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ingredients and techniques

Tomato Frenzy: Peeling and Freezing

john's picture

Here come the San Marzanos! Delicious and hearty-textured tomatoes like San Marzanos and Romas are perfect for storing and turning into sauce or paste. They're robust enough to add body and zing even after months in the freezer (or sealed in mason jars). To be honest, after our last marathon run of canning, Megan and I are feeling a little tuckered and have decided to share the laziest method of preserving: peeling them and freezing in gallon-size bags. Let's face it: not all of us are going to have the time or inclination to can this Summer. This takes a fraction of the time and effort. Our good friends Dean and Janice (both demon canners in their own right) have been using this super-easy method to cope with their tomato glut this year, and we whole-heartedly recommend it for those who:

-don't have the mentality or fortitude for canning
-have extra freezer space
-need to deal with an unmanagable influx of near-death fruits (i.e., those of you who perhaps initially planned to can but cannot find the hole in your schedule)

Extra bonus for those who are canning instead: if you are canning to put up large quantities of tomatoes, this peeling method will save you oodles of time hunched around a blanching pot.

How to Peel Massive Quantities of Tomatoes

Place tomatoes in a roasting pan or other large vessel in a single layer. Pour boiling water over them to cover. That's it. Wait until the pan cools down and the peels will slip right off. The only trick you need to remember for Roma and San Marzano-type tomatoes: find a wire rack or sheet pan that fits inside the roasting pan, place it over the tomatoes, and weight it down with something waterproof so that the tomatoes are submerged (for some reason, these types of tomatoes like to float even after being punctured like your favorite voodoo doll). If you are using a broiler pan, the top will work just fine if the water level is high enough... just be sure you have it in a place where it can sit undisturbed (moving shallow pans filled with hot liquid is pain waiting to happen).

After peeling, cut out blemishes and cores (for Romas and San Marzanos, just snip the stem-ends off), pack in gallon-size freezer bags, partially close the ziptops, squeeze out as much air as you can, and freeze flat for easier storage (if you do it right, the bags can sit in the freezer like books on a shelf).

Got any timesavers for those of us lucky enough to be inundated with Summer crops? Please share! We will continue our tomato coverage until we run out, so check back for more tips and recipes.


Jenn's picture

We don't even bother with peeling them if we are freezing them. The peels come off super easily when they are defrosting. Even less work!!

My italian mother in law used to can thousands and thousands of tomatoes.. Now she freezes them all this way.. Way easier. :)

Cindy C.'s picture

That's what I do, too, Jenn. Way easier, if you have the room. Sometimes, I have more jars than freezer space, so I have to can.

Karen's picture

Freezing is definitely the way to go. It also has the advantage of allowing you to collect tomatoes until you have a large enough batch, if your garden is producing in fits and spurts.

john's picture

I'll be sure to try freezing with the skins on if we get a bag's worth. Unfortunately, our tomato plants are ready to be torn out. I'll file it away... always looking for lazy tricks! I can think of better ways to spend my time than peeling tomatoes.

Kitchen Ninja's picture

This is a great tip -- thanks! I am fortunate to have a ton of freezer space so I will definitely be giving this method a try.

john's picture

I like your blog, especially the banner image! For some reason, the idea of "stealthy" ninja cooking really appeals to me, especially when it comes to putting stuff up to unleash on future meals. Making stuff ahead is like throwing a smoke bomb: poof! Instant homegrown tomato sauce with a few frozen pesto cubes tossed in like so many throwing stars. I think I'm going to have to make ninja sound effects in the test kitchen today...

Penny's picture

I've always wondered why one has to peel tomatoes before canning? ISn't it better to keep the skins for thefibre etc?

john's picture

I think coring and peeling is an aesthetic/textural thing really. I can't imagine the skins causing pH problems or anything. It's just kind of nice to open a can and not have tough, chewy skins and white cores to contend with. The former are hard to incorporate into sauces as well, even with an immersion blender, food mill, or a blender/food processor.
I started responding to your post wanting to say that the peels probably don't have much in the way of nutritional value. Then I found this scholarly paper:

Apparently using them in paste has been found to increase the amount of lycopene and beta carotine in tomato paste by a sizable percentage... who knew? Honestly, paste is probably a much safer place for the peel, as it gets cooked down for a good three to five hours, and THEN run through a food mill. That way you don't get peel in your teeth after dinner... as has been my experience. On the plus side, this method of peeling is so much easier than the one-at-a-time blanch most people suggest. I'll bet just freezing them whole and thawing works like a charm too, as Jenn, Cindy, and Karen suggest. They just slip right off... maybe you could save them to supplement a batch of tomato paste:

Takes a while, but definitely worth the effort if you've got a tomato crop that need to be used up.

Hope that helps

Penny's picture

Thanks, John - my point entirely re the skins being the nutritional part. Think I should simply go ahead and give it a bash without peeling and see what happens to the taste!

john's picture

Sorry, I kept on thinking about this crazy way the authors of the that study dealt with the peels:

For enriched tomato paste, the first step was a steam peeling of tomatoes. Tomato peels were centrifuged (3000 × g, 15 min) and finely ground with an Urshel crusher (Comitrol type equipped with a microcutting head giving particle size around 1 μm). Crushed peels were incorporated into classical tomato puree.

Sounds like a "modernist" masterpiece... All I know is, I want the Urshel crusher! Sounds like a mortar and pestle from the future.

Gordon Yumibe's picture

Don't need electricity to keep canned goods doing 40 lbs. of tomatoes but am canning them...have been putting food by so I can be prepared for any natural or man made disasters ...

john's picture

Wow! How many gallons is that? Obviously canning is the way to go for such immense amounts. Don't get us wrong: canning is the way to go for those worried about power outages (and all of the crazy scenarios that keep us up at night that might cause them) or for those with no freezer space to spare. If you have a chance, let us know how the canning goes and how long it takes you. Sounds like an all-day affair... or two?

Gordon Yumibe's picture

Not as much as you think but more than I personally anticipated....40 lbs. with about a dozen rejects translated into 16 quarts of tomatoes today and maybe eight pints of tomato chutney...!!!! Am really jazzes....first time I tried this, my mom did a lot of canning on our farm back in Minnesota but that seems like eons ago....I have really grown infatuated with everything pertaining to Indian cooking, hence the tomato chutney...over rice and everything else...ahhhhhh. I also got a outdoor propane burner that really boils water quicker,,,!!

john's picture

Yeah, we thought about using a hot plate for some canning we did earlier, but it definitely is not "fast" in any sense of the word. Still, If you can find a shady spot next to an outlet (and a fan), I would imagine such an immense project would be much more comfortable. I share your enthusiasm for all things Indian. If you want, we've been toying around with blogging about some roasted garam masala mixtures we've concocted (after a lot of research).
The cookbook market has seen a recent glut of really good Indian cookbooks, from Sanjeev Kapoor, Pushpesh Pant, and Raghavan Iyer. If you can, check them out. We have a number of delicious Indian recipes in JOY, but the sheer diversity of recipes offered by these other authors is truly amazing... and tasty. What did you add to the tomato chutney? Inquiring lips want to taste...

Casey DelliCarpini's picture

I'm wondering if I can ramp up the lazy factor in this process... Can I pour the boiling water before I go to sleep tonight - say around 11pm - and then peel them in the morning when I get up to start canning, maybe around 7 or 8am? Can they sit in the water like that all night without any undesirable consequences?

Gordon Yumibe's picture

Madhur Jaffrey is my go to cookbook for just really been getting crazy about all the different ways to cook dals...all of them are great....found a small Indian grocery store that sells everything....the chutney was from a recipe of Madhur's too....cumin, mustard, fennel, ginger, red pepper flakes, apple cider vinegar, and 16 cups of tomato purée I made....all told 16 quarts tomatoes and 12 pints of chutney that just got out of the water bath....all out of the original 40+ lbs....time for a cup of coffee!!

Gordon Yumibe's picture

Casey....I don't think that will work because the tomatoes will begin to cook and soften too much....I think you could leave them in an ice bath once you have immersed them in boiling water to loosen their skins....which takes more time to start your water boiling than the actual time you leave them in the boiling water....only takes two-five minutes for the skins to loosen enough....

john's picture

Casey: since the tomatoes are going to be sterilized in the canning process I don't think you have any health risks to worry about, the only downside might be dilution of flavor from sitting in the water overnight. Gordon's talking about the usual blanch-shock method... Great for a few tomatoes, but time-consuming for big amounts. You actually don't have to worry about cooking the tomatoes if you just pour water fresh off the boil over them until they're submerged. Just let them cool down to room temp.

Gordon: I'll have to look in the Joy Kitchen's library to find that chutney recipe! Her work, and Julie Sahni's , is classic, well-written and approachable. On another note, one of my favorite finds at the local Indian grocer: dried fenugreek leaves... amazing addition to any creamy curry base (toward the end). Try it! It's also one of those rare herbs that actually tastes better dried, in my opinion. Congrats on the tomato haul.


john's picture

Just found this today and thought of your chutney...

Much simpler, but it sounds delicious. Asafoetida is another one of those memorable Indian grocery discoveries that has changed my cooking repertoire. Chaat Masala is one of our go-to condiments now.

Eileen's picture

Lord, I love reading all this information. Living in a big city, Montreal, I get my produce from this wonderful farmers market.
What a really great idea to bag tomatoes and freeze. Frankly I was becoming dazed at the amount of work involved in making and canning strawberry jam. I hope to find San Marzano tomatoes but unsure if they are grown in Quebec.
Thank you again for all this information. I love reading about food almost as much as I love cooking it.
Happy 4th of July.

john's picture

Hello Eileen. Glad you enjoyed the post (and lively comments)! Strawberry jam is a little extra work, but totally worth it... we just posted a recipe for refrigerator-only "Red Red Strawberry Jam" that splits the difference in terms of effort (no processing). As for San Marzanos: like Romas, they are the least temperamental and most prolific variety I have run across. If you're seeing "regular" slicing tomatoes at the farmer's market, then San Marzanos most likely flourish in your growing region. They really are the tastiest and most practical to use for sauces and paste.

Happy 4th to you too!

P.S.- Send us some poutine!

Rob's picture

I'm wondering if I can blanch and peel the tomatoes and store them covered in the fridge for a day before canning.
Lots of long days lately and getting the whole process done in one day is tougher than it used to be.

john's picture

Hello Rob. Totally understand why you would want to split the tasks over two days... Big batches are hard to deal with sometime. I don't think there are any safety issues that arise from leaving them in the fridge covered overnight as long as you let them come to room temperature before processing. Starting with cold tomatoes will lengthen the time it takes to process them. Unfortunately, I haven't encountered any published, trustworthy processing times for refrigerator-temp tomatoes. If you store them in the fridge in flatter containers ( one or two tomatoes tall), it shouldn't take long for them to come to room temperature the next day. Hope that helps!

Margaret 's picture

This is my second year of canning love it, but it is very time consuming. I will be trying the freezing of the whole tomatoes sound pretty easy. Just processed 100lbs of tomatoes last week and yielded about 37 quart jars of spaghetti sauce.

Lois's picture

Interested in freezing tomatoes. I have some San Marzano tomatoes and would love to freeze them. Do I just wash them good, cut off the tops, put in a bag and freeze? Do I have to put any salt or lemon, etc in with them? Assuming then you add spices, etc when you thaw and cook. Would assume you can cook, add spices and then freeze? I'm really new at this, never canned nor frozen tomatoes before, so any help would be appreciated.

Cheryl Cook's picture

Last year, I peeled and quartered the tomatoes, then refrigerated in Tupperware bowls, until I had time to can them. I did not experience any loss of flavor or health-related issues. This year's tomato crop is even larger, and I am thinking I will lose too many unless I start off this way this again. It was very helpful in time management, as well as keeping kitchen and limited counterspace clean.

Grocers's picture

Thanks for the post. I've been slowly harvesting newly ripe tomatoes from my own garden, I can't help but get excited for the multitude of tomatoes that we are so lucky to have available at the market this time of the season. Last week while commenting on Cedar Hedge Farm’s beautiful tomatoes, he informed me that he grows eighteen unique heirloom varieties.

Rex's picture

I only grew up with canning, never making paste. All of my skins after peeling, ended up in the compost. It seems to me, that the taste differential beteewn homemade and the store variety of paste would be minimal. Just askin.

john's picture

You're half-right Rex. The difference between homemade and GOOD store-bought paste is minimal. There are lots of so-so pastes out there... we order the double-strength variety of an Italian brand called Mutti. Look it up. It comes in squeeze tubes, so there's no waste, and you can find really good deals on it.

john's picture

I wouldn't even bother stemming them (plum tomatoes have a really small stem area). Just give them a quick rinse and pack in plastic freezer bags (try to get out as much air as possible). When they thaw, the skins will magically come off in your fingers!

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