recipe

Credit: EARLCARTER

Time to get on the sauce – tomato and plum, that is

We’re at the end of the plum season. And the end of the tomato season. Towards the end of any season there’s often a bit of a glut. A lot of fruit comes on at once and for reasons unknown there is often a lot of overripe fruit, fruit we might call imperfect. It’s at this time of year we start to source seconds for sauces and preserving.

The good thing about a glut is it pushes you to do new things. And the price influences your decisions. If you can buy a box of tomatoes for $10, it would be negligent not to do something. Sometimes when you have five boxes of tomatoes in the kitchen you’re forced to look at different recipes and techniques and ways of using things up.

Italian families will often have a sugo day, where the family comes together and makes enough for a year. But fewer and fewer people make their own sauce.

These recipes are staples in my kitchen. The plum sauce we use in a lot of Asian recipes. We serve it at the restaurant with twice-cooked crispy duck and steamed bread. At other times I’ve used a couple of spoonfuls of this plum sauce in braised dishes, to brighten them up a bit. 

The tomato sauce comes out mostly for staff meals. A staff meal tells me a lot about the chef preparing it – the effort and thought and creative energy. We eat with front of house and it’s an important moment before service. At Cutler & Co we had fried chicken every Thursday for about two years, which was great. But staff meals are not always successful. Chefs are trying things out but on the day might have limited resources. Curried fish and grapes is one that springs to mind. The curry didn’t quite mask what was happening. 

This tomato sauce recipe is from one of my chefs, Rory Cowcher. Actually, it’s from his mother Ronalda. It has a freshness to it, a nice balance. It’s a spot-on balance of spices that supports the tomato but doesn’t dominate. The vinegar-to-sugar ratio brings a lot of life to something like a pie, which can be dense and which lacks acid.

Tomato sauce doesn’t feel like something you need to talk about. We know what it is. The surprising thing about it is that it’s surprisingly easy. You could cut them as coarse as you wish and it will still produce a wonderful sauce.

At the restaurant we keep this in the fridge. It will last for a few weeks, but it’s always eaten before then. Alternatively, it could also be preserved in a Kilner jar. If you’re doing that, you’re not eating enough pies. Or you have way too many tomatoes.

Rory’s mum’s tomato sauce 

Makes about 4 litres

– 6kg tomatoes

– 1kg pink lady or gala apples, roughly chopped but not peeled or deseeded

– 1 large onion, chopped

– 4 cups sugar

– 6 cups white vinegar

– ½ cup salt

– ½ cup chopped garlic

– 2 tsp ground ginger

– 1/4 tsp ground cloves

– 1 tsp cayenne pepper

– 1/4 tsp allspice

Place all the ingredients into a large, heavy-based pot and cook over high heat, stirring regularly.

When the mixture starts to catch on the bottom of the pot, turn the heat down a little and be even more vigilant with the stirring to ensure the mixture doesn’t stick.

Simmer until the apples and tomatoes are soft and disintegrating.

Puree the sauce in a blender then pass it through a fine sieve. If the sauce seems a bit thin, return it to the stove and cook until it has thickened slightly. 

Store in sterilised glass bottles in the fridge. 

Plum sauce 

Makes about 2.5 litres

– 2.7kg blood plums

– 850ml cider vinegar

– 30g fresh ginger, finely chopped

– 1 tsp freshly ground pepper

– 38 cloves

– 6 tsp salt

– 1 tsp cayenne pepper

– 1.3kg white sugar

Halve the plums and discard the seeds.

Place everything except the sugar into a pot and simmer for about an hour, until the plums get soft and start to break down.

Add the sugar and cook for 15 minutes more as the sauce thickens slightly.

Puree the sauce in a blender and then strain it through a fine sieve. Store in sterilised glass jars in the fridge.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 14, 2015 as "May the sauce be with you". Subscribe here.

Andrew McConnell
is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.