There comes a time in every cook's life when we find ourselves confronted with a pile of tomatoes and a recipe that instructs us to peel them. It seems pointless. It seems onerous. It seems time-consuming. But for the sake of a silky-smooth tomato sauce or soup, we do it anyway. Here are three ways to get the job done without driving yourself crazy.
Transfer the poached tomatoes to an ice water bath.
1. The Poaching Method
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, hull the stems from your tomatoes and slice a shallow "X" in the bottom. Fill a bowl with ice and water and set it next to the stove.
Working in batches, drop several tomatoes into the boiling water. Watch for their skins to start to wrinkle and split, 45 to 60 seconds, then scoop them out with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the ice water bath. Once cooled, transfer the tomatoes to a cutting board. Continue working in batches until all the tomatoes have been poached. Use your fingers or a paring knife to peel back the tomato skins.
Advantage: Easy to peel a bunch of tomatoes in a fairly short period of time; retains the fresh tomato flavor
Disadvantage: Between the pot of boiling water, the ice water bath, and the juicy tomatoes themselves, expect a bit of mess in your kitchen. This method is also helpful if you have a second set of hands so one person can poach the tomatoes while the second person peels them.
Broil the tomatoes until the skins are blackened and the tomatoes smell roasty, 12 to 15 minutes — check them every 5 minutes until done.
2. The Roasting Method
Turn on the broiler and position an oven rack about 6 inches below the heating element. Slice the tomatoes in half, remove the stems, and place them cut-side down on a baking sheet. It's fine to crowd them together.
Broil the tomatoes until the skins are blackened and the tomatoes smell roasty, 12 to 15 minutes — check them every 5 minutes until done. Turn on a vent fan toward the end of roasting if some of the tomatoes are smoking.
Let the tomatoes cool enough to handle, then pinch off the skins.
Advantage: One of the most hands-off ways to peel the tomatoes and adds a really nice smoked flavor to your dish.
Disadvantage: While it's hands off, it's a bit more time-consuming, and depending on how many tomatoes you have, you may need to roast in several batches. Also, use a different method if you don't want a smoky flavor in your dish.
Use a paring knife to peel away the skins.
3. The Freezer Method
Place all the tomatoes in a freezer bag and freeze until solid (tomatoes can also be saved for up to 3 months or so this way). Stems can be removed prior to freezing or after. When ready to cook, remove the tomatoes from the freezer and let them thaw for 10 to 15 minutes on the counter. Use a paring knife to peel away the skins.
Advantage: Easy-peasy, especially if you bought a bunch of tomatoes and are worried you won't get around to using them before they start going mushy.
Disadvantage: Maybe not the best method for peeling a huge amount of tomatoes (or saving them for longer than a few days) as they will take up a significant amount of freezer space.
How do you peel tomatoes? Do you have a favorite way?
(Images: Emma Christensen)