A Cure for Watery Homegrown Tomato Sauce

With many gardeners in the thick of their tomato harvest, stock pots are bubbling with tomato sauce, marinara sauce, pizza sauce, homemade ketchup, and lots of other bright red tomato goodness. If you’ve ever made sauce from fresh tomatoes, you know that no matter how much you cook it down, the sauce often separates, leaving an unappealing watery puddle under your pasta. Not good. Even worse is a watery pizza sauce (soggy crust!) or ketchup.

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Years ago I figured out a way to combat this problem. When I feel that the sauce has cooked down to the right consistency, I pull out my metal sieve and set it right on top of the boiling sauce. As the sauce bubbles, the thinner liquid boils up through the mesh. I use a bulb baster to suction it off, saving the flavorful juice to add to soups or stews. tomatoes, garden, preserving, tips

Be careful – at this stage the sauce can be quite volcanic in its bubbling, and your hands will be right in there as you work. If there’s still a fair amount of liquid in your sauce, the sieve will fill quickly and may become submerged. I usually try to prop it up on a wooden spoon, as you can see in the photo.

Whether you’re preserving your sauce through home canning, or just making a big pot of sauce for dinner, this trick should eliminate the watery puddle.

This article has 15 comments

  1. Interesting idea! In France, where I learned to make tomato sauce from scratch, we simply added tomato paste.

  2. If there is water in the sauce, you must be doing something wrong.

  3. As I understand it from one of my canning books, this separating is caused by an enzyme. Don’t chop your tomatoes very much while cold. I quarter them and put them in a pot. Then do further chopping, crushing whatever AFTER they are hot. The heat destroys the enzyme and the sauce doesn’t separate in the jar.

    Don’t add too many newly cut tomatoes at a time to the hot ones in the pot to keep the heat up.

    • I’ve never even heard of this as a possibility! I definitely DO chop my tomatoes small before I start. I’ll have to give this a try, too.

  4. I tend to roast tomatoes for sauce, and that seems to get around this issue. like your idea though — do you then save the watery liquid for stock?

    • Kerry, I’ve wondered about that. I have a really hard time with the idea of using double the energy though, first for roasting, then for cooking. Maybe I should try roasting them over a wood fire!

  5. This is ingenious! Both as a way to thickent he sauce and to flavor soups or stews. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Since there’s a lot of tomato cooking going on around here, I’m liking all these tips.

  7. There’s a few ways to get around the watery sauce (and I’ve had that problem too esp when I use it in the crockpot). First, you can add tomato paste from a tube (do you have an Italian grocer nearby), that gets around the can issue. Second, I find that once the sauce cools it usually thickens, and then there’s always the option of either adding a little cornstarch or a culinary thicken (KAF has a good one). Then again, I like to add a little cheese and that soaks up the liqud, but saving it for soups and such is brilliant.

  8. Good trick. Our homemade with garden tomatoes is ALWAYS a bit thin. But no one in the family seems to mind it that way — probably b/c I don’t let the kids choose not to eat sauce so I mix in the spaghetti right with the tomato sauce. I’ll try your tip too though, since I have a batch of garden tomatoes waiting to become primavera!

  9. What a handy idea! Not a good thing: watery tomato sauce. A great way to solve that problem.

  10. Our tomato harvest, albeit modest, was consumed by nosy insects (sigh)…but I am really enjoying this post and comments thread and learning lots to save for our next go at it!

  11. Frontier also sells bulk organic tomato powder. Just whisk a bit in and you’re good.

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