Tomatoes: To blanch or not to blanch

Avoid the uniform red ovals on supermarket shelves; they don’t taste like tomatoes

When I say tomatoes, I’m talking about heritage or heirloom tomatoes.  Photograph: iStock

When I say tomatoes, I’m talking about heritage or heirloom tomatoes. Photograph: iStock

 

To blanch or not to blanch, that is the question. At least when it comes to tomatoes. I’m talking about those anaemic ones that you pick up in the supermarkets. Those uniform red ovals are not food, or rather, they’re not the best food. They may be nice to look at, but they taste like nothing.

That last sentence is a terrible indictment of our time. Too much food today looks good but tastes of little. When I say tomatoes, I’m talking about heritage or heirloom tomatoes. Tomatoes that taste like tomatoes.

Perhaps blanching is over-rated. It’s too French, as one of my chefs tells me. I suppose it depends what you need the tomatoes for. For a cherry tomato salad with some nice Irish burrata or mozzarella from Toonsbridge, I don’t peel them. Just slice the tomatoes in half horizontally, dress with oil, sea salt and lemon juice and then serve with the cheese, garnishing with some wood sorrel or basil.

Serving tomatoes with some charred mackerel, I prefer to blanch them. Why? Because the mackerel is super soft and I feel the skin of the tomatoes interferes with consumption of the fish. Perhaps it’s a mouthfeel thing. A blanched tomato melts in your mouth.

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Score the bottom of the tomatoes with a knife (it will help you peel them). Drop them into the water for 30 seconds and then plunge them into ice water. When they are cool, delicately peel the skin. Oil and salt the mackerel and char the skin side with a blow torch. Serve the mackerel and tomatoes with some dressed dillisk seaweed for a nice starter or light lunch. 

Tomato water is an old trick, but always seems to wow. Take two kilos of tomatoes and blend them in a food processor. Place the blended tomatoes and their juices in a muslin-lined colander overnight, with a container underneath to collect the water. In the morning, you’ll have a clear watery liquid, that tastes exquisitely of tomatoes. Use as a dressing for any tomato salad.

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