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jhlurie

What makes a good pizza?

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In a thread on the New York board (click here) Steven Shaw was bemoaning the loss of a good pizza place and wondering whether it was his imagination that Pizza (at least in New York) has gone steadily downhill since he was Fat Boy instead of Fat Guy.

Reading the thread for the first time today, it made me realize that perhaps this is a topic of discussion of interest outside the ghetto of the New York board (actually, we've had SEVERAL pizza discussions in both the NY and NJ threads)  :raz: .  Steven started to discuss his ideal of a great pizza in that thread, but I'm thinking some folks from elsewhere in the world may have some very different opinions.

I'm expecting more that just "I like thick pizza" or "Grimaldi's is the best" or anything specific to arguing about "who is best". Element by element there must be some way to try and quantify the extremes of pizza--bad, good, or different styles.  Not who or when, but what is it?

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I like pizza with a thin crust, my favorite pizza is just garlic, olive oil, fresh mozzarella with procuitto and rocket and more olive oil placed on top after it is cooked. Less is more for me. Am I a freak?

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The major extremes that are frequently discussed:

Thick Crust/Thin Crust

Crispy Crust/Doughy Crust (not the same as thin/thick)

Fresh Mozarella/Commercial grade mozarella

More sauce/more cheese

sweet sauce/more pungent sauce

I know I'm missing quite a lot here.  Teh whole Olive Oil thing, for example, is not that weird.  But is it a standard thing to do?

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Not at all, Adam. Roasted garlic?

I don't have a favourite when I make pizza. Whatever I've put on it is what I wanted at that particular time.

When I send out, I have found that a "medium, easy sauce, extra cheese, black olive, well-done" from one particular place in Ottawa called Ricardo's is excellent. But it doesn't work with other sizes or any variation in ingredients.

Does anyone else find this? That a pizza can be great if ordered with very specific parameters, terrible from the very same place if the parameters are altered?

Am I a freak?

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Fresh Mozarella/Commercial grade mozarella

Those aren't the only choices. In my opinion the best cheese for pizza is low-moisture mozzarella of high quality. This is an entirely different animal from commercial mozzarella. Compared to good low-moisture mozzarella as sold at Calandra on Arthur Avenue (Da Bronx) and elsewhere, both fresh cow's milk mozzarella and commerical firm mozzarella are quite flavorless.

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Does anyone else find this? That a pizza can be great if ordered with very specific parameters, terrible from the very same place if the parameters are altered?

Am I a freak?

I'll leave the freak thing alone.  :biggrin:

The point about pizza from a certain place being great between certain parameters?  You know, I'm not sure any of the multiple NY/NJ pizza discussions ever mentioned that.  A big part of me says that it SHOULDN'T be true.   But I don't disagree with you--it can be.

Does this say something about the PLACE or something about us? (like are we freaks?)

Another question... does a pizza, by definition, have to only have one kind of cheese (mozarella)?  I know White Pizza doesn't... but what about mixing in Jack Cheese or Swiss or others?  Is Wolfgang Puck the only one who believes in this?  Is it heresy?

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How do you feel about Chevre or other cheese on Pizza? In Scotland they use orange cheddar -Blarrrghack!

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How do you feel about Chevre or other cheese on Pizza? In Scotland they use orange cheddar -Blarrrghack!

In ADDITION to Mozzarella, or INSTEAD of it?   Big difference...

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Well, I was thinking instead of (as in a Chevre and scallop pizza; blue cheese onion marmalade pizza etc), but as well as, works also. Not a great fan of multi-cheese pizzi though.

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In terms of multi-cheese, I like fontina as a base with something else I want to try.

Chevre pizzas are splendid. Chevre and roasted fennel with garlic and black pepper is one of my favourites.

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My partner Erin was raving about this goat cheese/roasted red pepper/sundried tomato pizza he gets at this place close to his office. So I suggested we swing by (rather than hitting my usual chili spot) when we had an engagement near his office after work a couple days ago.

