Friday, October 2, 2009

How to fix acidic tomato sauce. And then ruin it. And then fix it again.

I'm half italian so making a good tomato sauce (or at least, good to me and my husband) is just something you work at until you get it right. No one ever makes a sauce just like their mother, grandmother, sister or aunt ... and that's ok.

My sister in law taught me a terrific trick for fixing sauce when its just too acidic. You add 1-2 pinches of baking soda... it neutralizes the extra acid.

Here is a fun experiment next time you are making sauce. Get two mugs or bowls and add a cup of sauce to each. Then add a pinch of baking soda to one, a teaspoon full to the other. Mix well, let sit for 5m, stir again and then taste (comparing to your own sauce w/no baking soda). The one with a pinch is slightly less acidic.

The one with too much?


Valuable lesson.

Without acid, you basically have warm herbed tomato juice. Horrific. Unless you have vodka and you like that kind of thing...

When attempting this on a real pot of sauce for repair purposes, add a pinch or two, stir well and THEN COOK MORE ... like another 20 minutes. Cooking reduces the acidity as well. If you over-neutralize initially then it's just going to get worse.

And that brings us to tonite.

I haven't been able to stand at the stove long enough to make sauce in almost a year, and frankly, I can't now. But fall means warm snuggly stews and pasta dishes for me. I just HAD to do it. I decided (aahahaha ... my first mistake) to make a big pot of my serious meat sauce and freeze alot. 2lbs of top of the round, 5 chicken sausages, an onion, 4 cloves of garlic, 3-28oz cans of tomatoes ... and all the seasonings etc.

Rule #1. When you haven't made a red sauce in a year MAKE A SMALL BATCH.

I was using Pastene tomatos which I keep buying b/c my mom and grandmother do but they are just too acidic for me. So ... I added a bit of baking soda. Still acidic. Added some more cooked a while. Still acidic. So I decided to add some more...

Rule #2. If a little voice says, Wow, I don't usually need THIS much X ... listen.

Rule #3. Never shake an ingredient from its container DIRECTLY into your pot. You're just asking for someone to be standing by waiting for a youtube moment.

Needless to say I was now faced with a GINORMOUS crockpot filled with ... warm tomato juice.


I tried adding a wee bit of apple cider vinegar. Warm vinegary tomato juice.

I tried adding a small can of Hunts tomato sauce, kept on hand for chili emergencies. Slightly better but still scary.

I tried adding a can of petite diced tomatoes, also kept on hand for chili emergencies. Chunky warm vinegary tomato juice.

I tried adding a bit soysauce (Cooks Illustrated recommends adding just a little of this to meat sauces to enhance the meaty flavor - works great) and a bit of shredded parmagian. Its ok but not my sauce.

At this point I gave up. I knew the only salvation for this was to add another big honking 28 oz can of tomatos. Tooooooooooo the filled completely up to the lid crockpot. Sigh. So I decanted 4 cups worth of warm chunky vinegary tomato juice into another container and added another can of tomatoes ... which I should have done in the first place. Then I added proportional amounts of all my little add-ins and seasonings. Except the meat ... good grief that pot didn't need more meat. And...


I walked away. 20 minutes later it is dang near perfect... except for that odd bite of something...

Which I am going to studiously ignore :)


  1. I should have looked you up BEFORE I made my chili. I canned this sauce last summer, but it was all very acidic. I decided to only use it to make chili which I could cover up the acid...kinda. Now I'll try the baking soda on my left-over mess tomorrow. It can't get any worse.

  2. The title made me laugh out loud! Thanks for a great post.