The Great Tomato Experiment

can you guess what the topping is?

Back in late summer, when the Farmer’s Market was fairly bursting with fresh tomatoes, I had the “good” idea to freeze a few of them for use during the winter. This was actually pretty easy to do: I scored the tomatoes at the top and dunked them in boiling water for about a minute each, and then removed them and the peels came right off. The tomatoes went into the freezer on an aluminum pan first, and when they had hardened I put them into a plastic bag to store (this may seem like an unnecessary double step, but it’s important because if you just throw the tomatoes into a bag they will all stick together in one big lump; doing them in two steps avoids this problem — look up IQF if you really care1). Later that day, my roommate came in and asked me if those were, in fact, tomatoes in the freezer. I said they were. He asked why. “Um, er… you can’t get really good fresh tomatoes during the winter,” I said. “Okay…” was his reply. Anyway, I had them in the freezer and I completely forgot about them.

Then one February day I was trying to decide what to make for lunch and I remembered the tomatoes. That’s when things got really weird.

When I pulled the tomatoes out of the freezer, I realized that I wasn’t sure how to use them. I tried Googling a solution, but all I got were results about freezing the tomatoes, not about thawing them. I didn’t want to let them sit around for a few hours thawing, I was ready to eat then and there. And then…

Okay, bear with me here. I have previously written on this blog about how my mind gets full of weird food ideas. It just so happened that this day I had just finished watching the “Food Porn” episode of No Reservations, in which Anthony Bourdain visited Momofuku. They demonstrated the much celebrated frozen, shaved foie gras and I started to think: why couldn’t I do the same thing with my frozen tomatoes? I pulled out my microplane grater and got to work.

So I did it. The result was almost indescribably strange. It tasted exactly like fresh tomato, but the temperature and texture of it was all different. The pink flakes liquified almost immediately on my tongue, leaving only the taste of tomato behind. I started to feel a bit like Ferran Adria2, experimenting with food. It wouldn’t do as a main course, however, so what could I do with it?

So I boiled some angel hair pasta, which I then tossed with a simple sauce of shallots and lemon juice cooked in olive oil. Then I grated some frozen tomato into the pan and tossed it together. The heat from the pasta melted the tomato. To plate it I grated some tomato into the bottom of a bowl, piled on some pasta, and then grated more tomato on top. I garnished it with some tiny chives from my Aerogarden3

This was a surprisingly wonderful dish — the lemon juice heightened the sweetness and the acidity of the tomatoes. The way the tomato melted left nothing that you could see of tomato, but the flavor of tomato permeated the entire dish4. My advice to everyone is to experiment more with your food — you never know what you might accidentally discover.

1I’ve been reading a lot of David Foster Wallace recently, I apologize for all of this extraneous stuff. IQF is just one of those random things I picked up while getting my Food Safety Certification many years ago. IQF stands for “individually quick frozen.” To illustrate what that means and how it applies to food, consider frozen broccoli. Some frozen broccoli comes in a box, the stalks and florets in one big frozen lump. Other frozen broccoli comes in a bag, and each floret is loose in the bag. This is because they have been individually (and, presumably, quickly) frozen before being bagged. You may also have noticed that these IQF products are slightly more expensive than the alternative; that’s the price of convenience, I suppose. Aren’t you glad you know this now?

2To be honest I felt more like Jose Andres than Ferran Adria; Andres has been on my mind a lot lately, as he too was featured on a recent episode of “No Reservations.” Andres is a disciple of Adria, so the distinction is not so necessary.

3I have been chronicling the progress of my Aerogarden; you can read those posts by clicking here.

4You may recall that I don’t particularly like raw tomatoes, though I like almost all tomato products. This method is really good for me, since it encapsulates the flavor of tomato (which I like) while completely eliminating the texture of raw tomato (which I abhor).


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