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Tomato sauce depth of flavor question

I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions for adding depth of flavor to a tomato sauce. I made some tonight from scratch and get alright tomato flavor, and enough acid, but I'm not getting the real "tomato" depth of flavor.

I almost feel like it needs some demi-glace to really bring out that depth, but I don't have any and am not likely to come across any in the next hour or so.

Any suggestions?

I've added enough balsamic, salt, pepper, and some tomato paste, as well as the usual suspects- garlic, shallots, wine.

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  1. Based on the details you have provided, your only option is to concentrate the flavor more by reducing the liquid or water content of the sauce. Sometimes making fresh sauce, the tomatoes are just not that good.

    Next time, try slow roasting the tomatoes in the oven first to concentrate their flavor and intensity....some good olive oil, salt & pepper, garlic, onions/shallots and basil are all you need to make a great sauce.....other aromatics are optional to taste.

    3 Replies
    1. re: fourunder

      Yeah, the tomatoes weren't the best, but the options for canned tomatoes weren't great- I really only use muir glen and since moving to my current town, I have to drive about 30 minutes to get anything decent.

      Am reducing now.

      1. re: jameshig

        You can roast canned ones too. You might try brushing some whole drained canned tomatoes with oil and slow roasting for some time in the oven. Then add those to more canned ones and see if the roasted ones help bring some depth the the sauce.

        In the summer when fresh ones come into season, we slow roast and then freeze tons of tomatoes. Nothing is better for sauce. We had some tonight for dinner over spaghetti.

      2. re: fourunder

        Agree with the slow roasting approach. Thomas Keller's Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce recipe (from Ad Hoc) has a really great depth of flavor. It starts with roasting the aromatics (which includes leek and fennel in addition to the usual suspects), then adding canned San Marzanos and roasting for another 2-3 hours. It is one of my favorite sauces (along with the Marcella Hazan tomato/onion/butter sauce mentioned downthread).

      3. Two thoughts... bay leaves and anchovy.

        10 Replies
        1. re: mcel215

          It's not sauce to me without oregano and basil.

          1. re: coll

            agree absolutely. tomato without basil is a crime ;-) those two should never be apart. oregano can play the minor role but will carry it's own weight.

            if you're going to make tomato sauce, then garlic is vital. lots of garlic... and plenty of garlic.... and a whole lotta garlic. final addition would be olives and maybe caramelized onions.

            1. re: epabella

              Don't forget to add more garlic once you've added the garlic. It's just not good sauce if it doesn't have garlic. Oh, did I mention more garlic? LOL

              1. re: boyzoma

                Did you mean Garlic? I would forgo the tomatoes than forget the garlic but that's another recipe tread I would think.

                1. re: Duppie

                  Duppie - me thinks you are spot on with that one with both the foregoing of tomatoes and the new garlic thread!

            2. re: coll

              I never put oregano in my Sunday gravy. For some reason, my 97 (bless her) Italian MIL, never added it. In her day, she fed a family of 5 boys and 1 girl, while still making her own ravioli (by hand), cutting the dough with a little grape jelly glass into round circles. Her cannoli could have given Modern Pastry a run for their money. Her sauce has pigs feet, hocks, sausage, salt pork and meatballs. Trust me, my friends and family rave about her sauce and I agree, it's outstanding. Each Christmas I make batches and give it as gifts to friends. So coming from her.. no oregano. ;) Might be a regional thing, she is Calabrese. I'm Irish, so what do I know about sauce? I'm just so glad I stayed by her side, while she taught me how to cook all of her Italian specialties.

              In the summer for fresh tomato sauce, I love fresh basil added. It's heavenly.

              1. re: mcel215

                i don't get fresh oregano often and it's really different from the dry stuff. fresh oregano in tomato sauce is great - not as important as basil but you'll miss it when you're used to it.

                1. re: epabella

                  Yes I grow oregano every year and even in the dead of winter, what's left (even though I dry it to get through) is a completely different thing than commercial oregano. But only a pinch, the basil is the predominant herb.

                2. re: mcel215

                  mce: (jealous!)

                  CH really needs to add a 'like' button and a 'jealous' button

            3. Anchovies was my first thought too. A little trick I learned from an Italian lady is to drop some tomato leaves, no more than a bay leaf's worth, into the sauce near the end of the cooking time and then remove it. My first reaction was " but they're poisonous!", but hey- she is 80-something. Then I recently read it on the Well Preserved blog and he explains why it works.

                1. Okay, you're gonna think I'm crazy...but way better CHs than I rave about this.

                  1 28 oz. tomatoes (San Marzano is great; I use TJs)
                  1 onion, cut in half
                  5 T butter

                  Put those three ingredients in a sauce pan and simmer for 45 minutes, breaking up the tomatoes occasionally if using whole. After 45 minutes, throw the onion away and you're gonna have a great tomato sauce. You can use this as a basis for anything. Before you poo-poo this, please give it a try. Alot of us like to eat it straight out of the pot :)

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: c oliver

                    You gonna credit Marcella Hazan, or what? 'Cause that's her sauce.

