James Beard's Tomato Sauce

James Beard

Author and Educator

“I have a standard tomato sauce, which I use for all kinds of dishes. This is a good, honest, basic tomato sauce, perfect for seafood such as lobster, shrimp, or crab, for cooking chicken, or with vegetables, rice, or pasta. Add a little fish broth, and you have a richly flavored fish sauce. Or add meat broth, or mushroom broth and some chopped cooked mushrooms for enrichment.” — James Beard


  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed (or more to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 large sprig of fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)


Score the bottom of each tomato with a paring knife; scald the tomatoes in boiling water until the tomato skins are falling off, about 10 minutes. When cool enough to touch, peel them completely, remove the core, and chop finely. 

Heat the butter and olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes and garlic, and let them just melt down. Season with salt and black pepper, and add fresh basil sprig. If the tomatoes are very acidic, you can add a tiny fillip [aka, a pinch] of sugar, which will give them a better flavor.

Simmer the sauce over low until reduced, 45 to 60 minutes. Add tomato paste while sauce is simmering, if desired. Remove basil sprig before serving.

Note: If you can’t get decent tomatoes, you can use a 35-ounce can of Italian plum tomatoes, cooking them down well to eliminate the excess liquid before adding the tomato paste. They don’t have quite the same flavor as fresh tomatoes, but the quality is excellent.

Adapted from James Beard's original recipe. Recipe photo and food styling by Judy Kim.


3 cups