Raymond Blanc’s Tomato Essence (Only Partly Daring Cooks)

We fell into bed just after 8pm in Bedroom 2 of our transit house, exhausted by the day’s events. While the day was not dotted with drama, it had been a long one for us all – the first day of school for the three children, and the first time in all the schooling years that I wouldn’t be the one to see them off on Day one, some with streams of tears, holding on to Mama’s skirt and saying ‘I want to go home with you Mama’. Papa instead had the sole honours.


Its week 4 already and things are slowly shaping up in my home country of Nigeria. The kids are getting an education, we’ve found a house with a yard and 3 flower beds, some already sprouting waterleaf plants, Nigerian greens which must be related to Spinach for their soft, watery nature.


I’m amazed at how easy it is to get by with so little of one’s belongings. I remember my boss of a few months ago, R say to me ‘Watch how you feel the moment the container leaves your house. It is the best feeling ever.’ And so I was very careful, monitoring my joy and sadness and when the moving truck left, taking all our things with it, I broke down and cried. I never really felt the freedom he meant till Tuesday night, lying down in bed at 9pm, contemplating continuing to read the trials and travails of Nigerian citizens in the heart of a coup by the fantastic Nigerian writer, Chidimamanda Adichie’s in her book ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ or writing this post.

My basil plant

In the end, the liberty of my soul won, unfettered by ‘must do’s’ and have to’s. I thought through my day and was shocked at how simple it was- school runs, work, home, dinner, homework and sleep. And then I focused on how for almost 5 weeks we’ve lived out of suitcases. No pizza stone, no pasta roller, ice cream maker, dough whisk. Nothing. No camera, no lights, no action. I’d never have thought I could last this long without rustling up more than pancakes, corned beef sauce and Swiss Bircher. No fancy meals, just wholesome ones. Only one set of plates and cups and pots and pans. One set which require washing up…which I have, strangely enough, come to enjoy. Really enjoy. Is this me, I wonder?


Freedom has let me loose, she has embraced me and will not let go. I smile though because free as I am, as we are, it would be nice to see the entire contents of my wardrobe….in one place, to look for cinnamon powder and find it. To desire cardamom in my coffee and find green pods waiting to be crushed. Instead, I open my small blue Laura Biagotti overnight case, stuffed with my jewels, fake and real…and find some delicious Swiss chocolate from Laderach in the top zip compartment. I’m not complaining or announcing its presence to anyone (husband especially) but nothing has a ‘place’ anymore. No corner is sacred, chocolate and jewelry can share a home, as do face caps and dried red chillies, shoes and books.

Fennel spread

Out of the deep freezer, I bring out and search a bag of spices I hand-carried, just to be sure there are no cardamom pods hiding at the bottom. Instead, I find packs of sugar, white, light brown and dark brown. As well as yellow triple A batteries from Ikea, and a few paper receipts. All in the deep freezer – I have many thanks to tender to my man.

And so I considered opting out of this month’s Daring Cook’s challenge for even if I could make a stock, soup is not what we’re longing for right now.

Blog-checking lines: Peta, of the blog Peta Eats, was our lovely hostess for the Daring Cook’s September 2011 challenge, “Stock to Soup to Consommé”. We were taught the meaning between the three dishes, how to make a crystal clear Consommé if we so chose to do so, and encouraged to share our own delicious soup recipes!

Mandatory Items: You must make a stock and turn it into a soup (savoury or sweet). You must also make an accompaniment for your soup.

Optional: Turn your stock into consommé. If the thought of the clarifying stage is too much for you don’t worry about it but I do encourage you to have a go.

Variations allowed: If you don’t want to use one of my recipes or links that is fine make your favourite (savoury or sweet) soup and accompaniment and (if you want to) turn the soup into a consommé.

In the end, I didn’t make a stock and its up to the world and the host to decide if this is fitting for the ‘stock to soup theme’ because what I share, though a great recipe is neither stock nor soup…though I imagine it could easily take on a new name to fit the bill. This is more of an essence, eliciting the best of every ingredient involved to create a wonderful base that truly is worthy of ‘stock’, soup and consomme.

