Monday, October 18, 2010

A pan pizza and grilled pizza in one

I am willing to begrudgingly admit that pizza is generally better in New York City than anywhere else. A New Yorker might tell you that the old, rusted pipes that carry the city's water supply magically imbues the pizza dough with flavorful qualities. Others might just claim that the ability to make a good pizza is genetically inherent in a New Yorker because the first pizza restaurant in America (Lombardi’s, in 189?) opened there, just as a World Series title is their birthright because one of their local baseball teams (the one not called the Mets) is able to carry a payroll four times the size of a Caribbean nation’s GDP.
After eating my fair share of pizza in New York this summer, I think I know why I prefer their pizza (hint: it’s not water) The superior quality is due to a properly crispy, yet chewy, crust. New York pizzerias inherently understand that the key to a good pizza is a proper dough that’s been almost incinerated under high heat. If it’s not a wood-fired oven, it’s a massive gas-burning oven that can reach temperatures of 800-900 degrees and can crisp up a pie in minutes.
This is why a pizza cooked at home is never as good as one we buy from a pizzeria; our ovens just aren’t hot enough. A new oven especially can’t get hot enough, the top temperature is 450-500 degrees (you can go higher, but your oven might start shaking as if possessed). That’s why a pizza stone is imperative if you want to make pizza at home. It’ll boost the temperature of the oven by an extra 200 degrees or so and will assist in properly crisping up your pizza. Even with a stone though, the stone will only get up to 700-degrees, which is far short of the 800-900 degrees a restaurant’s pizza oven can get to. This will lead to a puffed-up, bread-like pizza.
The best way to cook a pizza at home is to use an old gas oven with a pizza stone. If you pump up an old gas oven to it’s highest setting, then it’ll get to 700 degrees. With a pizza stone, you can get close to the temperature a pizza oven can get to. This will lead to a crisper, flatter crust.
If you don’t have an old, gas oven, then your best bet at cooking a pizza is grilling one. Over indirect heat, the dough will crisp up well. And you get the flavor of grilling in your pizza, which is never a bad thing. The disadvantage to this is that it requires you to set up a grill every time you want to make a pizza, and that’s not possible. More often than not, I’ll pan-fry a steak. With that in mind, I decided to “grill” pizzas using Fissler’s Crispy Steelux grill pan. This is really the only way that I can get the extremely high heat to cook the pizza dough without dragging out the grill or building a wood oven in my back yard (a friend of mine actually did that. He spent two months building a gas oven, made a few pizzas, then let the whole thing fall apart under neglect. It was sad)
I decided to use Mario Batali’s pizza dough recipe because he actually has a restaurant in New York dedicated to pizza cooked in a pan. Theoretically, Fissler’s grill pan should work as well, if not better because it has a higher peak temperature and the raised edges allow circulation underneath.
After making this recipe, I should note that the quality of wine you use is actually important. The wine flavor is pronounced in the dough and I wish I used a better quality than the $3 Charles Shaw I got at Trader Joe’s. Also, I'd use a pinch more salt than what the recipe called for. Honestly, if I could do this again, I’d just stick to a basic pizza dough recipe (flour, yeast, sugar, water and salt).
The first pizza I made with Fissler’s grill pan was a basic margherita pizza. It was overcooked because the pan got TOO hot. Within 30 seconds, there were burnt bits everywhere. The raised edges also meant that the part of the dough not in contact with the pan didn’t have enough time to develop any color. You essentially had a black-and-white pizza.
I turned to heat down to medium for subsequent attempts and it worked a lot better with the next pizza.
It only takes about 45 seconds to cook one side of the crust. Then you flip it over, top it, cover the pan and cook for another minute or so. There you go, pizza in less than 3 minutes. In less than an hour, I was able to turn out six pizzas.
This ended up being my favorite. It’s a pizza capricciosa (“capricious” pizza), which has mozzarella, tomato sauce, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, olives and olive oil. I added prosciutto and a hard-boiled egg, which is how the Romans eat one of the few pizzas that Italians load with ingredients.
I wish I got more color on the crusts. But the crusts were properly crispy and chewy at the same time. No, it’s not as good as a good slice of pizza from New York. But this is infinitely more convenient and economical. Even the Rangers can knock off the Yankees with less resources sometimes.

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