Kitchen Confidence

How to Deal With Fresh Tomatoes

By • August 13, 2013 • 14 Comments

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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: All the skills you need to get your tomatoes ready for cooking (or eating).

We’ve shown you how to handle canned tomatoes, but now we’re focusing our attention on the real stars of summer, the farmer’s market divas who hog the spotlight this time of year: the one...the only...fresh tomatoes. 

Rarely do we bite into tomatoes like apples. Why? Maybe it’s just not enough to worship raw, whole tomatoes. Instead, we yearn to do things with them: spear them with a slice with mozzarella, blend them into a gazpacho, thinly slice them and drizzle on brown butter and flaky salt

But in order to get tomatoes to conform to our culinary fantasies, we must overcome an obstacle course: coring, slicing, de-seeding, and crushing. What does it all mean? And what’s the best way to do it? Don’t get overwhelmed. Your tomatoes can weather all of this maneuvering, and so can you. 

More: Once you've prepped your tomatoes, throw A Tomato Sandwich Party.

Coring

Unless you’re going to sink your teeth into a juicy tomato (and we highly endorse this practice), the first step in preparing a fresh tomato is, almost always, to core it.

Insert a sharp paring knife 1/2 to 1 inch into the center of the tomato, near the stem. Make a conical cut around the stem in order to remove the tough core. 



Slicing

When you’re making a sandwich, a tart, or a caprese-style salad, you’ll want to know how to make slices as thin or thick as you like without crushing the tomato in the process. There are two clever tricks to help you achieve a superb slice: 

More: See everything you need to cook and serve fresh tomatoes in our new Provisions collection, Freshly Picked: Tomatoes.

1. The strip-and-slice:

After you’ve cored the tomato, use a sharp knife to remove a strip of skin, starting at the top of the tomato and moving towards the base.

Turn the tomato on its side and, with a serrated knife, slice the tomato along the skinned strip. This allows the knife to pierce the tomato without facing resistance from the tough skin, which means no more squashed, lopsided tomato slices for you. 

2. The fork-and-follow:

For perfect, precise slices, our friends at Cook’s Illustrated suggest using the tines of a fork to score the tomato across its equator. 

Your tomato will look like a piece of modern artwork, but only for a fleeting moment.

Follow your tine marks to slice the tomato. You'll destroy the art, but come away with practically perfect slices -- a masterpiece in their own right.

Seeding

“Seedy” is usually not a positive descriptor, not even for tomatoes. Luckily, it’s easy to de-seed peeled or unpeeled tomatoes.

Cut the tomato in half through its equator (not through the stem).

Squeeze out the juice and the seeds while giving the tomato a strong downward shake. Use your finger or a spoon to remove any lingering seeds.
 



What you're left with might not be pretty, but it'll sure come in handy when you're making a sauce.

Crushing

When a recipe calls for crushed tomatoes, you don’t have to rush out to the grocery store to buy cans. In the summer, fresh tomatoes are always the way to go.  

Cut the tomato in half and remove the seeds. Using the coarsest side of a box grater (or a hand grater with large holes), grate the tomato until you’re left holding only the thin skin. 

Phew! You’ve done it! Your tomato obstacle course is complete. And now that you've mastered all of the essential ways to prepare a tomato, there’s nothing holding you back (except maybe that pesky tomato peel -- but we'll show you how to deal with that soon enough).

Go on, make the tomato dish of your wildest dreams. You've got all the skills you need.

Photos by James Ransom

What are your tricks for coring, slicing, seeding, or crushing tomatoes? Tell us in the comments below! 

Tags: kitchen confidence, tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, summer, preparing, kitchen tricks, tips, advice, how-to & diy

Comments (14)

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8 months ago Alley's Recipe Book

I never thought to shred a tomato until I saw Rachel Ray do it the other day... made a great sauce that night by shredding tomatoes straight from the garden!

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8 months ago davidpdx

Kyocera serrated ceramic knife. Perfect!

Stringio

8 months ago acquiredlife

I have a family full of tomato skin-aphobes. They seem to hate it. The two best solutions to get rid of the skin that I've found are either boil the tomato for about 5-10 minutes or freeze it for 15-20. Either way the skin slides right off.

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8 months ago Tracey

Sorry i feel the need the need for seed - WHY is anyone talking about slicing or de-seeding or sharp knives or serrated - if you want to removes seeds from a ripe or any oter tomato - put a tomato in your hand, put said hand into a bag and Squeeze the tomato - seeds GONE no marks or knives etc etc You then have a seedless tomato mass that is great to cook with!!!! NO FUss

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8 months ago Bob Y

I've found the best tool of all for slicing tomoatoes, an inexpensive V-slicer. No perforations, no peeling the skin, just perfectly sliced tomatoes every time. Works great for onions and potatoes too.

Stringio

8 months ago al wright

All you need to cut a ripe tomato is a good sharp knife - end of story.

Dsc09796

8 months ago sarah jampel

We also thought it would be helpful to provide tips for when a super sharp or serrated knife isn't available.

Stringio

8 months ago Moe Rubenzahl

Sorry to be contrary but there are some dubious ideas here.

Perforating the tomato to make "perfect" slices sounds pretty imperfect to me -- and the photo is pretty good evidence. The slicing didn't even follow the perforations.

Peeling back the skin so the knife can penetrate? Just use a sharp knife, or a serrated bread knife. Draw the knife in a "sawing" motion, rather than pushing it and even a not-so-sharp knife will work.

And I rarely seed the tomato, as so much of the flavor is in the gel.

Dsc09796

8 months ago sarah jampel

Thank you for your feedback.

Perforating the tomato allows a knife - even a non-serrated one - to easily penetrate the tomato's tough peel. Our knife followed the perforated marks at the top of the tomato, but did slip a little towards the bottom. It still made for beautiful, even slices.

Peeling back the skin also makes it much easier for any knife to pierce the tomato. We found this tip in Cook's Illustrated and were pleasantly surprised by how well it worked.

Seeding the tomato does remove the gel, which has a lot of the tomato's flavor. This article doesn't encourage seeding, but merely provides a how-to, as many recipes for sauces do recommend this preparation.

Thanks again!

Stringio

8 months ago Moe Rubenzahl

OK, you aroused my curiosity and I had to try. I happened to have a couple of very ripe tomatoes with a fairly tough skin and a knife that is in need of sharpening.

I perforated half a tomato and sliced. Because forks aren't very sharp, I found it somewhat difficult to perf the skin but easier once I got the hang of it. Still, it tended to squash the tomato at least as much as the knife. And it's tedious. Penetrating the skin by sawing works faster, even with a pretty dull knife. All in all, not a technique I'll be continuing.

But the peel-back technique was effective, I, too, was pleasantly surprised. Best idea is to have sharp knives, of course, but when I don't, I would use this idea.

I appreciate your coverage of the ideas, regardless. I love food52.

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8 months ago Carolina Buzio

About using the fork for the indentations... are you sure that for those "perfect slices" you are not supposed to have the fork rotated horizontally instead of vertically? that at least would give you slices with the same thickness, I suppose.

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8 months ago dymnyno

For slicing tomatoes nothing makes the job easier than a nice little serrated knife.

Stringio

8 months ago Moe Rubenzahl

I agree. I use a bread knife for tomatoes often.

Ceramic knives are also great for tomatoes.

Me

8 months ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Associate Editor of Food52.

Couldn't agree more about a sharp knife, but as someone who is (very) slowly collecting nice, sharp knives, I can really appreciate these tips!