Lemon thyme curd

Months ago I saw Raymond Blanc make a ‘Tomato essence’, blitzing tomatoes, fennel, herbs and spices. This he ladled into cheesecloth and ‘hung’ to drip. The result? Liquid gold with tomato flavors that were pure and clean.

Shortly after, I dared to give it a go and I wasn’t disappointed. It was easy as pie to assemble and in the end, I made homemade ravioli with wonton skins and gently poached them in the tomato essence for a delicious dinner.

And though I am enjoying this days of zen, having very little wordily property, I am looking forward to seeing my pieces of fabric and all the other junk I’ve accumulated. To hug and to hold and perchance even to give away.

Please stop by the Daring Kitchen to see stock recipes that transformed themselves to soup.

Tomato Essence, adapted from Raymond Blanc

750g red and yellow cherry tomatoes, ripe and washed
1 small shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 baby fennel, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced
½ sprig lemon thyme leaves, chopped
5-6 basil leaves, washed and chopped
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons caster sugar
3-4 drops Tabasco sauce
2-3 drops Angostura bitters
10 – 12 fresh green peppercorns (or brined – rinse before using)
How To

Do this in 2 or 3 batches.

For each batch: In a food processor, blitz all the ingredients together 5 times for 2 seconds each, using the pulse button. Repeat for all batches. Combine all batches into a bowl and stir.

Refrigerate and allow to marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes, or longer – up to 3 hours.

Line a sieve with cheesecloth/muslin and place over a large bowl, to collect the liquid gold. Pour in tomato mixture and refrigerate overnight. Do not be tempted to squeeze the muslin to hurry up the process – the result will be cloudy and red. Instead, wait till the morning when you can decant you liquid gold into a jar (and use tomato pulp for something else or discard. Mine went into a bread soup which was middle of the road).  



  1. Oh this looks lovely. I saw this in Raymond Blanc’s cookbook, and wanted to make it but thought it was a lot of effort to be put in for tomato soup/essence. I might have to reconsider after seeing your post! 🙂

  2. Glad to hear you are settling down a little Oz, you are such a trooper, taking everything in your stride then managing to write a wonderfully warm and engaging story at the other side of it. You are one amazing lady my dear!

    The tomato essence sounds incredible and definitely worthy to be called a stock in my book.

  3. Can’t believe you used it to poach ravioli… as it looks so labour intensive – and as you said is precious as gold – thought it would be sipped “straight” – but love that idea. How did it taste? Did I miss that part again… precious as gold tells my it was nummy – but is it really worth all the time and effort – and what did you do with the pulp afterward?

    • Thanks dearie. I had enough to go round the poaching route, and in terms of processes involved in the recipe, it is quite simple and far from complicated! I’ll have to try it straight from some bone china! The pulp went into a pappa al pomodoro – bread soup, which was middle of the road. If I’d had more time, I could have done something else but……

      The liquid was superb, clean and smooth, obvious tomato taste but also herbiness from the fennel and basil and a hint of spice! It is definitelny worth the time and effort, anyday

  4. You are such a writer…I love hearing about your adjustment, your perspective. Thank you for sharing with me. I’m sitting down to a leisurely breakfast, and, as always, your blog is wonderful reading material. I hope you have a happy weekend, my friend!

  5. With all that you are coping with at the moment, I am very impressed at the fact that you are managing to blog – let alone attempt a consommé! And I think you must be a wise woman to keep your chocolate with your jewellery – and a secret!

    • Amanda sweetie, blogging is my lifeline/outlet – somehow I always create time to blog. It means a lot to me. This attempt at a consomme is months old – so I’m not much of a super heroine! Thanks

  6. I so enjoyed reading your post; your writing is very magical and captivating! This essense is a wonderful idea! I could so imagine its use in many dishes. And I love your use of the pulp – that is one of my favorites – bread soup!

