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Come On In, The Tomato Water's Fine

Tomato water in Mason jars. Photo: Cooking Channel TV

San Francisco is one of the few cities in the US where, come winter, it's nearly impossible to find a tomato at the hottest restaurants in town. On the contrary, come tomato season, it's hard to avoid them. Now that all the heirloom varietals have hit full stride in warmer points south, there are tiered salads of steamy heirlooms, plays on Caprese, cherry tomato-dotted pizzas, and, finally, the seasonal BLT has arrived. The happy by-product of this tomato overload is tomato water. While the New York Times just gave the "intense translucent liquid" a little jab as one of the fleeting "charms" of the 1990s, Bay Area chefs never seemed to let it go. Find out why they love it and where you can try it, after the hop.

One Market executive chef Mark Dommen likens a sip of tomato water to "eating a liquid tomato," while Flour + Water's Thomas McNaughton describes it as the "essence" of the fresh fruit. Adding to the intrigue, Dommen says "tomato water couldn't be easier to make." Most chefs practice some variation on the followign theme: 1) Chop or puree tomatoes with some salt 2) wrap in cheese cloth 3) hang in the walk-in refrigerator 3) collect the water as it drips out for about 24 hours.

Right now, tomato water is the secret ingredient in Dommen's roasted sturgeon "BLT" at One Market. He emulsifies the water with olive oil to make  sauce for the deconstructed sturgeon dish, served with Applewood-smoked bacon, romaine, and tomatoes. Dommen reinforces the tomato flavor even further, by using a mixture of tomato water and butter to wilt the little gems that go on the plate.

At Flour + Water, chef Thomas McNaughton presents his ricotta and tomato tortellini in a "broth" of clarified tomato water. "Clean, acidic and fresh," he says, "it simulates the traditional broth this dish is served with in Italy."

And Local: Mission Eatery's Jacob des Voignes just finished up a "bath" of tomato water this weekend in preparation for a wine dinner he's offering this Wednesday in partnership with Berkeley's A Donkey and Goat Winery.  One of the menu items will be white corn agnolotti served with crayfish, heirloom tomatoes, tarragon and tomato water. Jacob adds, "The flavor is really clean and pure."

Had a taste of tomato water somewhere else around town? Do share it with us in the comments section.