                    1. re: small h

                      OMG, I'm a complete idiot! Of course, Marcella Hazan is one of my heroes. Thanks for nailing me or I'd have missed it completely. Head hanging with shame :)

                      1. re: c oliver

                        I think of her every time I clean an artichoke. That sauce is one of the only recipes I recognize - three ingredients is my mental limit.

                        1. re: small h

                          Three ingredient limit is a good insight. I'm getting on up there in years. Karl S serves this as soup with a cheese souffle if that gives any skeptics a nudge towards this.
                          PS: After I posted last night, I realized that I should have started my reply with "small h eeeee double ll."

                    2. re: c oliver

                      Just a comment that I like this sauce better after an hour+ of simmering. It seems to mellow out the acid just that much more. Yum. Addictive stuff.

                      And I also would like to add "don't throw out that onion!" Fish it out of the sauce and eat it on a crusty baguette. Or chop it up and throw it in an omelette with some cheese and ham. Because really, what's not to love about an onion that has been simmering in tomatoes and butter?

                      1. re: TorontoJo

                        I really appreciate the onion suggestions. I kept thinking it should be good for something. Thanks.

                    3. I've been adding a dash of vodka towards the end and it really adds something. There's some scientific explanation that I'm not capable of explaining right now.....The balsamic for some reason doesn't do it for me.

                      Now if you're talking meat sauce, you really need some marrow bones in there, rather than demi glace.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: coll

                        The science I've heard is that tomatoes have flavonoids which are only soluble in alcohol, so if you don't include any, these tastes are not delivered to your taste buds. So I don't cook tomatoes without starting my aromatics (garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, etc) in fat (olive oil), which disseminates their flavonoids thoughout the dish, and then adding a splash of wine and cooking that down a bit, and then adding tomatoes. So you maximize the layers of flavors and make sure there is a vehicle for delivering each one.

                      2. I add 2 Anchovy fillets or in a pinch, a shot of fish sauce and always basil and oregano.It's amazing how it adds to the depth of flavor.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Duppie

                          The recipe I originally started with for my gravy called for italian sausage, lamb shanks, pork neck bones and homemade meatballs. It was always a bit of pain to hunt down the lamb shanks and pork neck bones, and with all the other ingredients, started to become a pretty pricey pot of sauce. After some experimenting, I ended up leaving out those first three items and adding a box of beef broth. That plus meatballs add plenty of flavor to the sauce. But anchovies sound like a great idea.

                          1. re: gmm

                            I learned very early on that in this neck of the woods "gravy" is considered a meat based sauce and "tomato sauce or "marinara" is thought to be meatless. I however start my gravy by using any bones or meat trimmings I have accumulated much like your self,and a dash of Maggi which is available at just about any Asian grocery.

                        2. You need to add sugar! You can't make a good tomato sauce without a little sugar, along with the salt. It expands the flavour noticeably.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: AnotherMother

                            Carrots add sweetness too, I alway add some finely chopped or pureed rather than granulated sugar.

                          2. You can also saute about 2-3 tablespoons of tomato paste in a nonstick pan, stirring constantly, until it starts to carmelize and then add that to your sauce. Trick I learned from ATK.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: weezycom

                              This. Sauteing tomato paste until brown really makes it pop. The suggestion of anchovies was also good. A beef bouillon cube could help too.

                            2. Try about a Tbsp of tomato paste. Nothing adds depth of flavor like it does. Try making a coq au vin or boeuf Burguignon without it and it's insipid. Nothing else will work as well. Then put any that you have left in a sip lock sandwich bag, press it out flat, score it with a cross by running your finger across the closed bag, fold it on the marks and put it in the freezer. When you need some, you'll have it all premeasured.

                              1. tomato paste, and/or a slightly caramelized vinegar/sugar reduction (i've usually heard this called a gastrique or an agrodolce depending on who was talking) would be fast ways to infuse some flavor.

                                If you are not too pressed for time, you can sort of treat them like you do onions when making french onion soup; cook them until they brown heavily, deglaze(with tomato juice, most likely) and repeat until rich flavor develops.

                                1. your answer : anchovies. period.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: alkapal

                                    Or fish sauce, pretty much the same diff.

                                    1. re: buttertart

                                      That's a good idea. I never have anchovies around, but I always have fish sauce on hand.

                                    2. After reading these replies, I wonder if I'm talking about something different than you are. By "tomato sauce," I'm talking about the crown jewel equivalent of the stuff that comes in the 8 and 16 oz. cans. I'm NOT talking about a final product to which nothing else is added. I actually find Hazan's tomato sauce too richly tomato-y to be used as a pasta sauce.

                                      1. are you salting enough?

                                        1. MSG, baby. You need glutamate. You could get it naturally from Parmesan cheese or anchovies also.

                                          1. A little white sugar seems to bring out the flavor of even bland tomaotes.

                                            1. Paste. I'm with the hounds who call for paste. And carmelized onions, etc etc, but really, we're talking tomato sauce - so - paste.

                                              1. I always use one and a half teaspoons of fish sauce and a tablespoon of soy sauce in my tomato sauce.

                                                1. Jameshig,

                                                  So, . . .

                                                  How'd it go? What did you try? Maybe everything at once! Hopefull not.

                                                  I'm not the only one curious about the sauce on this man's pasta?