Gourmet Secrets: The elixir of life
How to get to the finest essence of your tomatoesUpdated: Jun 14, 2018 19:02 IST
With the onslaught of summer comes a bumper crop of tomatoes. How much chutney or sauce can you make and freeze? I once tasted an outstanding clear liquid in the coffee shop at the ITC Sonar Bangla – a warm consommé like soup they called “tomato essence”. It is also known as tomato water. They added a touch of saffron to enhance the flavour and colour. It was so good that I skipped the main course and just ordered four of them! Guiltless pleasure since it is fat free too.
In India, the tomatoes vary according to the season in terms of water content and flavour. In summer, they are juiciest and inexpensive. I give the liquid a slight heat to imbibe the flavour of the saffron. I also add a pinch of sea salt and sugar to balance the taste and then serve it chilled. What is really important is the quality of the tomato: unripe or flavourless tomatoes will give you a poor quality of essence.
The process is clear and straightforward enough. The clear golden nectar is obtained through an easy process of chopping (either by hand or through a coarse food processor) and letting the juices drip slowly through muslin overnight, the weight of the tomatoes themselves doing the work. The resulting clear tomato liquor will astonish you if you have never tried it. This pure, uncooked “consommé” is the very essence of tomato: surprising in its pale colour — it must not be pink or red — shockingly intense in taste and unbelievably concentrated and pure in its tomato-ness. It is more flavourful than the whole tomato itself, reduced like this to its essence. Sip and savour, never gulp it down. It is like drinking sunshine, and mineral-rich earth, and the purest water, all at once. A little satisfies, though you may want to drink masses of it on a hot summer’s day. It feels like an elixir of life and is in fact often called that on menus.
Years ago, I had the great pleasure to dine at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, the world famous restaurant and hotel near Oxford. It was a sublime experience and the tomato essence was on their summer menu. On a recent visit there this spring, the tomato essence wasn’t on the menu, which I realised was because the daily menu is so driven by seasonality that the tomatoes in their vegetable garden just weren’t ready. At the restaurant, they serve a glass of this clean tomato intensity chilled. In addition to tomatoes, salt and sugar, they add a whole bunch of seasonings, including Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces. The result is so flavourful that I have used it as a base for a sophisticated Bloody Mary.
Raymond Blanc, the man behind Le Manoir, several other restaurants and cookery shows and cookbooks, also uses it for a heavenly tomato risotto. Because this essence of tomato is so intense, it doesn’t take much for a serving but be warned you do need a lot of tomatoes for very little liquid.
This dish has become one of the great classics at Le Manoir. It is simple in execution, yet delivers the best tomato experience you can ever imagine. The inspiration was Raymond Blanc’s mother’s tomato salad. “For me, this is one of the great tastes of my life. I always wanted to find a way to make the juices from my mother’s tomato salad into the star ingredient and I always wanted to recreate it. Many attempts failed, but I finally achieved the result I was looking for. It is so simple, you must try it at home!”
The essence forms the base for several dishes - it can be served as a lovely cold soup, frozen for granita, or turned into a sorbet or fragrant jelly.
2.3 kg ripe cherry tomatoes, washed
½ celery stick, washed and finely chopped
1 small shallot, peeled and finely chopped
½ medium fennel bulb, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely sliced
2 thyme sprigs, leaves stripped and chopped
5g basil leaves, chopped
1 tarragon leaf
10g sea salt
10g caster sugar (optional)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
4 drops of Tabasco
4 drops of Worcestershire sauce
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Now you will need to blitz the mixture in three batches (as a domestic food processor can only process 600g to 800g at a time). Blitz each batch using the pulse button for two seconds. Return to the bowl, cover and leave to macerate at room temperature for three hours. Spread a large double layer of muslin over a medium bowl (about 25cm) and fill with the chopped, macerated tomatoes. Tie up the muslin bag and suspend it above the bowl, which will collect the golden liquid as it drips through. This will take two to three hours. Use the tomato essence as required. The pulp left in the bag can be used in other ways, in soups, sauces etc.
Author Bio: Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.
This is a fortnightly column. The next edition will appear on June 24.
From HT Brunch, June 10, 2018
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