If you read my last post, you know that I am deathly afraid of canning. Even though tomatoes are considered “acid-y” enough to reduce the risk of botulism, they are pretty close to being considered “low acid”, which means that if the canning process is not done right, botulism can still occur. I know that it’s not a high risk, and plenty of people have told me that you can definitely tell when tomatoes have not been canned right, but, I’m still afraid to risk it.
So, what am I doing to preserve all of my surplus tomatoes? I’m employing another method of preservation — one that seems to be pretty popular with the folks out here in Cali — freezing. It’s a really easy, although time-consuming process, and it pretty much eliminates the risk of botulism, therefore eliminating my fear of preserving tomatoes.
There are a lot of different methods, on the internet, for freezing tomatoes: some people leave the skins on, some people take them off; some people blanch them first, others don’t; some people leave them whole, others cut them up; some people bake them and try to dry them out as much as possible before freezing them, others just try and squeeze out as much pulp and juice as they can before freezing them. I haven’t experimented with all of these methods, so I couldn’t tell you all of the pros and cons of each, or which one is better. I’ve settled on a process that works for me, and leaves me with a product that I am fully satisfied with, in the end.
Here’s what I do:
- Blanch the tomatoes – I do this, first, because it makes it easier to remove the skins (which is my next step). Fill a small stockpot with water and bring it to a boil. Next, take a handful of tomatoes and place them into the boiling water. I like to use a large strainer to do this. I place the tomatoes into the strainer, then lower it into the boiling water and leave it there for one minute –i t makes it so much easier to remove the tomatoes all at once, and reduces the risk of getting burned from the boiling water.
- Place the tomatoes into an ice water bath – this will stop the tomatoes from cooking and help the skins to further peel off. Fill one side of your sink, or a large bowl, with ice water. When the tomatoes have spent one minute in the boiling water, lift the strainer and quickly transfer all of the tomatoes into the ice water. Leave them there for about three minutes, and then remove the tomatoes and place them into a large bowl for holding.
The tomatoes should look like this when you remove them from the ice water. As you can see, the skins have all started to peel off. (I like to work through the entire batch of tomatoes, taking them through the boiling water and ice water baths, before moving on to the final steps).
- Peel the tomatoes – this is the easiest step, from here on out. Why peel the tomatoes, you ask? It makes for a better end product. When you freeze the skins, they tend to stay tough, even after you cook them. I personally don’t like that texture mixed in with my food, so I remove all of the skins at the beginning of the process, which is very easy to do. Just find a place where the skin has already started to peel back, grab it, and start peeling, like you would an orange. If you come to a tomato that doesn’t have any of the skin peeling back yet, just give it a little pinch between your fingernails to get the process started. I like to do this over an open, plastic grocery bag. All of the peels go into the bag, which will later be taken out and added to the compost bins.
- Remove the seeds and water – this is where it starts to get messy! Again, I do this over the grocery bag. Just take your hands and squeeze the tomato – gently at first, so that you don’t send seeds and pulp squirting all over your beautiful kitchen -the goal is to remove most of the seeds and as much of the water from the tomato as possible. Some of the meatier tomatoes won’t have many seeds or water, and you’ll have a lot of flesh left, others that are mostly full of water will leave you with very little meat, but that’s okay. It willl all add up! Another thing that is taking place, during this step, is the chopping up of the tomatoes. In the past, I’ve used a knife to dice the tomatoes into small pieces, but it works just as well (and makes for one less item to clean up when you’re finished) if you simply use your fingers to separate the tomatoes into tiny pieces.
However, for larger tomatoes, it is better to cut them in half before attempting to remove the seeds and water. Ah, darn. Sometimes we just can’t avoid that extra clean-up!
Work in small batches, peeling, then removing the pulp, seeds, and water, and then mashing the tomatoes with your fingers to chop them up. The meat should look similar to this when you are finished:
- Place the tomatoes into freezer bags, label, and freeze. I like to use quart-sized freezer bags, and put about two pounds of tomatoes into each bag. This is about the equivalent of two 15 oz. cans of tomatoes, which is an amount I consistently use when making spaghetti sauce or chili, two recipes I mainly use these frozen tomatoes in. Try to remove as much air, as possible, from the bag before you seal it. I like to store mine lying flat, like this, and stack them, one on top of the other, in the freezer.
When it’s time to use the tomatoes, I simply take them out of the freezer and thaw them, a little, before adding them to whatever I’m cooking. There have been times when I’ve just tossed the entire frozen chunk into the stockpot, or crockpot, but it’s easier to work with when it is added in smaller chunks, after a little thawing. One thing that is very important, no matter how much thawing you do, is to take care to keep all of the liquid with the tomatoes. A lot of the flavor is trapped in there, and if you throw it out, your sauce, or whatever you’re making will be lacking in tomato taste.
Well, that’s it! Pretty simple, huh?
What a treat it is going to be to pull these out from the freezer, in the middle of winter, and use them to create a dish that’s wonderfully warm and comforting.
Have you ever frozen tomatoes? What is your favorite method for preserving them?