7 Ways To Make Homemade Tomato Sauce Even Better

Yes, it is possible.

Cooking Tomato Sauce
Photo: fcafotodigital / Getty Images

One of the best ways to enjoy some of the season's best dead-ripe tomatoes is to cook up a simple sauce. Many of us have a favorite sauce recipe, perhaps a hand-me-down family recipe, if we're lucky. The rest of us turn to a trusted cookbook or recipe site or plunge in using our palates, tomato wiles, and pantry contents to guide the way.

There are many paths to an excellent sauce. But sometimes, despite our best efforts, a batch of tomato sauce misses the mark. It's not awful, but it could be better, more tomato-y, and compelling. Try one or more of these ways to boost and correct a sauce lacking some ingredient or instruction. You'll know when you've hit the target.

By the way, if you freeze some of your now spot-on sauce, be sure to taste it again after it thaws. Freezing tends to dull flavors, so it will likely need a little more corrective action before using it on your favorite dishes.

1. Reduction

Reduction allows a soup, sauce, or liquid to continue to gain flavoring and thickness by simmering on a stovetop. If the sauce holds promise but is too thin and watery, simmer it gently until it reduces, which concentrates the flavors. Sometimes all a sauce needs is a little more time to pull itself together.

2. Add Tomato Paste

We know meaty tomatoes with few watery seed pockets make the best sauce. However, if your tomatoes turn out to be less flavorful than you'd hoped and expected, add a spoonful or two of tomato paste to fill in the blanks.

3. Add Salt

Always taste for salt at the end. It's prudent to not salt aggressively at the start before the sauce has time to reduce and concentrate. Use a light touch if your sauce needs more cooking time later or serves as an ingredient in another recipe, such as a meaty spaghetti sauce, because the other components might add saltiness and seasoning to the finished dish.

4. Add Sugar

A little sugar can make the rest of the flavors shine a little brighter, akin to adding vanilla to a chocolate cake. The goal is to amplify the natural sweetness of the tomatoes, not to turn the sauce sugary, so start with a pinch and work up if needed.

5. Add an Acid

Flat or bland sauce likely needs a hit of something acidic to lift and enhance its flavors, such as a small splash of high-quality, flavorful vinegar, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, or a few drops of not-too-fiery hot sauce. The goal is to taste the effect of the acid, not the acid itself, so add it judiciously and taste as you go. Many home cooks misperceive the need for acidity in a dish as a need for salt, so if you've already added more salt and the sauce is still flat, then a lack of acidity is the likely culprit.

6. Add Some Baking Soda

If your tomato sauce is too acidic and verging on bitter, turn to baking soda, not sugar. Yes, sugar might make the sauce taste better, but good old baking soda is an alkaline that will help balance the excess acid. A little pinch should do the trick.

7. Add Some Umami

Some tomato sauces need a hit of the savory flavor we call umami, which you can get from a little bit of Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, or liquid aminos. You could also use soy sauce, so long as you're sure it won't make your sauce too salty.

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