Now, I'm not generally a believer in putting goat cheese on pizza. But I do like goat cheese in general, I'm neutral on roasted red peppers, and I adore sundried tomatoes. However, this combination did not work well. The cheese was in soft crumbles on the top and competed with the sweet-acidic tomatoes rather than complementing them. The thinnish crust had no "chew" to it...it was almost biscuity despite a yeast flavor. And the roasted red peppers were just overall limp. The regular sauce and mozzarella cheese that were also on this pizza were just fine...not great but adequate. I found myself far preferring the plainer pizza (we'd decided to split two) which had an ample, tasty pile of fresh basil on top.

I think even a terrible pizza (which this wasn't, it just wasn't GOOD) is still worth eating. I love pizza and in my opinion it's hard to make it inedible. But most pizzas aren't worth an extra effort to obtain. Very few pizzas merit going out of my way.

I regard frozen pizza as an entirely separate food category from a fresh pizza. A desire for one cannot be fulfilled by the other.

The ideal thin crust will be a New York style crust: crisp, thin, with a few blisters from the oven floor. The "bones" should require a short tug in order to bite off a piece. The tip of the piece should not droop. There shouldn't be a bunch of toppings on top of it to weigh it down. And the slice should be large. There should be no "individually sized" thin crust pizza, there should only be full pies. I am not as opinionated about the sauce, as long as it doesn't slop all over the place (like the pizza sauce they serve at Lombardi's does). If there's anything on my fingers after I pick up a slice of thin-crust, it oughta be cornmeal, blackened flour, and maybe a bit of cheese grease. Not sauce.

I also like thicker crust pizzas. I prefer a biscuity crust, ideally with a slight sweetness to it. In my experience, yeasty crusts don't bake so thoroughly. I like to load on the toppings with thick crust pizza...favorites being spinach, mushroom, and onion. I also like a lot of thick, oozy sauce on a thick crust pizza, and plenty of high-end mozzarella to keep it covered. This is the sort of pizza I normally make at home, and I admit to using Pillsbury's Hot Roll Mix (with a few modifications to the printed recipe) since I'm lazy about making my own dough.

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Malawry, I find lower grade goat cheeses are at their best warmed. As on a pizza, stuffed into cubanelles and roasted, on bruschetta and so on.

"Jiggly chick"? I was getting winded.

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She gave me the sense of rah-rah, all is right with the world as long as I have my pompoms.

May I stir things up here a moment? I'd like to make the distinction between pizza (paper plates and napkins, garlic powder on side) and designer (individual serving containers and flatware) pizza. Personally, I think a plain slice, done well, can be an incredibly satisfying dining experience. The gourmet pizza is sometimes terrific, but usually reminds me that I'm eating gussied up...pizza. I know I'm not being articulate here, can anyone else help me explain myself?

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I'm not sure I can help you because I'm not sure I agree. Historically, the great pizza of old is much more like what you'd call designer pizza than like what is served at the slice shops. The slice shops shouldn't be allowed to capture the populist ground just because they use paper plates. And there are too many gradations of pizza, as well as too much overlap. I mean, you look at what is served at the original Pasty's in Harlem and at the original Totonno's in Brooklyn and it looks pretty much like designer pizza. That's my way of saying designer pizza isn't really a category. There's just good pizza and bad pizza. Most of it can be ordered with or without toppings -- that's a different issue.

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I am ill-informed about pizza.  Let's just get that out of the way.  I don't eat it much - never have.  So I am bit clueless about what people here are loking for when they talk about New York-type thin, crisp crust pizzas.  Every slice I've had from a New York joint has been to some degree floppy.  The worst kind hang perpendicularly from their crust like wet rags.  So when you talk about thin and crisp, is that only a matter of degree?  Or do you really find slices which hold their shape and don't droop?

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Steven--are you saying one pizza is better than another? Aren't you disrespecting the diverse regionalism between Chicago, New Haven and New York and with other countries?

All kidding aside, I agree with Steven that good thin crust pizza can come in many forms--Liza, I've had pizza parlor pizza that equalled the best "designer" or sophisiticated pie, if we even allow for that category.  Dough, mozz and sauce, pinch of dried oregano.  That's it.

Of course, many good pizzas that I've had in Italy were more like flatbreads--and as others have mentioned--have salad or grilled seafood on them! (Like rocket)

I'll further extend this to say that, for me, it is not possible to have good deep dish pizza--the ratio of dough to topping and cheese is too out of balance. I have less of a problem with the New Haven style pizzas, and would consider them different and a bit less good than those of NYC with a thin, crisp blackened crust.

