I just couldn’t resist that one….it’s August, and it appears that Jersey tomato season is once again in full swing. I can’t get enough of them at this time of year: I slice ‘em up raw with some garlic and olive oil, make gazpacho andaluz, build the perfect BLT, and toss them with hot pasta to make a raw tomato sauce (if you want this recipe, sign up for our newsletter, as it’s featured this month!).
What makes a fresh tomato so darn good? Food scientists explain it as a compound commonly called “umami”-the “fifth taste ” (after sweet,salty,bitter,sour), sometimes referred to as “savory”; and tomatoes are full of this good stuff. Great cooks know they can intensify this even further by concentrating the flavor (as in a slow-simmered tomato sauce) or adding alcohol to the mix (vodka sauce anyone?). Lately, I’ve been adding a very strange little ingredient into almost every tomato dish in order to intensify the umami, yet it is nearly undetectable… Thai fish sauce.
Before you freak out, ask yourself this: what is the ingredient commonly found in Worcestershire sauce, Caesar dressing, and Tomato Sauce Puttanesca? Anchovies. And that’s what Thai fish sauce is, mostly-the essence of fermented anchovies. The amazing thing about them (since I have absolutely no love for them by themselves) is that, applied sparingly and properly, anchovies will melt into the background of many flavor combinations, creating that wonderful, mouthwatering sensation many of us die for. But I found that instead of opening the smelly, fishy tin, then grinding and pulverizing them into a paste, it’s easier to grab my bottle of fish sauce and sprinkle a little essence of joy to my taste. I’ve added it to the dressing of a tomato-mozzarella bread salad (ahem-recipe available in July’s newsletter), to my Sunday “gravy”, even to salsa. Trust me, even my kids didn’t know. If you’re nervous, here’s a quick vinaigrette to dress some gorgeous garden tomatoes with, and see if it doesn’t send you over the moon. Enjoy!
- 7 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 4 Tbsp. water
- 1/2 tsp. Thai fish sauce
- 1 small clove garlic, minced or crushed
- 4 Tbsp. of some wonderful, fruity extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tsbp. of your best fresh herbs, chopped fine (oregano and basil work best here)
- salt and pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a cruet or jar, shake thoroughly to combine well. Dress your favorite tomato salad.