Monday, June 7, 2010

New York Pizza Showdown

    We have all heard of New York style pizza. Some pizza places around every town advertise real New York style pizza. We, as west coasters don't know what that means but it sounds good. I like almost anything that says it's authentic, original or genuine. But, as we all know, what truth is there in advertising?  When an appliances advertises it has genuine plastic parts or that it was imported does that make it better? If an older car advertisement says it has the original paint, do I want that? If a restaurant that advertises all you can eat for $2.95 including loobster sound like a bargain? Yes, I said loobster as I wasn't supposed to notice that the extra "o" in lobster makes it apparent that the shell fish is made from fish parts and tainted to resemble lobster thus fooling us into thinking we got a bargain! So when a pizza  place says New York style, is it for real? Not necessarily, but when it comes to searching for the Holy Grail do I want style or genuine? I think we all agree that we want what is genuine. There is a place for fake, faux, pretend, artificial and imitation in the world but what about pizza? If we were to go shopping for a dog would we settle for something just like a dog? Probably not.
    That is where this next sojourn is about to take me. My quest, once I began to understand what advertisement means is, that it resembles a New York style but it isn't original. I think about the same thing when it comes to the world of art. Questions that I have, such as, can a man of Scandinavian descent do Native American art? Is he qualified? Take it one step further, can a Caucasian do art reflecting the plight of African Americans? Again, is he qualified or disqualified? So, my question has to be, can a pizza made in California be a New York Pizza? If I was born in Canada but raised in the U.S. am I Canadian or American? If I had a brother who might be born in Mexico, be of Scandinavian descent but raised in the U.S. be Mexican, Scandinavian or American? So, being born and raised in California, am I qualified or disqualified to make a genuine New York Pizza? I think we better call up Voltaire, Jefferson and the gang to sort that one out. Maybe none of that even matters. Maybe just good quality, authentic, and genuine east coast ingredients put together in a typical New York way makes it a New York Pizza. This could end up being another Philosophical Pizza ( see prior blog) questions that needs to be addressed or maybe just left alone.
    One of the books I bought online was called: The Ultimate Pizza Manual. The author and long time New Yorker, Francesco Brunaldo claims that the pizzerias of old are disappearing. By that he means that the methods and even some of the products are disappearing. Typical New York Pizza just isn't what it used to be he says. In a valiant effort to save the original style pizza from obscurity he has written this book to save this art form. I followed his recipe to the letter except where east coast brand names are not available here, so in several cases, I had to substitute. What I am hoping to achieve is what Francesco is seeing slipping away in New York City. I made the dough for an 18" pie. His ingredients are slightly different than what I was expecting as he includes some semolina flour with his high gluten flour. The procedure is what is typically different. Following them to exact detail can make or break it from what I have learned.
   Today, I set out to determine which, of the three books I have by experts, makes the best New York Pizza. I made one of Francesco's doughs. I made one of Tony Gemignani's New York doughs from his book called Pizza and I made one of Peter Reinhart's dough's from his book called American Pie. To take it a step further I have also made Francesco's pizza sauce and Tony's sauce for the big pizza showdown happening right here in my kitchen this week. Peter Reinhart didn't have a sauce recipe so it will be between these two. I have tasted them both and they both are excellent. Tony chills his where as Francesco brings to a boil then simmers his for a mere 15 minutes.
Now a true New York pizzaiolo won't roll his pizza with a rolling pin. He will work it by hand to stretch and toss the dough until it's of the right size, and thickness. He will build a berm like border shaped into the edges then add the sauce and mixture of cheeses. Every pizzaiolo will have his own blend but typically there will be mozzarella, provolone, romano, parmesan and asiago in there somewhere. Of course the pizza will be fire-baked either by wood or coal and when removed from the oven cut into large slices. The tip should sag just  a tad and the consumer will fold the tip up, bend the 2 back corners together and indulge. Unfortunately I won't have genuine fire, just my pretend fire gas oven but I hope that won't detract too much from the authenticity. This competition will be going on all week as I bake and rate each one. In the last photo I have 7 dough balls labeled and sealed to rise slowly in the fridge until the day of baking. I can't wait for the competition to begin!

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