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Wilfrid: Most New York pizzerias don't serve New York pizza. What you're describing is the generic commercial hybrid artificial piece of crap product that only tastes good compared to pizza in the hinterland. There are only a couple of dozen pizzerias in and around the city where you can get pizza that conforms to the traditional definitions. That number maybe doubles if you add full-service restaurants that serve thin-crust pizzas mostly as appetizers. As to the proper crust consistency, it should have some give to it, at least if you accept traditional Neapolitan standards. Over there the crust is softer than here, but in any event we're not talking about a cracker.

Steve: I didn't say one kind of pizza is better than another, but I'd be happy to defend that proposition. Still, what I'm saying primarily is that the goodness of pizza isn't related to its socioeconomic status. Too many people use the term designer pizza in a negative sense to imply effete, phony pizza. But there's nothing wrong with any pizza that's good, as far as I'm concerned. And the places where you see the greatest degree of pizza BS are, in my opinion, the slice shops where they serve salad-pizza, chicken-cutlet-pizza, etc. Most of the gourmet places serve toppings that would be entirely at home in Naples.

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I'd be happy to say one pizza is better than another--and defend why, too, as I suspect you would be.  Some things just are better.  Like my statement that no deep dish pizza can be good.

Let me add another variable in to the mix--what about grilled pizzas?

And for anyone that hasn't had New Haven pizzas, we're basically talking variations of thincrust brick oven pizzas.

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In a similar vein, what is your favorite dough recipe?  I stole my brother's pizza stone that he got for Christmas and have probably made 6 or 7 pizzas so far, each one getting progressively better from tips I have found on the internet.  Actually it was searching for tips that brought me here in the first place...you guys had some good suggestions.  My dough is actually pliable now, even if it does come out a bit crackerish.

To start off, I might as well list what I'm doing.  If you have any recommendations on how to improve my results, feel free to comment:

1) 1 1/4 cup warm water + 1 ts Rapid-Rise packet yeast + a little sugar to feed the yeast.  Wait for yeast to "grow."

2) Mix in around 1 ts salt, 1 ts sugar along with 3 cups of all-purpose flour and a splash of olive oil.

3) Knead by hand for 7-10 minutes, make a ball, lightly rub ball with oil, place in bowl with Saran wrap, put it in a warm oven (turned off of course) for 1.5-2 hours.

4) Push down the dough, knead for a minute, re-oil lightly, allow dough to rise in warm oven again for an hour or so.

5) Push down the dough, shape into a pizza.  Top with toppings.  Place into a preheated 500-degree oven for ~15min or so.

I know:

-to keep the sauce as dry as possible

-that I should be using a peel, but it's not practical for me to keep one around

Also, since I don't have a peel, would it be wise to leave the pizza stone out of the preheated oven and build my pizza on it?  It would be much easier that way, but I was concerned that the "cold" stone would mess things up.

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That's helpful, Steven.  I knew what I was describing was crap, and eating it is rarely my idea.  I just wasn't sure whether much better stuff was available.  I should make an effort to try some.

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I think grilling is a great mechanism by which to achieve the temperatures conducive to good pizza.

There are in my opinion valid pizzas in many styles. But I also think the ultimate expressions of the craft are the thin-crust specimens. There is significant variation within that sub-species, ranging from the more flexible Neapolitan style to the crisper New York style to the related but not identical New Haven style. When you narrow it down to that selection, I think you can say they're all valid and excellent. I wouldn't want to choose just one.

What's your opinion on pizza cheese, Steve?

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I'm all over the map--but your comments about moisture are important.  I usually mix and vary cheeses depending on the other toppings, like how much water is in the tomato and how much oil I'm putting on, but I seem to find myself in the fresh mozzarella, low moisture mozz, fontina, parmesan, pecorino camp.

Sometimes the aged provolone with the brown crust by that guy in California.

I also always add olive oil and herbs--again in different mixtures--like dried oregano and red pepper and fresh thyme (often) or rosemary (less so).  Sometimes sea salt if not alot of the grated cheeses.

I haven't gotten into the garlic thing as much as others have.

Always thin crust, always blackened.

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