Culinary Arts

How to Peel a Tomato, Plus a Guide to Using Peeled Tomatoes

Written by MasterClass

Apr 29, 2019 • 3 min read

Nothing invokes the age-old gripe “Do I have to?” like seeing instructions for peeled tomatoes in a recipe. Does such a thin skin even matter enough to bother removing? In those moments, remember what Chef Thomas Keller says: “[Peeling tomatoes] is not necessarily something that you have to do, but it’s a technique of refinement.”

So, no you don’t have to, but maybe you should. Luckily, you can get somewhere refined without making it finicky. Here's how.

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Why Peel a Tomato?

Peeling tomatoes mostly comes into play at the peak of tomato season when you find yourself with pounds of fresh tomatoes that need to be canned or turned into a pristine, velvety tomato sauce. Tomato seeds and skins are indeed packed with flavor, but they can sometimes get in the way texturally—peeling and seeding tomatoes allows the tomato flesh to fully dissolve into a dish, enhancing it with its flavor, then disappearing without a trace.

5 Ways to Use Peeled Tomatoes:

  1. Pasta Sauce: Peeled tomatoes make smooth, light-weight sauces like marinara and pomodoro that evenly coat a variety of pasta shapes and sizes.
  2. Salsa: Want a chunky salsa without papery grit getting stuck in your teeth? Using peeled tomatoes is your answer.
  3. Tomato Soup: Get velvety, thick soup with puréed peeled tomatoes—perfect for grilled-cheese dunking.
  4. Shakshuka: Poach your eggs in spicy, smooth tomato sauce for this classic Middle Eastern breakfast dish.
  5. Pizza Sauce: If you're going to make pizza, don't skip the extra step of using peeled tomatoes. You want silky smooth sauce on pizza as well as pasta.

How to Peel Tomatoes With Chef Thomas Keller

You don’t blanch tomatoes to cook them. You blanch them to prepare them to be peeled. The technique involves plunging them for a short time in unsalted boiling water and then transferring them to an ice water bath until they’re cool enough to handle. Follow Chef Keller’s method for blanching and peeling below.

  1. Fill your stockpot with water and bring to boil.
  2. Score the bottom of the tomatoes with your paring knife in a cross pattern. Avoid cutting deeply into the flesh. Use the tip of your paring knife to remove the woody, green stem of the tomato.
  3. Submerge the tomatoes in the boiling pot of water. After about 10 seconds, remove a tomato and check to see if the skin can be removed easily from the flesh from where you cut the cross. If the skin remains firmly attached to the flesh, continue the cooking process for another 5–10 seconds and check again.
  4. Once the skin is easily removed, transfer the tomatoes into an ice bath to stop them from cooking further. A slight curl along the score lines is a helpful sign that the tomatoes are done.
  5. Once shocked, use slotted spoon to remove tomatoes from the large bowl of ice water. Peel each tomato using your paring knife.

4 (Other) Ways to Peel a Tomato

Blanching isn’t the only way to peel a tomato, though. Try these four unique methods and find which suits your cooking style the best.

  1. WITH A FLAME: Score the bottom of the tomatoes just like you would if you were using the blanching technique. Using tongs and a gas burner or a blow torch, carefully char each tomato directly with the flame on all sides. This loosens the skins, which you can then slide off under running water.
  2. BY ROASTING: This technique follows the same basic idea as the live flame approach, but you can also broil tomatoes in the oven to remove the skins. Preheat the oven to broil, with a rack positioned about 6 inches below the hot coils. Halve the tomatoes, remove the stems, and place them on a baking sheet, cut-side down. Broil them for about 15 minutes, depending on your oven and the size and amount of tomatoes on the sheet. When the skins are blackened and the tomatoes have softened, remove and let cool, then pinch off the skins with your hands.
  3. BY HAND: If you’re short on time, and only have a few, very firm tomatoes to tackle, you can use a super sharp paring knife or vegetable peeler and have at it, starting at the top and lifting the skin off in strips as you go. It’s not ideal, but peel them just as you would an apple.
  4. WITH THE FREEZER METHOD: Freezer ripe tomatoes and when you’re ready use and peel them, either run them under hot water for a few minutes, or just let them thaw at room temperature for about 10 minutes. The skins will be loose from the defrosting process, so you can use a paring knife to coax the tomato skin away from the flesh.

Learn more foundational cooking techniques with Chef Keller here.