of meat that slowly deteriorate into the sauce over the course of the two-day slow simmer. By the second day, the threads of meat are barely detectable visually, but the meat flavor in the deep red sauce is quite remarkable.

                At home, I do it like your friend's grandmother. Simmer for about six hours. Start by browning meat in the pan (meatballs, or meat chunks), and then take it out while the sauce simmers all day. I maintain that at some point around the four hour mark, there is a magical hurdle that the sauce jumps and just become much deeper and richer in flavor, though I think it may be that I am just chanelling my Mother. About 30 minutes before serving, I add the meat back in to heat it back up.

              2. Pay attention to the key word: simmer (simmering is roughly the range between 185F and 212F) - and gently at that. Do not let tomatoes boil for more than the briefest of moments possible or they get a bitter edge.