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I have a recipe that calls for peeling tomatoes. I've found elsewhere that this is often done by boiling them and letting the skin lift away during that process.

Is there anything else that can make this easier? Even after boiling, they are still difficult to peel.

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There's a question on peeling peaches and the answers there apply to tomatoes. –  papin Jul 13 '10 at 2:22
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6 Answers 6

up vote 16 down vote accepted

If you boil them for more than a few seconds, you'll start cooking the tomato, which can make it harder to work with -- you effectively want to cook just the bit under the skin, which only takes a few seconds.

I work with a paring knife and a set of spring loaded tongs (but you could use a spider or strainer).

  • start a pot of water boiling
  • cut an X in the bottom of the tomatoes
  • once the pot of water is boiling, reduce to a simmer
  • drop a tomato in the water for about 5 seconds.
  • let the tomato cool for a few seconds. (you could use cold water, I just wait).
  • hold the tomato in your off (non-dominant) hand
  • hold the paring knife in your right, but not for cutting ... grab it like you'd hold a paint brush, with the tip of the knife blade near the end of your thumb, and your thumb against the flat side of the blade, and the sharp side facing towards your body. (this is one of those cases where pictures would help).
  • slide the knife under one of the 4 flaps left from the X, grab the skin with your thumb and pull.
  • repeat for the other 3 flaps.
  • if there's any skin left, repeat until the tomato is clean.

If the skin was still sticking, increase the time for a second or two until you find the right time. If the tomato was getting difficult to hold, decrease the time.

Once you find the right time to cook the tomatoes for, I cook about 3 romas or two larger globe tomatoes at a time -- while one batch is cooling, I peel the previous batch, dip another set, repeat, and you'll have a batch done in no time.

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The advantage of plunging them into icewater is twofold: you stop the cooking immediately, and the water helps to move the skins away from the tomato (assuming you peel in the water...) –  Shog9 Jul 13 '10 at 2:55
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I find it slows me down, but I've never actually timed it ... and I don't have an ice maker, so then I have to blow both my trays of ice if I'm making a match of sauce and still likely won't have enough. One I get the right timing down on the tomatoes (is today's tomato a 5-count, or a 7-count?), I don't need any extra help. And that's without peeling in the ice water -- that just sounds painful to me, thinking back to peeling frozen bananas, where I'd have to stop often from the cold-induced pain to warm my hands. –  Joe Jul 13 '10 at 4:43
    
Heh... I suppose it might make a bigger difference when you're doing a bushel or more at a time. You can make a lot of ice up ahead by just freezing any old container of water (provided you get enough surface area, it's not like the tomatoes care what the ice looks like). But this reminds me of another technique... –  Shog9 Jul 13 '10 at 16:59
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If you're going to cook the tomatoes after peeling them then I have a very easy method: cut out the tough little core in the top, halve them, and then put them skin side up under a very hot grill for a couple of minutes. The skin rises up off the flesh (some of the skin may blacken, depending how long you leave them), and can easily be plucked off with tongs (or fingers if you're tough).

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Even easier if you cut the core out after cutting them in half :) –  Joel in Gö Jul 13 '10 at 21:49
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I use Joe's technique (more or less... for < 3-4 tomatoes, I'll just quarter and fillet them). But a friend of mine, now retired, does the following:

  1. Wash and stem the tomatoes, then let them dry on a clean towel
  2. Arrange them on a sheet pan and freeze until solid
  3. Store in freezer bags at < 0°F until needed.
  4. Remove as many frozen tomatoes as needed, and taking each in turn, run under cold water, simply rubbing the skin off as it softens.

The advantage here is two-fold: peeling is dead easy, and you have as many peeled tomatoes as you need whenever you need them.

The disadvantages are the additional prep-work (which may be significant if you weren't planning on freezing the tomatoes anyway), and that the end result is tomatoes which have been frozen: fine for sauces, not so great for salads.

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At times, I just cut the skin off. Take a soft fillet knife. Cut the tomato into wedges. Place a slice on the cutting-board with the skin down, with slide the fillet knife against the tomato to cut away the skip, much like you cut away the skin from a fish.

However, this is only practical if you should skin one or two tomatoes. On larger scale I recommend the boiling water trick.

/L

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After boiling(You shouldn't actually boil them unless that's what the dish calls for, a minute in boiling water is enough), immediately submerging them into ice water makes them even easier to peel.

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Ice water after submerging in hot water is the key. –  Kev Jul 13 '10 at 3:53
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If you carve a X through the skin before boiling, the skin will begin peeling away from that spot first and will make the tomato easier to peel. If you care about the state of the tomato after you skin it, make sure to keep the cut shallow -- only cut through the skin.

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I hold the paring knife right near the tip when doing this -- so there's no way for the knife to go in more than a couple mm / less than 1/8 of an inch. –  Joe Jul 13 '10 at 2:17
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