When it comes to canned tomatoes, we generally preach whole peeled or bust. Unlike crushed or diced tomatoes, our favorite brands of whole peeled tomatoes don’t include additional ingredients besides salt (there’s no calcium chloride, which helps tomato chunks stay firm, or “added purée,” which imparts a weird thickness).
But there’s one type of canned tomato we rarely talk about, and those are fire-roasted. The silence ends now: As it turns out, they have their time and place to shine.
Fire-roasted tomatoes are exactly what they sound like: the tomatoes are charred over a flame before they're diced and canned (sometimes, they're also enhanced with onion and garlic powder). Often, you can actually see the blackened flecks on the tomatoes. Contact with the flame brings out the tomatoes’ sweetness and, most notably, imparts a distinct smokiness. Essentially, it’s a shortcut to more flavor.
In Rick Martinez’s chicken tinga tostadas, smokiness is essential for balancing out the fat in the bacon-y refried beans, the sharpness of the raw onion, and the creamy sprinkling of cheese on top. Sure, you could use whole peeled tomatoes, but the end result would not be nearly as dynamic. With everything else going on in the tostadas, it’s a subtle flavor—but certainly a noticeable one. (Fun fact: In a side-by-side taste test, Cook's Illustrated found a smoky salsa made from fire-roasted tomatoes to be significantly more complex and delicious than one made with regular diced tomatoes!)
If you don’t have fire-roasted tomatoes on hand, definitely don’t attempt to char your own. The truth is, regular canned tomatoes will work fine as a substitute. You can even add a pinch of smoked paprika to make up for it.
But the next time you’re at the grocery store, grab a can of fire-roasted tomatoes to keep in your pantry. When you decide to make those tostadas or a smoky salsa, or you want to doctor up your usual chili, you’ll be glad to have it.
Get the recipe:Rick Martinez
Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit