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I recently made pasta sauce, and every couple of minutes decided to add something more... More tomatoes, more pepper, more garlic...
After that I let it sit on a small flame for a bit more.
As a result, the sauce set in the pot for a fairly long time (45 min at least).

I asked my roommate if it's ok to leave it this long, and he said that the longer I leave it, the better it will come out.

Is this true? Is patience a key ingredient to a perfect sauce?
(P.S, it really did come out great...)

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11 Answers

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Yes, with any kind of 'stewing' sauce, the flavour improves the longer you cook it (provided it's a slow, gentle process). The longer you leave it, the more chance the flavours have to 'marry'. I have a recipe for a pasta sauce that calls for 6 hours of slow simmering!

You may also have noticed in the past that left over pasta sauce that you eat the next day is really good, for the same reason as above. Any stew, in fact, like bolognese, casserole, chilli, bourgignon etc, is really delicious when left overnight and reheated.

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You're right! The same sauce tasted twice as good the following day, while I expected it to be much less good... BTW, can I have that recipe? –  hizki Apr 6 '11 at 13:41
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You're also substantially reducing the quantities of the least flavorful component of any sauce: water. Less water makes the remaining flavors stronger. –  Satanicpuppy Apr 6 '11 at 15:25
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I agree with everyone that cooking longer is sometimes best, but with one caveat - make sure there is enough liquid to support the amount of cooking time. When a sauce simmers water is boiled off, so if your original sauce is already thick, cooking it longer will just create a really thick tomato paste. If you're finding that the sauce is thickening too quickly, try adding some stock (veggie, chicken, beef). Since a stock already contains concentrated flavors, this won't dilute the work you've already put into creating a flavorful sauce.

Also you'll want to keep in mind that some ingredients should still be added last: cheese, cream, fresh herbs.

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Is it ok to add water, when needed, at any point? Or is it best to try and determine how much water will be needed from the start? –  hizki Apr 6 '11 at 19:49
    
You could add water if you'd like, but keep in mind that it will dilute your flavor. I'm sure there's an equation for the amount of water lost per hour of boiling, but probably on the physics site? –  Alison S Apr 7 '11 at 13:47
    
I also suspect that some of the flavor is being lost as it boils off, thus the nice smelling kitchen/house, although how much lost flavor is hard for me guess. One note on adding stocks instead of water: keep in mind the additional salt, as you don't want to have too salty of a sauce. –  Dolan Antenucci Jan 23 '13 at 1:10
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It depends on the sauce and the result you want.

Tomato based sauces without meat can be really good when just cooked and no more. This way you get a fresh summery flavor that makes the most of good tomatoes with maybe just basil and garlic to give a fuller flavor. This also applies where any vegetables want to stay chunky.

Cream, or white sauces don't need to cook long either and a pesto doesn't need cooking at all!

A Ragu, or other meat sauce, however will almost certainly benefit from a longer cooking period depending on how hungry you are.

By the way Corsican beef is incredible if you have patience to cook it long enough. I'd recommend serving it with a really good quality large tube pasta. Too many people spend ages on the sauce and use cheap pasta!

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There are two different ways of cooking a tomato sauce. Both produce very different results and are apt for different dishes.

  1. Cook for a long time (an hour or more) on low heat (just bubbling). The contents of the pan thicken mostly by evaporation. The result is a smooth, dense sauce. This is what you use for ragu type sauces.
  2. Cook for about twenty minutes on high heat. (Beware of really hot tomato splatters!) The result is a somewhat grainy texture that appears suddenly: you go and stir the pan and suddenly it has become denser. This is used for the "light" and "summery" sauces.

If you eat a tomato sauce, it's easy to tell by sight and taste which of these methods was employed. I presume, but I'm not sure, that the difference is due to some additional chemical reaction becoming available at high temperature that somehow binds the water to the starch(?) of the tomato.

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I regularly cook my pasta sauce over low heat (around 150°F) for 3 hours or more. I see two main advantages:

  • Meat: The low temperature keeps the meat from getting dry, and the long cooking time melts away the connective tissue so to make it tender.
  • Flavor: Some flavors benefit from the long cooking. You will extract more flavor from the meat and spices to take the whole sauce to a new level.
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This is something we found out by accident. My dad used to be a policeman, and one evening we were having pasta. For some job-related reason he was more than one hour late. That evening the sauce was the best one we'd ever had. After that, we never ever went back to cooking it for less than one hour.

But it probably depends on the ingredients as well, this was a tomato-based sauce containing lots of minced meat, some salami and ham, as well as vegetables.

EDIT

I now have another source on this. While being on holiday I found an old cookery book (published 1959) containing italian recipes. The two pasta sauces in it, one purely tomato based, the other one containing tomatoes and one pound of meat, both said simmer for one and a half hour. So it seems to be quite common to cook it for a rather long period of time.

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Cooking depends on the type of sauce you're cooking. For example, if it is a sauce should be cooked a long time, but if you want to make a light sauce with fresh tomatoes, cooking must be very short!!!

Look here: ricette di pasta

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Welcome to StackExchange, do you want to explain the 'why' of short vs. long cooking? Also, your link seems like its just a shopping site. Could you refine the link and say what you were pointing to with it? –  mfg Apr 6 '11 at 14:28
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great tips from all. I make a Ravioli sauce (my grandmas from Genoa) She simmers for 9 hours. She never said covered or uncovered. Her recipe is tomato based with short beef ribs and pork neck bones. It makes sense to keep covered to minimize loss of moisture and flavor. I will try that. Best Regards, Joe D

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My mother use to cook her sauce for 2 to 3 days albiet not 24/7 and I still think it's better than any other sauce I've ever had. I suggest trying them and seeing what you prefer and think tastes better as that's what counts.

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The longer you cook sauce the more the aroma fills the room and the less there is in your pot.

The reason you guys overcook or should I say overboil the sauce is because you add water in large amounts. Many amateurs add tomato paste (did you ever taste that straight from the can?). You absolutely do not marry flavors when the heat is on.

My grandmother used to say, you need to rest the sauce when cooked and reheat as desired, but never reboil. As the sauce cools it not only marries flavors, but thickens considerably.

If you want to preserve the fresh flavor, add little or no water, keep it covered so precious aromas are contained, and then if you want to seethe the meats, remove some sauce into another pan with the meat and boil your brains out.

The first pot will be ready and you will enjoy two flavors when you serve, similar to the difference when you have a strawberry sunday as opposed to putting all ingredients in a blender and making strawberry ice cream (not the flavor here but the concept of two flavors as opposed to one).

You may then store any leftovers in one pan and when reheated, not reboiled, enjoy another flavor marriage.

I have found that tomatoes are not always sweet since they are not all picked at their peak for obvious reasons, but the addition of asti spumante or a very similar, but much cheaper, wine called Canei will do you fine. For those who don't do booze, add it early and all the alcohol will evaporate. Remember the flavor of a tomato is basically citric acid. Enhance it, do not neutralize it.

NEVER brown your garlic or onions as the thin membrane on each will never digest in your stomach. Instead, sautee till mushy and they will disappear in the mix. The first part of flavor is aroma (remember when you have a cold you cant smell or taste very well?), so preserve the aromatics as though they were golden.

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No more than 30 minutes is best.

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No matter whether you're making a fresh sauce or a slow cooked/stewed sauce? Why? –  Jefromi Feb 19 at 1:36
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