Hello folks. Although we have been rather poor at posting, we have kept cooking, and I even have a few photos scattered around. For now, I shall tell you a brief story about pizza.
About eight years ago, my family took a trip to New York City. My brother had been on mission there, and he took us to one of his favorite pizza places in Brooklyn. The pizza was good, really good. And it wasn’t good because of the interesting toppings, because there weren’t any. It just had a really good crust, really good sauce, and really good cheese. That was it.
Since then, I’ve wanted to eat pizza that good. While I did find some tantalizing hints about what is involved in achieving it (like this guy, who is both fascinating and insane), the methods are prohibitively difficult and require specialized equipment. Lately, however, we’ve decided to try and get close. Our most recent experiment was based around two key ideas:
- Get really good tomatoes. Most grocery store tomatoes are terrible.
- The oven has to be screamingly hot. The professional ovens cook at 700-900 degrees Farenheit.
It’s impossible to buy good quality, fresh tomatoes at a grocery store. The hothouse tomatoes are so-so, and the regular ones are frankly terrible. Real life vine ripened tomatoes go bad in just a few days and transport very poorly, so you’re never going to see them outside of a farmers’ market.
But we’re not making salad here, we’re making pizza sauce, and we don’t need fresh tomatoes. What we’re looking for are good canned tomatoes. And it turns out that our grocery store has good canned tomatoes, but they were well hidden. All of the mid-shelf stuff (the organic stuff included) is terrible; they are all very sour. But the tomatoes in the big yellow Cento can on the top shelf have a mild, savory flavor, and they taste fruity and sweet despite having no added sugar. Perfect.
Step 2 was to acquire a 20-pound block of steel, which was a birthday present this year. We’re using the Modernist Cuisine baking steel, but there’s nothing special about it; this is literally just a clean, flat, heavy piece of steel. It has been seasoned, the same as the way you’d season a cast iron skillet, but that’s it. We stuck it in a maxed out oven (ours goes to 550 degrees) for about an hour, and it gets incredibly hot.
The one snafu? When we were trying to slide our pizza onto the baking steel, it stuck to the peel. Badly. So instead of a nice flat pizza, we ended up with a vaguely squashed, vaguely heart-shaped mess of pizza-flavored dough. The dough puffed up brilliantly, so we know the concept works; we just have to work on our peel technique. The cheese also didn’t melt completely on top (while the bottom crisped to quite dark), so we need to solve that problem.
Still, the result was definitely tasty, and a big improvement over the classic 325-for-11-minutes method, so we’re going to try it again. Perhaps next time I’ll even have the presence of mind to take pictures!