Unripe Tomato - Leave it on the vine! - © thefarmstaff.com

Chef Secrets: Is ‘Fresh’ Always Best?

We’ve touched on this issue before, talking about Pizza Perfectionist Prudery when it comes to the insistence of so-called Pie Purists on using only fresh tomatoes, crushed by hand, in their best Red Sauces. Now, the issue of Frozen vs. Fresh is raising its contentious head once again…

Nice and No So Nice Tomatoes - © warrencampdesign.comSupermarket Tomato (left) looks nice. Inside (right) it’s not so nice, after all.

To recap the Tomato Sauce thing, briefly: Chefs whose reputations ride on their sticky insistence on ‘the freshest and most flavourful of ingredients’ leave in their dust the great armies of lesser restauranteurs and the seething masses of home cooks who either can’t afford or simply can’t get ‘fresh’ produce, including Herbs and Whole Spices. What do you do?

Well… If you’ve been to culinary school, you’ll already know this Chef’s Secret: Canned Tomatoes and Frozen veg including Peas and Sweet Corn Kernels, along with such delicate items as Broccoli and Cauliflower, Asparagus tips and more can be even better from Frozen than the ‘fresh’ ones you may get at various times of the year in your local supermarket.

This is primarily because these items are harvested fully ripe from their fields, sorted, cleaned and frozen within hours and sent off to a freezer compartment near you. At the moment they enter the flash-freezer, the clock stops on further ripening (which, taken to extremes becomes spoilage), as well as preserving the colour, flavour and nutrient values that begin to decline in fresh produce the moment they are picked.

By contrast, I think we are all aware, in this day and age, that most fresh produce is picked very un-ripe so that it will resist damage and not succumb to spoilage during transport from places of origin which may be anywhere in the world. For example: Kiwi Fruit from Australasia, or ‘winter’ Grapes from Chile. In my experience, which spans decades, Fruit and Veg just don’t ripen the same way, or develop the same flavours and colours when picked ‘green’, no matter what temperature you store them at or how much ethylene gas (the stuff given off by ripening Bananas) you use to help them along.

Just look at your average supermarket Tomato. It may look as bright and fresh and red as Tomatoes coming right off the vine. But they are almost always hard as rocks and, when you slice into that big, beautiful Beefsteak, it turns out to have a disgusting, inedible, woody, white core. That’s not only disappointing, It’s major wastage — food you are paying for, often at premium prices, that you can’t eat! The truth is, most supermarket tomatoes never fully ripen. They’ve been picked too soon.

So, don’t back away in horror from the freezer compartment or the canned goods shelves. You just might be denying yourself the best of the crop at relatively low prices!

~ Maggie J.