Tomato Concasse - How to Peel and Seed a Tomato
The first in a series examining the foods of the New World and its vast influence on cuisines around the globe.
by Peter Martin
"In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue..." and the culinary world was forever changed. It's hard to imagine Italian cuisine without tomatoes, Indian and Thai food without the kick of chile peppers, or the numerous cuisines that rely heavily on the potato, but before Columbus's voyage the rest of the world, except for the Americas, did without these foods and many, many more. This series intends to look at just a handful of these influential foods by providing tutorials to some fundamental skills that all cooks should know, but may have not learned yet.
To start the series off, there is no better food than the tomato. It's hard to imagine almost any cuisine nowadays that doesn't rely heavily on this vegetable (technically a fruit, but for ease of discussion I will continue to refer to it as a vegetable as that is what most people consider it to be), yet before Columbus, and the explorers that came after him, this vegetable wasn't known outside of the Americas. Even after it's discovery, it took years to convince people that it wasn't poisonous and it only slowly worked its way into many of the foods and cuisines we all take for granted.
This how-to focuses on tomato concasse. Concasse comes from the French term concasser, meaning" to crush or grind" and refers to tomato that has been peeled, seed, and chopped. Whether it is a rough chop or a specific sized dice often depends on the chef and his/her interpretation of the definition. While tomato concasse has fallen out of fashion somewhat, there are still plenty of times when it is advantageous to peeling and seeding a tomato before use, usually when the tough skins would become a distraction such as in a smooth sauce or delicate salad, or where the tomatoes might be just barely warmed through but not really cooked.
Core the tomato, by inserting a knife in the top of the tomato, just outside of where the stem was attached and making a conical cut, around the stem, to remove the hard, inedible core.
On the blossom end, the end opposite the stem end, make a shallow "X" cut about 1/4 inch deep and 1 inch long.
Place in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Exactly how long will depend on how ripe your tomatoes are. The riper the less time it will take for the skins to pull away from the flesh. The goal is to get the skins to loosen from the flesh without actually cooking the flesh.
Quickly submerge in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Again the goal is to only loosen the skins and not cook the flesh.
Peel the skin from the tomato. Sometimes you can do this completely by hand, but I usually use a knife to help pull the skin from the tomato flesh. Just use the blade to pull up the skin, if it hasn't already started to peel away on its own then trap the skin between the blade and your thumb and pull it off.
Cut the tomato in half, along the equator, not from top to bottom. This exposes all the seed chambers.
By gently squeezing and using your finger to dig into those chambers, remove all seeds and watery pulp, leaving only the flesh behind.
The above way is fine if you will just be doing a rough chop of the tomatoes, for a pureed sauce or something, but if you want a nicer, more precise dice then use these alternative methods for seeding.
First cut the tomato into quarters, or sixths, if large, cutting from top to bottom.
Next position your knife so that the outer flesh of the tomato is against the cutting board and carefully cut out the chambers and inner flesh.
No matter what method you choose for seeding your tomato, the next step is to chop or dice it.
Now you have your peeled, seed, and chopped tomato ready for whatever use you need it for. While this looks like a long, somewhat complicated process, in actuality these added steps only take a few minutes and can really make the difference between making a good dish and a great dish.
Fresh Summer Pasta with Tomatoes and Basil
This dish is a great example of how adding the steps of peeling and seeding your tomatoes can turn this simple dish from good to great. You'll find recipes like this all over the Internet, but the vast majority of them do not take the time to peel and see the tomatoes. Try it this way and I think you will be convinced what a difference it makes.
3-4 tomatoes, peeled and seeded
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into small bits
fresh, coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 pound linguine
In a large pot, bring 1 gallon of salted water to a boil. Add linguine and cook to al dente. Meanwhile, place olive oil and garlic in a cold sauté pan. Place over high heat and allow to warm up. Once the garlic just starts to sauté, allow it to cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes or just until the tomatoes are warmed through. Turn off the heat. Add salt and a large dose of black pepper. Once pasta is done drain. While pasta is draining add the basil to the warm tomatoes and toss to combine. Place drained pasta in a bowl and pour tomato mixture over top. Toss the tomatoes and pasta together and serve.
When not writing for ChefTalk you can find me blogging about food over at www.onceachef.com.