Frontier Psychiatrist

Frontier Gastronomy: It’s not Delivery

Posted on: July 26, 2010

(Does your inner gourmet want more? Check out K-Town Homestead.)

Make Your Own Pie

Summer inevitably brings a spate of food articles wherein the writers feature “different” angles on grilling….grilled fruit, grilled pound cake, grilled pizza. While I’m all for experimentation, these grilling recipes usually land off the mark, especially if, like me, you are using charcoal and not gas. The standard home grill has a fairly small surface area, with uneven heat from the coals, no matter how carefully you try to spread the pile. While you can move pieces of meat around to compensate for this uneven heat, a large disk of dough is another story. Grilled pizza is a such a good idea in theory — not only should it give a smoky “brick oven” flavor but the outdoor cooking means the house stays cool. I have tried to grill pizza many times, and it has never yielded consistently good results. The dough is unevenly cooked and the toppings are never heated through — let alone melted — before the center of the pizza starts to char. So I leave the grill to the meat, or the pound cake and peaches if I want to get fancy, and accept that pizza works best in the oven.

This isn’t a post with a recipe. Pizza dough has four ingredients: yeast, flour, salt, olive oil (and this last one isn’t essential). Recipes abound in print and on the Internet, so I won’t reinvent the wheel. I will, however, share three hard-won lessons in home pizza making that perhaps you already knew, but took me a lot of trial and error to learn:
  • You need a pizza stone. You need to heat it for a long time. I know there are minimalists out there who insist on cooking everything with one pot and a baking sheet, and chafe at any suggestion to purchase specialty equipment. But my pizza will always, always be better than theirs. The stone gives even, blistering heat to the bottom of the crust. I heat it at 500 degrees for at least an hour before the pizza goes into the oven. Your kitchen will get ninth-level of hell hot, but the end product will be worth it.
  • Make your pizza on a piece of parchment paper. Don’t use cornmeal (it doesn’t work, and the dough will stick to the counter), don’t use a baking sheet (it is cold metal and will prevent the whole “even, blistering heat” situation). Rip off a square of parchment, dump the dough on top and pat out a crust the size of your stone — if you make it bigger, the topping will slop off and the crust will cook poorly. Be careful while transferring the parchment to the oven. Here is where you don’t need specialty equipment, but it helps: transfer the parchment to the stone with a pizza peel. You can be DIY and use the back of a baking sheet. If you make pizza on a regular basis, you can find a pizza peel for less than 20 bucks and it makes your life incredibly easy. Worth the investment, but not an absolute necessity like a pizza stone.
  • Moist toppings are the enemy of good home pizza. A well-heated stone maybe, just maybe, gives you an acceptable temperature from the bottom. But we can’t recreate a real pizza oven unless we line the entire chamber with tile. So remember that you aren’t working with blistering heat on the top. If you load the dough with a wet sauce, juicy tomato slices and fresh mozzarella balls, the moisture won’t evaporate before the bottom of the crust cooks, and you inevitably end up with a soupy, raw-tasting pizza with a burned bottom. There’s a reason that pizzerias use “low-moisture” cheese. My husband loves fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzarella on our pizzas, so here’s what to do: salt the tomato slices and press out the moisture with a dish towel. Wring out or press the water out of the mozzarella balls. The five minutes of extra effort makes your pizza come out right every time.
If all of this seems like a lot of work and heat for one measly dinner, I agree. I wish it was as easy as slinging some dough on the grill. Do many Italians actually make pizza in their own homes? I doubt it — they probably go the pizzeria. In a similar vein, there has been much American hand-wringing in the past four decades about how to bake the perfect baguette. Guess what? French people don’t bake their baguettes — they go and buy them. But I don’t have a bakery with a pizza oven around the corner, so this is my best bet. I don’t care what Chicagoans say, the pizza here is horrifyingly bad. Until we move back to New York, our pizza fix will be of the hard-won, oven-baked, homemade variety.
Advertisements
Tags: , ,

1 Response to "Frontier Gastronomy: It’s not Delivery"

I respectfully, yet HIGHLY disagree with your idea of Chicago pizza.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow Us:

Send Us Your Music:

Staff

L.V. Lopez, Publisher
Keith Meatto, Editor-In-Chief
Peter Lillis, Managing Editor
Freya Bellin
Andrew Hertzberg
Franklin Laviola
Gina Myers
Jared Thomas
Jordan Mainzer

Contributors

James Tadd Adcox
Michael Bakkensen
Sophie Barbasch
John Raymond Barker
Jeffery Berg
P.J. Bezanson
Lee Bob Black
Jessica Blank
Mark Blankenship
Micaela Blei
Amy Braunschweiger
Jeb Brown
Jamie Carr
Laura Carter
Damien Casten
Krissa Corbett Kavouras
Jillian Coneys
Jen Davis
Chris Dippel
Claire Dippel
Amy Elkins
Mike Errico
Alaina Ferris
Lucas Foglia
Fryd Frydendahl
Tyler Gilmore
Tiffany Hairston
Django Haskins
Todd Hido
Paul Houseman
Susan Hyon
Michael Itkoff
Eric Jensen
David S. Jung
Eric Katz
Will Kenton
Michael Kingsbaker
Steven Klein
Katie Kline
Anna Kushner
Jim Knable
Jess Lacher
Chris Landriau
Caitlin Leffel
David Levi
Daniel F. Levin
Carrie Levy
Jim Lillis
Sophie Lyvoff
Max Maddock
Bob McGrory
Chris Lillis Meatto
Mark Meatto
Kevin Mueller
Chris Q. Murphy
Gina Myers
Tim Myers
Alex Nackman
Michael Nicholoff
Elisabeth Nicholson
Nicole Pettigrew
Allyson Paty
Dana Perry
Jared R. Pike
Mayumi Shimose Poe
Marisa Ptak
Sarah Robbins
Anjoli Roy
Beeb Salzer
Terry Selucky
Serious Juice
David Skeist
Suzanne Farrell Smith
Amy Stein
Jay Tarbath
Christianne Tisdale
Phillip Toledano
Joe Trapasso
Sofie van Dam
Jeff Wilser
Susan Worsham
Khaliah Williams
David Wilson
James Yeh
Bernard Yenelouis
Wayan Zoey

Listening To:

Sons of Dionysus


A Transmedia Novel of Myth, Mirth, and the Magical Excess of Youth.