This, what might be called my second annual post about frozen whole tomatoes, comes a little earlier than last year’s. In fact, it comes before the fresh tomato season officially ends: We have not yet had a frost, and we do have a few stragglers on our vines. But those border on pathetic, while the ones I froze a few weeks ago are beauties. (As a reminder, to freeze tomatoes, I just put them in plastic bags whole, and throw them in the freezer. Period. Done.) As I defrosted them I was deluged with memories, one in particular.
That was of Bouley, which opened on Duane Street in 1987. For a time, David Bouley was the most-praised chef on the East Coast, and his luxury establishment ranked with Le Cirque (where Daniel Boulud had become chef) as the most creative restaurants in town.
I know, so what? And, indeed, that’s a reasonable response. But unlike the years that followed, and especially in Bouley’s case, fame followed culinary genius and not investor funding. And, to me, the most amazing thing I ate at Bouley in the summer of 1988, when I first went there, was just about the simplest creation you can imagine: tomato water. (Not only was it the most surprising, it was the most memorable: I can’t name another dish from that meal.)
Bouley had set sliced tomatoes on a board, salted them, propped the board up, and collected the resulting secretions, to be served in a bowl with fresh herbs. (These were the early days of the still-novel and much-heralded amuses bouches.)
Tomato liquid is clear—at a glance, at least, as clear as water. And, in a way, that’s what made, and makes, it so incredible: You can be served a shotglass full of what looks like water, and the taste is pure tomato, in some ways more intense than any bit of a tomato you’ve ever had. I interviewed Bouley that month, found out the “secret,” and have produced tomato water annually ever since.
But as easy as it is to make tomato water from fresh tomatoes, it’s even easier to make it from frozen. In fact it’s effortless: You put the tomatoes in a bowl and, as they defrost, their broken cells release it. The tomatoes are good—just fine for sauce or in any cooked dish—but the tomato water is sublime.
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Questions, comments, brilliant suggestions? Just want to share the recipe for your grandma's potato salad, or your mom's meatloaf, or your uncle Drew's three-day 100-percent rye loaf (yes, please)? Don't hesitate to reach out anytime.