I’m on a pizza “jag” lately.
I tell people that I make the best pizza on the island, and that is not me breaking my own arm by patting myself on the back. Of course it is a bit of a Co-Evolutional comment – I make what I consider the best pizza because it is what I like.
I have also been making this since I was a teenager and constantly refining the results. The first meal I ever made for someone else after moving out of Mom’s House was a pizza for my then college roommate in the dorms at the university. It’s been onward and upwards ever since.
The crust and the sauce have their own recipes here on my blog. A proper Neapolitan pizza is simple. Crust, a sauce made of reduced tomatoes with minimal seasoning, mozzarella cheese, and cooked in a high temperature oven until the cheese just begins to toast.
Anything else is embellishment to your own personal standards.
But that temperature is important since you have to get the heat up high enough to basically toast the bottom, even fry it, and get a crispy bottom.
I hate a soggy bottom.
I have tried Pizza Stones and they don’t stand up to my own abuse. Since they are usually an un-glazed terracotta, the second time you use them, the water you used to clean it the last time begins to boil, expand, and it will begin it’s journey to cracking. I get about 3 uses out of a stone.
Living in Florida, keeping anything sterile is imperative since you don’t want creatures coming in and dining off your cookware. Ants, and worse.
So that Pizza Steel?
If you don’t have one, or have an idea what it is, you can substitute an old school cast iron skillet. I would say a minimum of 9 inches, 22 CM or so.
If my math is right. Bigger if you have it.
The skillet must not have anything other than bare metal and “seasoning”. Plastic, Wood, non stick coatings are all forbidden. You will be cooking your pizza as hot as you can get the oven, 500F/260C or more. Even a backyard grill can be used. Anything THAT hot will catch fire, burn, scorch.
Leave the “Teflon” and other coatings alone. Oil your surfaces well.
But what is a Pizza Steel?
Simply put it is a cookie sheet sized sheet of cast iron that is as thick as grandma’s cast iron skillet. It is “bigger” than the skillet and that is the benefit. It gives you the room to grow. Room to roam and roll out your dough.
They are flexible, this isn’t just a kitchen gadget that sits rusting in a corner until you want a pizza next month. If they are large enough, a proper pizza steel can be used to make eggs, pancakes, and other items as a griddle. They even benefit from the use since they need to be seasoned like any other cast iron implement with oil.
How I use mine?
First, I cheat. I lay out aluminum foil on the steel to give me a work surface. Removing the foil that is now marked up to size, I oil up the steel and the foil. It’s a bit overkill but I want to make sure the bottom of my crusts are nice and crispy, like a cracker. If I have done it right, the pizza and the foil slide off the steel when I need them out of the oven, then the foil will allow the pizza to simply slide off the oil and corn meal like a cushion.
Second I use corn meal. I dust the oiled aluminum foil with a generous layer of corn meal to give it a nice non stick surface. That allows the pizza to roll off the foil like it is on a bed of ball bearings.
Third, I roll the crust out to size. This is important because since I use a yeast-risen dough I have to give it time to rise. Once to size, I slide the foil and crust back on top of the steel, close the oven and turn on the light. Yes, cold oven. One or Two hours later, the yeast has risen, the oven is a warm day by the sea for them, and you get a nice thickness.
Finally to cook the thing. Slide the risen pizza crust onto an inverted cookie sheet and build your pizza. Sauce, Cheese Mix, and Toppings. My cheese comes premixed but I add more freshly grated Parmesan and a little Feta for sharpness. Typically I add only Mushrooms and some chopped Basil on top but that varies.
The Pizza is now done, waiting to cook on the cookie sheet and foil. The oven is closed and heated as hot as I can get it. 500F is the marking on the oven, but the oven’s thermostat stopped being accurate well before we bought the house in 2006.
Allow the oven time to come to temperature, and the thermal mass of all that cast iron in the Pizza Steel will take time to warm. Allow a little extra time since you want that steel to be “good and hot”.
When you are ready, you can put the Cookie Sheet next to the Steel and pick up the “leading edge” of the foil. Slide that soon to be pizza onto the very hot pizza steel making very sure not to burn your hand.
At this point I have found in my own oven that 6 minutes at 500F Plus will give me the results I want – slightly caramelized and toasted cheese, a crispy bottom, and a wonderful meal.
Yes, I’m obsessed, but I do make the best pizza in town. Yes, better than that shop. And the one on the corner. Oh and the sauce is better too.
So there. Good luck. It just takes prep work.