Business and Operations
the pizza chef: Sauce basics
By Diana Coutu
By Diana Coutu
Some pizza places use a premade canned pizza sauce on their pizzas.
Some pizza places use a premade canned pizza sauce on their pizzas. In fact, most chains do, as a way of simplifying operations for the franchisee. This also eliminates the concern of their proprietary recipes falling into the wrong hands. While there is a consistency factor with choosing premade sauces, I’m against it for several reasons, but mostly because they tend to be generic in taste and quality. Your sauce is very important to the overall taste of your pizza and it’s one area where an independent pizza maker 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 is widely associated with lowering risk of certain cancers. There are also grade B through D quality tomatoes available, which many pizza places use as bases 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.
Another concern with low-quality canned tomatoes has to do with the canning process. Many processes include dipping the tomatoes in a bath of lye or bleach to remove the skins, whereas high-quality tomato canning processes use steam instead. Some pizza makers refuse to believe that the lye bath affects the taste of the tomato, but extra sensitive palates can tell.
Another concern is spices. Many spices are grown in Third World countries where access to clean water and education about proper food handling are real issues. Villagers typically get paid by the pound, so sticks, stones and other foreign matter make their way into the blend (I don’t want to completely gross you out, but it’s the truth). It’s not just a big difference in prices 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 the best-quality spices, recipes requires less quantity to create great and satisfying flavours. Plus, you can be certain that your recipes will always turn out as intended, every time. We only purchase the best-quality spices at Diana’s Gourmet Pizzeria, yet the cost is only one per cent of the total cost of the recipes. 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’m asked whether you need to cook the marinara, in order for your sauce to develop flavour, but 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.
Diana Coutu is a two-time Canadian Pizza magazine chef of the year champion, internationally recognized gourmet pizzaiolo, co-owner of Diana’s Gourmet Pizzeria in Winnipeg, Man., and on the board of directors for the CRFA. 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 Diana@dianasgourmetpizzeria.ca.