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When making real Ragu, what really is the specific difference between

  • using tomatoes (so, for say 1kg of meat, a big pile of tomatoes, chopped and cooked-in for many hours as the last step)

  • using Passata (so, for say 1kg of meat, a few cups of Passata, cooked-in for many hours as the last step)

What really is the specific actual difference in outcome or perhaps in procedure?

Is Passata really just for convenience? That is to say: if the "inventors" (so to speak) of Ragu simply had lots of fresh San Marzano tomatoes on hand, they would simply use the fresh tomatoes and say "naturally, that's better than Passata". Or is there actually some difference?

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    If someone thought it was a duplicate they'd probably have just said so. I don't know why someone downvoted, but your reaction is a great demonstration of why people often don't explain. The most obvious reason I can see is that you seem insistent on deep differences (chemistry?) in the final result, and not too open to the idea that having skins and seeds already removed is a real benefit (or maybe didn't research enough to realize that's the difference?), but that's just a guess, I don't know what their reason was. – Cascabel Jan 7 '18 at 16:52
  • For what it's worth, I wasn't actually sure about that (it's not very common in the US, seems like more of a UK or Europe thing). In the end I just googled it. – Cascabel Jan 8 '18 at 16:30
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    I see you've placed a bounty. Can you clarify what more you're looking to learn? The bounty will certainly get you attention, but people may not really know what else to tell you beyond what's already been said. – Cascabel Jan 11 '18 at 4:29
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+50

The primary reason is definitely convenience. If you don't want skin and seeds in your sauce, then you have to do some work to avoid it. Yes, it's possible, e.g. passing through a food mill, or blanching and peeling plus retaining only the flesh, but having it already done is a whole lot easier.

Passata is usually much thicker too, so it won't need as long a cooking time to reduce into a non-watery sauce as fresh tomatoes. On top of that, you don't have to worry about whether you can find good fresh tomatoes, e.g. if it's winter and they're out of season.

Your two cases for comparison seem to overlook this: if you just chop and cook, you'll have skin and seeds in your sauce, as well as excess liquid to cook down, while if you use passata, you won't. (Also, for what it's worth, you'd need pretty giant tomatoes to get the equivalent of 3/4 cup of passata out of one tomato.)

Of course, if you don't mind skin and seeds, it's also perfectly fine to simply cook fresh tomatoes and be done with it.

Note that you can often get similar advantages from other canned tomato products. In the US, crushed tomatoes are far more common, and a roughly similar texture. (Peeled whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste can also be useful depending on what texture you're aiming for.)

  • fantastic information..... – Fattie Jan 8 '18 at 16:29
  • And if you WANT chunks of tomato in your sauce, then obviously fresh tomatoes are better. Fattie: Jefromi's answer seems right to me. – FuzzyChef Jan 8 '18 at 16:40
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    Also, passata will help you out in the winter ... – FuzzyChef Jan 8 '18 at 16:41
  • @FuzzyChef but so would tinned tomatoes of any sort (I use a mixture of tinned chopped tomatoes and passata when making large quantities) – Chris H Jan 11 '18 at 8:29
  • Yes, certainly. – FuzzyChef Jan 12 '18 at 17:27
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There are many advantages to using passata for tomato sauces:

  • no seeds, no peels (canned tomatoes often are the same in this respect)
  • general lower water content as tomatoes are drained before being shredded, which means you don't have to wait for that water to boil away in making the sauce thicker
  • very easy to preserve, as if it's not opened it can be kept around for years unrefrigerated.

However, in the context of ragù, you should not use passata but concentrated tomato paste instead. Ragú is a long preparation in which you are removing water all the time:

  • from the meat, to correctly sear it at higher than 100°C temperatures
  • from the vegetables, when sauteeing them to make soffritto
  • from the other ingredients added for fat content and flavor afterwards, such as milk or cream, and of course tomatoes.

After the initial searing, it is true the long cooking time of ragù needs a wet environment to break down collagen and make the meat tender. However, you don't want to prolong this time even more by having additional water evaporate. So you can save yourself some time over the standard 4 hours and use tomato concentrate.

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    Ciao, another incredibly informative post, thanks! – Fattie Jan 13 '18 at 14:55

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