Muir Glen canned foods sent me an interesting challenge a week or so ago. They are highly confident that their domestically grown and canned tomatoes are just as tasty as Italian grown Marzano tomatoes, so they sent me two cans of tomatoes with the labels removed. One can was filled with American Muir Glen tomatoes, and the other can was hot off the bus (boat/plane) from Italy. My task was to use them in a recipe and decide which of the two I liked best. My father has been on the Marzano bandwagon for a number of years. I’m not sure where he read about them first, but he’s been buying them for ages. As you may know from prior posts, my father was head chef in an Italian restaurant for more than a decade. The man knows his way around Italian food. He often gives me recipes for soups or stews and if the recipe calls for canned tomatoes I always find a note scribbled in the margin that says, “use Marzanos.”
It therefore seemed wise to include my Marzano-obsessed father in the Muir Glen Challenge. Here’s what we did. We made two batches of tomato coulis (my father’s recipe – see below). Seven of us (me, my kids, my sister, my father, his wife and our dear friend Jen) all tasted the tomatoes straight out of the can, and then tasted them again in the completed coulis. The results were fascinating. Cold, straight from the can, four of us preferred the Marzano tomatoes, and three preferred the Muir Glen. When it came to the finished coulis, five of us picked the San Marzano tomatoes and two chose the Muir Glen (including my father – the longtime Marzano user). But here’s the thing – all seven of us agreed that both kinds of tomatoes were delicious (both cold and cooked) and that either way the coulis was fabulous. We thought that the flavor of the San Marzanos was slightly brighter and more fruity, and that the taste of the Muir Glens was smokier and a bit more earthy. I thought both were truly winners. The Muir Glen challenge was a total hoot. We loved it. We’re now filled with ideas about what other products we want to test against each other. Watch this space for another blind taste test soon. Click here to see the exact can of Muir Glen tomatoes we tested. I will be buying them in the future. For those of you who worry about such things, the Muir Glen tomatoes come in non-BPA cans.
Also – it should be noted, we learned one thing while working on this project that really galled us. It turns out that the San Marzano Tomatoes we often buy at Whole Foods are a sham. The brand named “San Marzano” with the white label (click here to see them) are actually grown in the US with seeds from Italy. My father and I assumed that these were Italian grown tomatoes. They are not. If you want actual Italian San Marzanos you’ll want to buy CENTO tomatoes. There are a number of other brands that come from Italy, but the CENTO brand is the most common one.
Grilled Swordfish and Shrimp with Tomato Coulis (serves 6-8)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 sweet Vidalia or Maui Onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely diced
- 2 large shallots, finely diced
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- Two 28-oz cans whole plum tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon finely ground white pepper
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- ¼ cup white wine
- 2 lbs raw medium shrimp
- 2 lbs swordfish, cut into 1½ inch cubes
- 2 pints sweet mini-peppers
- ¼ cup olive oil
- juice of ½ a lemon (prefer Meyer)
- 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried dill
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, shallot, salt and pepper and oregano. Sauté until light golden brown. Add the plum tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, orange zest and white wine. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until most of the water has evaporated.
In a small bowl blend together the ¼ cup olive oil, lemon juice and spices.
Heat BBQ on medium heat. Skewer the raw shrimp, swordfish and peppers. Brush the olive oil/lemon juice/spice mixture on the raw fish/shrimp/peppers. Grill until just done. Serve on top of the tomato coulis.
If you are interested in how this taste test went for a couple of other food bloggers, try some of these links: