SAUCE FROM A JAR
Sauce from a jar is just as much of a bad word or phrase in an Italian household as saying “I got a tattoo” or “I want to go to Olive Garden for my birthday” – its just not something that you hear, and if you do, its horrifying. But not anymore in the 21st Century. In fact, we’ve come a very long way from Chef Boy Ardee and Prego.
Jarred sauces aren’t just convenient, but also very economical, so no more shame in buying sauce in a jar for those nights when you need to eat and don’t have money to order in, go out, or the time to cook. The first thing I do before buying a sauce is to read the ingredients and make sure they don’t contain anything dehydrated, have any preservatives or artificial ingredients. Typically it should read: tomatoes, salt, pepper, garlic, basil, oregano, etc – I know what all that stuff is even if I don’t care for too much garlic or oregano. However, when I see things like “citric acid only as a preservative; xanthian as a thickener; or anything else to improve “color” – just put it aside. You want all natural, and even then, even the best and most expensive sauces from the best chefs you might have problems with.
For example, I love Lidia, Mario Batali, even my local places like Nanina’s, Brownstone or even Rao’s in NYC. But, as similar as Lidia and Batali might be in concept, I find the 2 brands very different. Lidia uses a lot more chopped garlic which tastes a bit odd to me. I love Batali’s Cherry Tomato Marinara but don’t really think I would ever use his Penne A la Vodka again. Everyone’s tastes vary, here are my personal rankings, and they are only based on my tastes.
The other important thing to remember is, how it tastes in a restaurant fresh is not the same thing you will taste from a jar with the exact same measurements of the exact same ingredients. Sauce in a restaurant is generally made in 30 mins or less, but sauce in a jar has to be jarred and cooked at a lower temperature for a couple of hours. This matters. It especially matters if its stored in glass, plastic or cans. Even cans these days have this plastic coating on the inside, and yes, it effects the taste. Maybe not to someone else, but to those who are paying attention and have distinct tastes, its noticeable.
#1 Hoboken Farms Marinara Sauce – Don’t ask me what they do to this, nothing imported, nothing special, its the way its cooked, its the most pure, delicious things I’ve ever had fresh, let alone out of a jar. The bonus is, from here, you can use it to make other sauces and recipes since its a “base”. Add meat and cream, its bolognese; add cream and vodka and some red pepper flakes, its vodka sauce; use it as a base for pasta fagiole, you can even use it as a sauce for pizza, or even for dipping calamari, bread, mozzarella sticks, whatever.
#2 Mario Batali Cherry Tomato Sauce – great for pasta, ravioli, anything really, its a good 2nd to Hoboken Farms
#3 Mario Batali Alfredo – I used to make alfredo sauce from scratch with butter, cream, garlic, cheese, its not a lot of time, but a lot of ingredients, and the first time I tasted Mario Batali’s, I thought “this tastes like mine” and that is a good sign. No, I am not comparing my cooking to Batali, but when you taste something and it tastes every bit as good as homemade, its a good thing.
#4 Colavita – I’ve always been a fan of Colavita Olive Oil and their balsamic vinegar, for the price, it will give you more quality and flavor than those twice the price. As Mike Colameco put it “no better bang for your buck”. I had to do a favor for a friend, and as it turns out, she is a model for their print ads, so she brings me 2 jars of Colavita, one is “fat free”, its obvious she does not know me too well, but at the same time, salsa is also fat free, and while I don’t buy into all that, turns out its pretty damn good! The truth is, the only thing they omit is olive oil, that is the “lipid” and/or fat which is actually healthy for you, but let it be, its still great. In fact, I can’t wait to try their other varieties. The Garden Style has vegetables like mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, onion, etc, and of course the famous Colavita Olive Oil which does not make it fat free but still makes it very healthy and very low in calories.
#5 Lidia’s – Any of her sauces tend to be too much garlic, but the garlic type of taste which is not fresh, but cooked/preserved. I can’t place my finger on it, but I know, with all great respect to this master chef, I don’t care for it.
#6 Corrado’s Mushroom – Really good, fresh, the only ingredient that alarmed me was less than 1% citric acid, I know its natural, but even just 1% can taint the taste of some products, but no complaints here.
#7 Rao’s – I can’t really figure out if I like these. I know Rao’s is a very famous place in the Bronx, and celebrities from Sinatra to the Sopranos have eaten here. Its more of a club, you “buy” a table, and if you are there Tuesday at 6pm, you sit down to eat, if you are not there, your table is given to someone waiting at the bar. So, either way, its fine to buy a jar and have the experience of a place you will probably never get into.
#8 Patsy’s – Again, another favorite celebrity haunt with the likes of Frank & Nancy Sinatra, Tony Bennet, Jackie Gleason, Rosemary Clooney, and even Chris Rock.Rread my post from: https://jrcx.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/celebfaves
#9 Nanina’s – Nanina’s in the Park is a restaurant and catering hall known for its food and consistency for decades. A favorite spot for weddings, and the award winning chef is always on the premises for any major event such as a wedding.
#10 Brownstone – Another famous catering hall known for its food also has started jarring their delicious sauces. Italian friends who were married there still swear by their sauce even though they can probably make it better.
#11 Dress Italian Classica – All authentic from Italy, no preservatives or artificial ingredients (that are listed), and while its a good sauce, its a bit too “thick” and heavy… reading the label it says “double concentrated tomatoes” which means its tomato paste, which is not a problem, but that does mean the ingredients were processed, dried, cooked, on top of the jarring process. I thought to dilute it with pasta water, and that might work, but while it makes the list, it is not a favorite.
#12 Cento – A known leader as an Italian food importer. Their sauces and food products are good, but only as a last resort.
I know there are many others out there, like Emeril, Paul Newman, and of course the dreaded Ragu, Ronzoni, Prego and other multinational brands, but those are brands you know you are using only to feed an army of hungry people who are not looking beyond something other than a hot meal.
Check back, I am always on the search for good jarred sauces, and while I know its mostly a lost cause, coming across Hoboken Farms’ Big Red was a great find and a keeper and a staple in my “bomb shelter” pantry – research never ends.