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How to Deal With Fresh Tomatoes

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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!