Tomato sauce showdown: Victorio strainer vs. immersion blender ~ Ham Pie Sandwiches

20 September 2014

Tomato sauce showdown: Victorio strainer vs. immersion blender

Tomato sauce showdown: Victorio strainer vs. immersion blender

When I've canned tomato sauce in the past, I've always gone through the arduous slog of coring and skinning all the tomatoes before cooking them down. This, as you might notice from my tone, is a huge pain in the ass. It takes forever and makes a mess -- and then I end up cooking the tomatoes down into slurry anyway. It's not like I need whole, intact skinned tomatoes! So this time I decided it was time to try a couple different methods.

1. The Victorio strainer.
2. The immersion blender.

The Victorio strainer is essentially a giant food mill. You feed tomatoes into the top while turning a handle. The strainer smashes the tomatoes and separates the skin and seeds from the usable tomato flesh. Then you cook down the tomato to the sauce consistency of your choosing and preserve it as you see fit. I did a basic water-bath canned tomato sauce, but you can always go for the pressure canner or freezer as you see fit. Be careful with food preservation! The USDA guide to home canning is a good resource here.

Anyway. I've had my mom's old strainer in the office closet for a few years, but I hadn't actually broken it out and used it before now. So this was a learning experience.

Tomato sauce showdown: Victorio strainer vs. immersion blender

I got to learn how to put everything together. I got to learn that the clamp that holds the strainer upright was too wide for our dining table but too narrow for our kitchen counters. Eventually I found that it would fit the coffee table, which we then had to move into the kitchen to avoid getting tomato splashes all over the couch.

When we were ready to puree, I fed in the tomatoes and John worked the handle. Then we got to learn that trying to use a strainer set up on a knee-high table is a terrible idea if you have more than a small batch of tomatoes to process. There's nothing like hunching over for a full hour as you shovel chopped tomatoes.

We also got to learn that if you pad out the clamp with a towel, so as not to completely kill your table, the strainer is likely to come off square and start getting loose. We learned that some tomatoes were going to explode and rain juice all over the kitchen, no matter what we did. It was super exciting.

And afterward we got to learn how delightful it was to try to take apart and clean a strainer we'd had to wedge closed as tightly as possible -- while it was covered with all kinds of slippery tomato detritus.

On the other hand, the strainer certainly did make very short work of producing approximately 7.5 quarts of tomato puree -- less than half the time it would have taken to core and skin all the tomatoes. It required only the most minimal of prep work -- we only needed to remove the stems and quarter the larger tomatoes before pureeing.

We could use our grape tomatoes as well as the standard large tomatoes. We could feed the skins and seeds back through the strainer to squeeze out every last bit of tomato flesh. I got to rescue all the waste to make a huge batch of tomato broth, which turned out to be lovely and flavorful and full-bodied due to the pectin in the skins.

Overall, it was a reasonable trade.

Tomato sauce showdown: Victorio strainer vs. immersion blender

The next weekend, I was not really up to mopping the kitchen again. Besides, I was thinking about that tomato broth and the pectin in the tomato skins. And then I remembered that Erica at Northwest Edible Life had written a post on actually making sauce from tomato skins instead of throwing them away. Erica was using the skins from her whole home-canned tomatoes; I was planning to sauce all of mine. Why even bother skinning the tomatoes in the first place, then? Why not just puree everything together at once?

So that's what I did. I washed my batch of tomatoes, chopped them roughly, removed any really seriously woody core pieces, and went at the remaining tomatoes with the immersion blender. Then I cooked the resulting slurry into delicious tomato sauce, ladled it into jars with the requisite lemon juice, and canned it all.

It worked very well indeed.

Since I already know how to puree things with the immersion blender, there wasn't very much to learn here per se. I just made sure to keep the head of the blender submerged, so I didn't accidentally splort random tomato bits all over the kitchen.

I also had to work in batches, so as not to overheat the blender. This is for sure the only time I've ever had to even think about that consideration when using our very nice and heavy-duty immersion blender! If I'd cooked the sauce down for a while and then pureed it, I think the overheating issue would have been less of a problem. But even so, the results were excellent.

This sauce cooked down a whole lot faster than the previous skinless batch. That is a real benefit when it's a minimum of 85F in your kitchen and you want to get past the heat portion of the day as swiftly as possible. You have to love fiber and pectin at work.

Even though this method defaulted to include skin and seeds, I was really happy with the finished sauce.

Tomato sauce showdown results

Victorio strainer:
- no seeds or skins in the sauce
- minimal prep required
- fast pureeing time
- long cooking time: 4-5 hrs
- technically fiddly, with lots of required setup
- equipment will not overheat
- can use grape and cherry tomatoes along with standard
- medium to high cleanup
- bulky equipment
- single-use, at least for the time being (maybe I will make applesauce sometime?)
- peels and seeds provide ingredients for convenient side-effect broth

Immersion blender:
- tiny seed and skin bits in the sauce
- slightly more than minimal prep required, but still not very much
- fast pureeing time
- faster (but still fairly long) cooking time: 2+ hrs
- not fiddly; no setup
- equipment can overheat; breaks are required
- can use grape and cherry tomatoes along with standard
- low cleanup
- more compact equipment
- definitely multi-use
- no secondary products produced

As long as no one cares about teeny tiny seed and skin bits -- and so far, I don't -- the winner is the immersion blender. Of course, if you cared very much about such a thing, it would be possible to strain your sauce after cooking it -- but I am just not going to go to that kind of effort unless I see a real need.

The other real issue is overheating your equipment. No one wants to blow out a blender just to get tomatoes processed into sauce. So if you're making a really huge batch, or don't have the time to take breaks between pureeing batches of tomatoes, the manual strainer is probably the best bet.

The end product is great either way, so choose what works for you.

How do you process your tomatoes before canning? What favorite tools do you use?


Catherine Weber said...

When I make sauce, I wash and quarter my tomatoes, add them to a pot, cook them until soupy, run the sauce through a food mill (it takes really very little time at this point, since the tomatoes are all softened,) and then return the sauce to the pot to reduce. That's been my lowest-stress way to make tomato sauce! I just need to remember to use the heat diffuser next year ... I burned my sauce a little this year. :(

Rose said...

My dad bought the Victorio strainer last year. We made a huge mess, but we were doing all the canning in his garage, so it was OK. I'm team immersion blender, partially due to limited space and also because I don't mind the skins and seeds. You can see the seeds here: I do worry about overheating my immersion blender. I put that little thing under a lot of stress!

Heather said...

I use my food processor to puree my tomatoes before cooking. I core them, then blitz. They cook down quickly, and it's way easier than peeling. I think the final sauce is a little thicker and has more texture, but overall just fine, and no seeds in sight.

Gastric Kitty said...

Have you tried throwing it in your blender on batches instead? I use my vitamix, and it works beautifully. No visible pieces of seed or skin.

Harleysville Homestead said...

I am a fan of the immersion blender for fresh sauce and we actually canned our sauce this way last year. But, we noticed a pretty bitter taste in the sauce we used through the winter so I got a food mill to use on our canned sauce this year. We'll see if that helps the bitterness issue.

Eileen said...

Alas, we do not have either a food processor or a high-powered blender, so those methods are out. But we have definitely considered moving the Victorio setup into the backyard the next time we use it!

So far I don't mind the seed & skin taste -- we tested an unsealed jar by cooking with it -- but I guess that could change on long storage. We'll see what happens.

Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar said...

The immersion blender always wins in my opinion! It's so easy to use. This sauce looks great!

Holly Dolan said...

I used a Kitchen Aid strainer attachment this year, which I loved. I'm interested in your Tomato Broth--recipe? Instructions? And if I manage another batch of sauce, I'm going to run the seeds/skins through a second time!

Eileen said...

Holly, the tomato broth is super simple! Just put your tomato seeds and skins in a pot, cover with water, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain out the solids and you're left with a beautiful honey-colored broth. Easy!

Amey said...

how is it possible that I am only just discovering your awesome blog?? how fun!

I did tomato canning today too! I just dice 'em, cook 'em, and can 'em - skins, seeds, cores and all. I can't be bothered. And frankly, the end result is so yummy anyway!

Jenna said...

My husband is the tomato sauce maker in our household. (Its the only thing he makes!) I'm the one who blends the sauce when it's done and I alway's use my immersion blender.

Sippity Sup said...

I've used this immersion method on cherry toms, but not bigger boys. Will it work there too? GREG

Joanne said...

That is a LOT of tomato canning. I love it! Think of how much you'll have to tide you over during the winter!

Unknown said...

we tend to have a lot of cherry tomatoes. Found the seeds and skins made the sauce bitter if We used an immersion blender. With the Victorio the juice tasted almost like tomato soup it was so sweet.Picked our Victorio strainer at a local thrift store. This is the best sauce we have made so far,and with less mess.

mcnally said...

I did this too. My joints and inflammation flared up. Apparently tomato seeds and skim have something in them that bothers folks who are tended towards inflammation. Back to Victoria strainer for me!