Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Tip: Surviving the Season of (winter) Tomato Horribilus

It’s upon us again. That season when the things in the tomato bin at the supermarket (at least up here in the Northeast) bear a greater resemblance to tennis balls than divine fruit. And, in the past couple of years, even the tennis balls are getting worse. Used to be, they were just pale, mealy, and hard as a rock. Now, about half of them are actually rotten on the inside when you get them home. So, please, join the crusade: complain to your grocer, to the produce manager and the store manager at your local supermarket, to the chairman and CEO of the megamarket mothership, to Congress critters and Federal agencies and, well, you get the idea . . .

In the meantime, here’s a trick to help. About an hour before you’re going to serve that tomato, cut it up, spread it out on a plate, and salt it. (And be sure to trim off any scummy bits when you cut up your tomato, as well as get rid of any seeds that are starting to turn greenish or get dark!)

Trim & cut your tennis ball

Make sure you use a coarse (Kosher) salt. And sprinkle lightly. A few crystals per piece of tomato is all you need.

Salt lightly with coarse salt

Wait about 30 minutes and drain off the water that will accumulate on the plate. Drain again in another 30 minutes, and what you end up with is as close to a tolerable winter tomato as you’re likely to get.

The best tennis ball you can get

Remember that most fruits (yes, tomatoes are fruits) and vegetables have a lot of water in them, and the water is a major contributor to their firmness and/or stiffness. Salt, of course, has been used as a preservative for centuries because it ‘draws the water’ from foods. And that’s what you’re doing here; drawing the water from the tomato. And, in the process, tenderizing the flesh of the fruit.

You want to use coarse salt because it will dissolve much more slowly than the fine crystals of ordinary table salt, and therefore continue to draw the water, rather than season the tomato. In fact, by the end of the hour, most of the salt will have been rinsed off the tomato surface and carried away by the draining water. If what’s left is too salty for you, give the whole plate a good rinse under the cold water (and then drain it a few more times before using).

Good luck . . . Planting season is just around the corner . . . (he said with extreme optimism . . .) Until then, please check out Fiber's site, 28 Cooks.com. You've seen her comments from time to time; her food is gorgeous, and her photos even better!

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