Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Evolution of the Pizza Oven: Wood

In the the last two months I've had the opportunity to fire up the pizza oven three times. Since I do not have a roof on it yet, the oven cooking only takes place on days that I have no rain in the forecast. We had a stretch there where I wanted fire it up, but couldn't really count on it not raining at some point in the afternoon. My better half has been on my ass to get a roof on it because she's tired of the "hillbilly chic" blue tarp system currently keeping things dry.

As was the case with my Big Green Egg, this has also got a pretty good learning curve to it. John Tutulo over at Biga Wood Fired has been very helpful in offering advice on the various aspects of timing all of this stuff (not to mention he's allowed me to pilfer some well-seasoned wood from him).

Unbeknownst to me, he said you have to really kick off the fire about 2 in the afternoon if you want to be ready to roll by dinner. The oven needs plenty of time for the brick to get saturated with heat (think along the lines of a long, slow, steady rain for parched soil as opposed to a deluge that last ten minutes). That heat saturation allows the oven floor to recharge itself after cooking a pizza.

The wood needs to be as dry as you can get it. This allows the wood to transfer as much of its potential heat energy into heating up the oven rather than wasting it on trying to evaporate the water that is still in an unseasoned timber. John said he aims for anything that is 20% moisture or less. At the moment I've been bumming dry wood from John and getting untreated oak floor leftovers from my brother-in-law.

Running on empty
The flooring leftovers are bone dry and will goose the heat on the oven dome by a good two hundred degrees after it's caught fire. Oak is also preferred for creating a coal bed because the oak coals last longer than something like cherry. A sizable bed of coals is needed to maintain the heat that has already been put into the oven. While flames licking the roof of the dome make for an exciting effect, the coal bed is really the workhorse maintaining the interior temp and heating the floor of the oven.

So how did everything turn out with the pizzas we made on Christmas Night? I was actually pretty happy with what we did. Pictured below are the pies we cooked, and in what order we liked them (I'm showing them from least favorite to favorite). I had Stuart Spivack (local foodie about town and owner of the world's slowest blog), Walter Hyde (co-owner of the now retooling mobile operated Fat Casual and brother-in-law), my other b-i-l Mike aka "Cheesecake" pictured here, Regina (my sous chef in life and dessert mavin), and of course my beloved dogs, Ladybug and Winston (cleanup crew).

I have to give credit to for the toppings to Regina. Right now I'm a hot mess making dough, stoking fires, chatting up the guests, and drinking beers. She went out and bought all of the stuff. Her knowledge of food stuffs is pretty amazing.

I was rocking the Overnight Pizza Dough from Ken Forkish's Flour Water Salt Yeast. What a great book. The dough is very easy to make, and doesn't overproof if you aren't starting at exactly at a certain time. The dough balls are very easy to work with and offer little to no trouble while stretching.As you can see they puff up nicely and would work well even in a home oven. Check out Ken's Artisan Pizza if you're ever in Portland, OR.

#5 Mushroom, Sausage, Gouda, Mozz/Provolone Blend, Olive Oil on the Crust

  Certainly the ugliest damn pizza I tossed all night, but I think the alcohol was running pretty close to dry by that time. Unfortunately we didn't have designated pizzaiolo in the house so I had to soldier on (I'm just glad I didn't drop the SOB). The pizza wasn't bad, but by then people were getting pretty full and to be honest, the gouda just didn't pop like I thought it would.

#4. Mushroom, Sausage, Red Sauce, Trader Joe's Mozz, Mozz/Prov Blend, Thyme, Pecorino Finish
    As you can see the crust looks a little dry.  I didn't put olive oil around the edge. Although it looked dry, it wasn't. Trader Joe's mozz is surprisingly good. I wouldn't mind trying some truffle cheese on this pie next time.

3. Roasted Garlic, Roasted Red Pepper, Mozz, Mozz/Prov Blend, Red Sauce
    Alright, now we're getting to the good stuff. After shoveling in a couple of pretty rich pies, this was a breath of fresh air. Very bright flavors. I wasn't sure how I was going to like the peppers, but they worked perfectly.
2. Benton's Bacon, Brie, Onions, Fig Spread, Olive Oil
   Everything tastes better with bacon. And everything that tastes better with bacon, tastes better if it's Benton's. The sweetness of the fig jam and the nuclear strength smokey, saltiness of the Benton's kicked ass and took names. To be fair the pizza looks pretty disgusting because the pizzaiolo went ape shit with the olive oil (don't worry, he got twenty lashes, but oddly enough seemed to enjoy it). Lesson learned - way less olive oil.

1. Benton's Bacon, Onion, Trader Joe's Mozz, Mozz/Prov Blend, Red Sauce, and Thyme
   Straight money. Simple as can be and was gone before you knew it. Next time I'd put more onions on it. When polled, everyone agreed this was the star of the night.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cleveland: Crust

Crust is Jeff Fisher's recently opened sandwich/pizza shop located in Tremont. After fronting kitchens at Lago and Touch Supper Club, Fisher has apparently taken a shine to cranking out sandwiches and pies made with quality ingredients and hand-crafted dough.

Admittedly I have only had the pizza, but once I make the migration from my current job to my future job, I will certainly report back on the sandwiches.

My visit took place a little after the lunch rush. Even though it was after 1:30, there was still a decent amount of traffic rolling in. My first thought was that this is pretty much a carry-out place. Sure there are a couple of high tops that you could sit and eat at if you really wanted to, but with the smallness of the table and the cold air brushing past your back every time the door opened, I'm guessing most are going to take it someplace a bit more comfortable.

They offer whole pies that are either 12" or 16", as well as pizza by the slice ($3 for cheese, $4 for pepperoni or sausage). The slices which are cut off of what appear to be a 24" pie, are long and cut at a very acute angle. While resembling something more along the lines of a weapon than a lunch, the single pepperoni slice I bought was the perfect size for a moderate appetite.

The Slice that Doubles as a Dagger

The long sharp wedge had the thick crust that you find here in Cleveland. As I said before, the ingredients are of very good quality. As an example, the cheese actually had a flavor to it (I know, what a concept), the pepperoni had been cut off a stick on the bias, so as to let the large slices render their salty flavor into the cheese and crust. The fact that the slice is reheated gives it a nice crunchiness.

Crust is only open until 7pm Mon-Thurs, and 9pm on Friday and Saturday., so this is not a place you can hit late at night on your way back from the bars. I like the fact that they've upped the quality of what they're making without glamming up the space. Yes it's going to cost a little more, but I think you'll find an increase in quality comes with the price.

1020 Kenilworth Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 583-0257

Crust on Urbanspoon