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I am looking to take the effort out of slow-cooking tomatoes for several hours over the stove and wondered if sous-vide may be a possible method of doing this. I understand that the end result may be slightly watery but this sauce can then be reduced in a pan at the end, could it not? Is it possible that the end product could have the same depth of flavour a tomato sauce slow-cooked in the traditional way would? If so, what kind of temperature and timeframe would I be looking at?

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    I had the best luck using a crock pot, low setting and leaving the lid off. I was making ketchup. It reduced nicely, I didn't have to stand over the stove while it reduced. I left it go overnight. I found that I needed to add the seasonings AFTER it had reduced. Otherwise some of the flavors packed a punch after being reduced with the tomatoes. – Michelle Jan 4 '17 at 17:07
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    As a note, in future you might find that phrasing your questions based on the result you want rather than guessing at a method might be more successful. Something like "How can I simplify the process of slow-cooking tomatoes?" - This is the crux of your question. If you have a specific potential method in mind, you can always mention it "Would sous-vide work?" But knowing that sous-vide is not a good option for this doesn't help solve your actual problem... if you'd asked it differently, Michelle's comment could actually have been a useful answer for you. – Catija Jan 4 '17 at 21:59
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    I've spent a lot of time looking at tomato sauce recipes over the years, and most of the "traditional super-long cooked" sauces I've seen have been more like meat stews, with the long cooking being about the meat and not the tomatoes. Marcella Hazan-style simple tomato sauce gets pretty rich after not much over an hour (depending on the wateriness of the original tomato supply). – Pointy Jan 4 '17 at 23:32
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    I wonder about pressure cooking, if you really do want true caramelization. Those can get you 250, Modernist Quisine At Home has a caramelized carrot soup that is amazing, but the low pH of tomatoes may hurt your process, but that's just a guess. – Ronald Pottol Jan 5 '17 at 3:13
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It would not caramelize for sure, as caramelization occurs between 110 and 180 degrees celsius depending on the particular sugar - well over the boiling point of water, which is your maximum sous-vide temperature.

However, it would serve a few purposes that might well work. For one, it would allow the slow breakdown of starches into sugars, just as other slow-cook methods do. It would also enable your other flavors (spices, other vegetables, etc.) to fully dissolve into the sauce. This could be useful, and would be one of the major benefits of slow-cooked tomato sauces. This recipe on Andrew Zimmern's blog is a great example of how to do it, and why; it includes some good tips for technique, including the very important step of sauteing the root veggies before adding them to the sous-vide bag.

You'd still want to do a high-heat cook at the very end (just like you do with almost anything from a sous-vide) to get that caramelization if that's your goal, but as you note you'd probably need to do that anyway to reduce the sauce if you're going for a thicker sauce (as I often do). If you're using good sauce tomatoes (romas, for example) you probably won't need to reduce it much if at all, but if you're using more watery tomatoes you may need to anyway.

If you really want to get good caramelization for your tomatoes, I would recommend roasting them in the oven, or even better over a wood fire, first. That's going to get very good caramelization and also get some other good flavors in the tomatoes - a bit of smokiness fits very nicely into many sauce profiles.

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    +1. The question seems to conflate caramelization with slow-cooked-sauce taste, while these are actually not very tightly related. – rumtscho Jan 4 '17 at 20:04
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    Wait, you have to sauté the vegetables first before adding to the bag? Might as well call it doux-vide! – Chloe Jan 4 '17 at 21:31
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    @Chloe - Joined this community just to upvote that comment. – indigochild Jan 4 '17 at 22:08
  • About the last two words of your answer: I could... what? – amaranth Jan 4 '17 at 23:35
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    @amaranth You could do anything you put your mind to! :) (thanks, fixed) – Joe M Jan 4 '17 at 23:36
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I would say no.

Carmelization requires high heat. Sous Vide is the opposite of that - low, slow heat.

Here's some info on it from Science of Cooking.

Caramelization or caramelisation (see spelling differences) is the oxidation of sugar, a process used extensively in cooking for the resulting nutty flavor and brown color. Caramelization is a type of non-enzymatic browning reaction. As the process occurs, volatile chemicals are released producing the characteristic caramel flavor. The reaction involves the removal of water (as steam) and the break down of the sugar. The caramelization reaction depends on the type of sugar. Sucrose and glucose caramelize around 160C (320F) and fructose caramelizes at 110C (230F).

As seen here, you need temps significantly higher than the temperature of sous vide baths (56C/130F - 80C/170F) and you need to remove the water. You can't remove any water in a vacuum sealed bag. It's a closed space. In fact, the minimum temperature for fructose caramelization is even higher than boiling, so a water sous vide would never work.

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