Tomato season is coming. In some parts of the country, the first ones are already making their appearances at farmers’ markets and stores, and gardeners everywhere are watching their freshly planted greenery flower and wait in breathless anticipation for the summer bounty.
But once the deluge hits, it will be like a tomato tornado, and whether you are growing your own, overbuying them at the market, or are the recipient of a neighbor’s garden overflow, you are going to need to manage all the tomato prep.
Tomatoes are one of those fruits (yes, they are a fruit) that can enhance many dishes, or be the star all on their own. But they also need to be cut and prepared correctly if you are going to show them off to the best of their ability. Here is a quick guide to help you get through your summer, deliciously!
There are two key pieces of equipment you need to properly address your tomato needs. The first is a small sharp paring knife, for removing the cores. The second, and most important, is a super sharp serrated knife. I have a knife I use solely for tomatoes, since the tiniest bit of dullness on your blade could spell disaster. Tomatoes are round, soft, and slippery, so you need a blade that will instantly “bite” into the skin and move smoothly through the flesh without crushing the tender fruit or siding off the tomato skin and into your skin.
No matter how you intend to use your tomato, you are going to want to remove the hard core at the top where the tomato hung from the vine. To do this, hold the tomato firmly on your cutting board with one hand. With the other hand, use the tip of your sharp paring knife to slice in an angled circle around the core, turning the tomato as you go, making a pyramid shaped divot, and remove the core. Now you can decide what type of tomato prep you need.
Fresh ripe tomatoes can be a great addition to a sandwich or burger, or the star of a dish like a caprese salad or stacked vegetable terrine. For sandwiches, you are going to want thinner slices, since larger ones can be unwieldy in a sandwich, for knife and fork dishes, you can go thicker. In either case, you want to hold the tomato up on its side, firmly, with your fingers tucked under. Using your serrated blade, make gently sawing movements to make slices the thickness you prefer.
Diced tomatoes are great on salads, as a topping for tacos, or even a fresh addition to pasta. To determine the size of dice, you want to start by slicing your tomato the thickness of the cube of tomato you want. For fine dice, slice thin, for larger cubes, slice thicker. Lay the slices down flat on your cutting board, and slice into strips about the same thickness as the slice, then turn and slice the strips into cubes.
Wedges are pretty on platters, and in composed salads like niçoise. To make wedges, first slice your cored tomato in half, then hold one side of the tomato, and slice wedge shapes as thick as you want them by angling your knife and starting your slice at the center line of the tomato half and slicing outward away from yourself.
There is a lot of flavor in the seeds of a tomato, but there is also a lot of water and sometimes an off-putting texture. So, for certain recipes, you may want a cleaner texture or less liquid, and removing the seeds is a great way to achieve this. No need to core the tomato for this process. The simplest way to seed a tomato is to start by cutting your tomato into six to eight wedges, depending on how large your tomato is. Then, hold each wedge by the core tip, and gently start slicing the center seed pocket out at the opposite tip, just sliding the knife between the thick fleshy part and the seeds, and removing the small bit of core when you get to the other end of the wedge. Once seeded, you can use as flat petals, slice into strips, or cut into dice.
Sometimes you need to remove the peel from your tomatoes, especially in some cooking applications like sauces or soups, where the peel can become unpleasant to eat. While many people swear by dropping the tomatoes into boiling water and then into an ice bath, I am way too lazy for all of that. I slice an X into the bottom of each tomato and place them in a colander in the sink. I fill my kettle with water and bring it to a boil, and slowly pour the boiling water over the tomatoes. Then the skins can be peeled off at the X and prepped however you like.
If you want to stuff tomatoes, you need to hollow them out. The easiest way to do this is to remove the top in a slice, and then using your paring knife, carefully slice around the inside between the flesh and the seeds. Use a large metal spoon to go around the inside of the tomato, removing the center in one large piece.