New Haven pizza is characterized by local water, rigorously selected ingredients, judicious combination of those ingredients, and a disciplined assembly and baking method.
New Haven pizza, often spelled Apizza, pronounced “ah-beetz” or just commonly referred to as a “pie”, is thin crust pizza baked very quickly (approx 10 minutes) in high temperature brick ovens that are in many cases, kept at high temperature 24/7 for thermal inertia (this can be somewhat reproduced in a home oven by heating a pizza stone at 500 degrees for at least a half hour, but preferably an hour prior to baking). It’s eaten in pie wedge slices that are often folded upward on the long axis so it can be held from the crust by one hand. The cooked pie should be thin; crispy and dark on the bottom and moist and fluffy on top. Toppings should be delicately scattered and should not overpower the pie; it’s intended to be an ensemble, not a vehicle for excessive piles of cheese, meat and or vegetables.
Dough is made with flour, water, salt and yeast and is seldom adulterated with olive oil. Overnight retardation of the dough (refrigeration that slows fermentation) will develop the flavor and character of the dough. It’s been related to me by bakers elsewhere that varying water chemistry including PH and mineral content (hardness) can dramatically affect one’s ability to reproduce this dough in some parts of the world (as will altitude, affecting air pressure and humidity.) For amateurs without a temperature and humidity controlled kitchen environment, these locationional conditions can also have a significant affect upon your dough; so its next to impossible to describe ingredient quantities, dough handling, ferment temperature, and timing which is appropriate for all locations. Dough is stretched by hand and spun over ones fists into a very thin disk with thicker edges. The stretched dough is placed on a peel (a large wooden paddle) that’s been dusted with cornmeal to prevent sticking.
The typical New Haven red sauce tends to be more acidic and less sugary than elsewhere in the country, and is usually made with only olive oil, meaty plum tomatoes and salt which, because the sauce is simmered very low for a long duration (30-60 minutes) brings out the flavor of the tomatoes. Sometimes, before the addition of tomatoes to the pot, 5-6 cloves of garlic are browned in the oil for flavor, or a few links of Italian pork sausage (containing anise) are browned in the oil for flavor and additional fatty oil. Sauce is spooned on and spread in a thin layer so that the dough is still very visible beneath. Sometimes prior to spooning on the sauce, a small amount of olive oil is spooned on and spread over the dough to create a thin water barrier (depending upon the oiliness of the sauce…but the point is to prevent the water content of the sauce from saturating the dough which would prevent the dough from getting crispy in the oven.)
The typical cheese is skim milk mozzarella “mootz” which has about half of the saturated and polyunsaturated fat as whole milk mozzarella. Use of the latter can produce a very oily pizza. Cheese is delicately scattered over the sauce, not so much that results in a monolithic layer of cheese after baking.
Could write a thesis on this subject but I’ll return to what I previously stated; pizza
is intended to be an ensemble, not to be a vehicle for excessive piles of cheese, meat and or vegetables. No one ingredient should drown out another’s taste or texture.
Assembly and Baking:
Pizza assembly must be done very quickly (approx 1 or 2 minutes) to prevent the dough from getting saturated by the sauce and put right into the hot oven. Just prior to baking, the baking surface (brick oven bottom or pizza stone) is dusted with cornmeal. Cornmeal keeps the pie from sticking and when slightly singed, adds a subtle flavor and tactile character to the pie. Busy restaurants will occasionally sweep out excessive singed cornmeal with a long broom. The peel with assembled pie is inserted into the oven, and then the peel is yanked out from under the pie very quickly (like the old tablecloth trick). Bakers should allow enough baking time for the unsauced edges of the pie to become lightly browned with some small patches of black (about 10-12 minutes in a home oven at 500 degrees…can be one quarter of that time in a commercial oven anywhere from 750-950 degrees approximately). When done, the peel is jittered back under the pie to remove it from the oven, the pizza is slid it onto a pizza tray, sliced radially and served immediately.