A San Marzano Snob Goes Downmarket

I can’t remember when I started using San Marzano tomatoes, but it’s been long enough that I figured I’d become a snob for life. If you read Foobooz, chances are that you’re one too. When it comes to commonly available canned tomatoes, San Marzanos are simply the gold standard. Ever since I got turned onto them, I’ve never understood why anyone would buy anything else. Sure, they cost twice (or even three times) as much as Hunt’s, but we’re talking $3.69 versus maybe $1.75 for a 28-ounce can that will probably form the basis of a sauce or dish that’ll feed four people. Why would you scrimp when that extra $2 makes so much difference?

The question contains its own answer—at least the way I’ve always intonated it. But recently I found cause for doubt, thanks to The Industry’s Pat Szoke.  The man makes a soul-soothing lamb neck gravy, and when I called him up to ask him about it, he mentioned a brand of tomatoes I wasn’t familiar with.

He told me he uses #10 cans of Saporito tomatoes for his gravy. He actually seemed to be mistaken about them, because (unless I misheard him) he said they were a brand of San Marzanos. But they aren’t.  They’re packed in California by Modesto-based Stanislaus Food Products.

I can see where the confusion comes from. Stanislaus markets its products (mostly to restaurateurs) with the somewhat misleading slogan “Real Italian.” But hey, if they were good enough for Szoke—and his lamb gravy is the love—they were good enough for me to try.

Those #10 cans are big. You won’t find them in a normal supermarket. But I found a 6-pound, 6-ounce can of Saporito Filleto di Pomodoro—peeled tomato strips—at Talutto’s in the Italian market. It cost $6.99. By weight, that’s about half the price of supermarket San Marzanos, and the way these tomato strips are packed, you actually end up with more tomatoes. I almost didn’t buy them, they seemed so cheap. But then my inner miser refocused me on the mission at hand.

I used them to re-create The Industry’s lamb neck gravy along Szoke’s general outline.

It would be nice to be able to manufacture a bit of suspense here, but the possibility vanished as soon as I opened the can. The tomatoes were bright red, tender, and totally ripe. Very flavorful. And so was my lamb neck gravy, which turned out a little meatier than Szokes, but still channeled those tomatoes to splendid effect.

Will I still use San Marzanos? Sure. But next time I visit Talutto’s, I might bring a suitcase. Fall is coming, and I see a lot of bulk tomato-based recipes in my future.

The Industry [Facebook]

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  • Tex

    Not all canned San Marzano tomatoes are created equal, and not all stand up to both fresher-tasting and more robust American varieties (i.e. Muir Glen).

  • Lord Chesterfield

    6 lbs 6 oz is a #10 can… for those of you who want to learn more about Stanislaus tomatoes http://bit.ly/Sx4GeD

  • eldondre

    fyi-claudio’s sells 90 oz cans of san marzano for $6.99 or 7.99..8% less if you buy a case. they also sell the 28 oz cans for less than your typical supermarket price. I generally use san marzano but I’m also not making lamb neck gravy but much simpler, faster sauces that include very little of anything, maybe salt and basil in addition to the tomatoes. something like lamb neck gravy depends a lot less on the flavor of the tomatoes themselves. I haven’t been that pleased with muir glen personally. anyway, thanks for the tip, perhaps I’ll give them a try now that slow cooking season is around the corner.

  • Abby

    Post the lamb neck gravy recipe!

  • Chef B

    When you’re paying all that money for San Marzano tomatoes, make sure they have the DOP stamp on the can. There are alot of fake products out in the market but a true San Marzano is worth paying for!

  • Andy

    I put up 48 quarts of tomatoes this past weekend- much better than canned. If I am out I use Muir Glen Whole Tomatoes.

  • DF

    You 100 correct and the fakes are from china