  7. Loving the sound of this essence – Raymond Blanc is all about flavour. Chimamanda is one of my favourite authors and Half of a Yellow Sun one of the most moving, vivid and thought-provoking books I have ever read. It works on so many levels. I met her at the Emirate Literature Festival a few years ago and she is a most modest but charismatic person and exceptionally wise for her age.
    Bravo for being daring. Thanks for sharing.

    • You’re right Sally, Half of a Yellow Sun works on so many levels……As a Nigerian, it held so much for me – so much love and laughter and pain, I was and still am awed! I’d love to meet her!

  8. How fun to see your tomato water–I just saw Melissa Clark talking about “bringing it back” on her blog–had never heard of it (apparently it was an ’80s thing) and here you are. I’ve never tried to make consomme because somehow it seems very wasteful (at least, the way I’ve read that you do it)…the raft of ground meat, the tomatoes, etc. I am happy with my homemade, albeit cloudy chicken stock.

    How happy to finally be moved in. 5 weeks sounds like an eternity. You are truly settled if your children are off and your closets are filled. Hurah!

    And you’ve reminded me, I really want to try cardamom in coffee. I have read about this and am crazy for cardamom. In the morning I guess I’m too needing of the caffeine to think “outside the box” (or outside the “coffeepot”?)

  9. Considering your transitional status you continue to amaze me with what you devise.

    I sympathize and embrace all those transitional times, sometimes just having the basics simplifies life. Something I thoroughly enjoy every weekend up at the cabin (including hand washing dishes). Ahhh, but not forever…I’d miss so many other things if the tables were permanently turned.

  10. I so identify with the freedom of living with so little, the delightful surprise at being able to not only get by but thrive with only the essentials. I wish you much beauty, much joy, and much peace in your new domain. 🙂

    • Welcome Anna, thanks for stopping by. I’ll be round to ‘see’ you

      Mademoiselle d, tomato tea sounds jolly good. A must-try. And you’re so right – there is a feeing of being lost/homeless…..

  11. I’ve seen this billed in some places as tomato “tea” depending on what it’s being served with, as it can be presented in a dainty tea cup or a small pot for pouring over.

    And I know what you mean about your possessions! Be it that they may only be “material goods”, although they don’t define you, they do provide comfort, and each and every little thing you own has a story to tell and a journey shared. For ages I was living between my Mum’s and my boyfriend’s places, and even when we finally got married it wasn’t until a good year later that I had the bulk of my possessions moved over. I felt like I was constantly homeless!

  12. Oz, we make something similar but our liquid is always red. We discard the seeds first, blanch the toms, then put them through a food mill to make passata. We then drain the pulped flesh through a clean napkin to collect the juice. The liquid that runs free is absolutely delicious and isn’t actually the liquid that was inside the tomato to start with, but the juice from the flesh itself. It makes the most wonderful risotto!

  13. Always a pleasure reading what you have to share, looking at your amazing photography, and feeling close to you for a moment. Much love!! xxxx

  14. You write so beautifully Oz. I love this post and I can totally relate to how you’re feeling, having been through similar circumstances myself.

    I remember seeing the episode of Raymond Blanc’s Kitchen Secrets with this recipe and I remember wanting so bad to make it. Alas, it was winter. Now, that the best tomatoes of the season are long gone from Holland, I believe I will have to wait once again to make this tomato essence. Thanks for reminding me about it!!

  15. Ag! Such a beautiful post. That freedom and that terror that comes from all your things floating on a boat or flying in some baggage compartment somewhere (in my case, it was sitting on a tarmac at CDG airport, then sitting somewhere in Douala, etc, etc). It does make “things” more worthwhile, I think… to be without them for some period of time (knives, I found, I use more than anything else… and get frustrated when I can only find the kind that crush tomatoes or make lofty bread sink into a flat cracker).

    I am envious of your transition, and I hope I have a very similar blog post someday (soon).

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