This will sound like it has nothing to do with pizza. It seems like it’s about sailboats. The good news is, you won’t get wet. And eventually, there’s a connection—especially if you think you need pizza screens or parchment paper.
Back when I used to go to sea in small sailboats a lot, there was always that moment. We’d cast off the lines, pull away from the dock, and I’d look back at the shoreline and feel a little adrenaline rush mixed with trepidation.
We’re not talking the mythical “three-hour tour.” We’re talking about days or weeks at sea where the land is but a memory. I’ve even crossed the Atlantic in small sailboats. Crossing the North Atlantic from New England to the UK took a relatively fast 21 days with some atrocious weather. There was even a close encounter with a whale that shook the boat. (Didn't really think much of it, Just kept going.)
Where did the courage to do this come from? Easy. I borrowed it. I was with people who’d done it before, multiple times, and lived to tell the tale.
If they had the courage to sail a boat over the horizon, I could certainly do it with them. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to proceed despite fear. Courage is aided by such things as social proof and preparation.
Where does pizza enter into this conversation? That’s easy. If I can borrow the courage to cross the Atlantic from the professionals around me, you can borrow the courage of professionals to launch your pizza like a pro. Social proof is powerful stuff!
One of the great fears of making homemade pizza is getting the pizza into the oven. It’s hard to believe that if you’ve decided to make pizza, you’ve never watched a pizza pro launch and retrieve a pizza. (We’re not talking Domino’s, where they make pizza on a screen and put it on a conveyor belt. We’re talking pizzerias with big deck ovens or wood-fired dome ovens.)
You’ve seen pizzamakers stretch the dough. You’ve seen them put it on the peel, top it, and launch it from the peel into the oven. They make it look easy.
And you know why they can make it look easy? Two key factors: they’ve done it a lot, and it actually IS easy. It’s like anything else: cooperate with physics, and you’ll get the job done.
“But no!” say the enablers! They’re telling you that you should be using parchment paper! You should be using pizza screens! Don’t do it like the pros! Do it the way scared people do it! Then you’ll be protected!
Do that, and you know what you won’t have? The satisfaction of doing it the way the pros do it. You won’t feel the simple sense of accomplishment that comes with playing the game like the big dogs. You’re working on riding a motorcycle, but you’re using the training wheels from that little pink bike in the garage.
Launching a pizza is simple. You’ve got a completed pizza on a peel. (I recommend wood, even though there are naysayers. Dough slides better on wood and has fewer endemic problems to avoid.) The peel has been dusted, ideally with semolina. Semolina burns less than cornmeal or flour and it tastes better.
You walk to the oven and open the door. You look at where you want the front lip of the pizza to land.
You place the tip of the peel inside the oven, almost to the spot you’re watching. In one fluid motion, you give the peel a little thrust so the pizza slides to the spot you’re watching, and without stopping you quickly slide the peel backwards.
It’s like a magician whipping the tablecloth from beneath a place setting with China, silver and stemware. It’s simple physics in action. You don’t even need to know why it works. You just need to accept that it does. (If you care, it’s Newtonian physics in action, and Newton lived in the 1600s. Antique science!)
There is so much fear around the kitchen generally. That’s really sad. Building up kitchen courage should not be so hard. But we live in a time where the fear of “doing it wrong” is epic. There is so much nonsense and unkindness and arrogance and hubris and feeding of damaged egos in social media. “Bah!” I say!
If you’ve already summoned the courage to make pizza, I say congratulations. I also say ignore the nonsense of people who tell you to work the weenie way. Get outside of your comfort zone and launch the pizza like a pro!
If you really want to, you can practice launching in a cold oven with a stretched pizza dough. You can make it into a pizza later, or make something else with it. It’s just dough! It has a degree of resilience that should make us all jealous.
You also need to know that I’m not saying this is THE ONE RIGHT WAY TO DO IT. No. What I’m saying is that this is a really satisfying way to do it, and it’s easy. There’s a reason it has been used for hundreds of years by people not nearly as smart as you are.
Feel the fear and launch it anyway. It helps you to become a better, more fearless pizzaiolo. And it’s far simpler and safer than crossing an ocean in a small boat. Borrow the courage and sling that pie!
Are you baffled by the journey through basic pizza preparedness? All kinds of pizzamakers (even some experienced ones) are enjoying the guidelines in the fast and funny pizzamaker’s manual, Free The Pizza! (A Simple System For Making Great Pizza Whenever You Want With The Oven You Already Have), which you can find at Amazon by clicking here.
Blaine Parker is the award-winning author of the bestselling, unusual and amusing how-to pizza book, Free The Pizza. Also known as The Pizza Geek and "Hey, Pizza Man!", Blaine is fanatical about the idea that true, pro-quality pizza can be made at home. His home. Your home. Anyone's home. After 20 years of honing his craft and making pizza in standard consumer ovens across the nation, he's sharing what he's learned with home cooks like you. Are you ready to pizza?
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