In the Kitchen
The pizza Chef: November 2015
Some independent pizzerias use a premade canned pizza sauce for their pies. Most chains do as a way of simplifying operations for the franchisee and eliminating the concern of the company’s proprietary recipes falling into the wrong hands. While there is a consistency factor in choosing this form of sauce, I prefer to make my sauce from scratch for several reasons, mostly because I can achieve a less generic taste.
Your sauce is very important to the overall taste of your pizza; sauce is one area where an independent pizza place can set itself apart from chains and all others.
We start our award-winning marinara recipe with grade A, premium-quality, crushed tomatoes that are bright red in the can, naturally sweet and full of lycopene, which studies suggest may help prevent prostate cancer. There are grade B through D quality tomatoes available, which many pizza places use as a base for their sauce. Lower-quality tomatoes are orange and sometimes even brown in the can. The increased acid makes them bitter to the taste, especially compared to the premium grade A tomatoes. Many of these lower grades of canned tomatoes have plastic liners inside the tin cans because the acid from the tomatoes is so strong it will eat the tin and leach tin flavour into the tomatoes.
Pizza places that use low-quality tomatoes try to overcome the bitterness and orange colour by loading the sauce with
sugar and red dyes to mimic a better-quality tomato. This is false savings because whatever you might save on the lower-quality tomatoes, you now have to spend on sugars and dyes. Grazziano, my Italian pizza school instructor, says that sugar is the worst thing you can add to your pizza sauce. And he’s right. The sugar causes any exposed sauce to burn in the hot oven. I should also mention that plenty of studies link red dyes to increased aggression in children, and most parents aren’t looking for more ways to give their children hidden sugar.
Another concern with low-quality canned tomatoes has to do with the canning process. Many processes include dipping of the tomatoes in a bath of lye or bleach to remove the skins, whereas high-quality tomato canning processes steam the tomatoes instead. Some pizza makers refuse to believe that the lye bath affects the taste of the tomato, but hypersensitive palates can tell.
Spices are another concern. Many spices are grown in Third World countries, where access to clean water and education about proper food handling are real issues. Villagers typically are paid by the pound, so it’s common for sticks, stones and other foreign matter to get into the product. The truth is there’s not just a big difference in price on guaranteed-quality spices versus cheap ones. There’s also a big difference in the amount of spice per gram. Choose a brand or company that works with villagers to ensure maximum quality and purity. When you use high-quality spices, recipes require less quantity to create great and satisfying flavours. Plus, you can be certain your recipes will always turn out as intended, every time. We purchase only the best-quality spices at Diana’s, yet the cost is only one per cent of the total recipe cost. Most of the flavour is provided by the ingredient with the least expensive price per serving. When you buy the best spices, less is truly more.
We combine our selected herbs and spices in our grade A tomato base and allow it to marinate in the walk-in cooler for 24 hours before it’s ready to use. Sometimes I am asked whether you need to cook the marinara in order for your sauce to develop flavour. As long as you give it time to marinate in the walk-in, there is no need to do so. Your sauce will cook in the hot oven, cooking it twice won’t make it any better.
The last parting tip for sauce is to make sure your sauce is warmed up to room temperature before using it on pizzas. If you use cold sauce on your pizza, it needs to spend the first few minutes in the oven warming up to room temperature, while the dough is already cooking. This dichotomy of temperature increases the gum line, that chewy-raw-dough section of your pizza, just above the cooked crust and beneath the sauce. And creating an exaggerated gum line is a surefire way to ruin a great pizza: no one will be able to enjoy the high-quality ingredients you used to make it if all they can taste is raw pizza dough.
Diana Cline is a two-time Canadian Pizza magazine chef of the year champion, internationally recognized gourmet pizzaiolo and owner of Diana’s Cucina & Lounge in Winnipeg. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is also a consultant to other pizzeria owner/operators in menu development, creating systems to run a pizzeria on autopilot, along with marketing and positioning to help operators grow their business effectively and strategically. She is available for consulting on a limited basis. For more information, contact her at email@example.com.