Midweek Modernist Pizza Report: After you've made all the pizzas, you gotta serve 'em, store 'em, reheat 'em--but how?
The Ongoing Modernist Pizza Review, Volume 3, Chapter 14, "Serving And Storage"
Written by Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya
Published by The Cooking Lab; First edition, October 19, 2021
Hardcover: 1708 pages, 32.7 pounds, 13.78 x 10.24 x 15.94 inches
List Price: $425.00
Amazon discount price as of 05/03/23: $294.99
“You’ve mixed and proofed, stretched and sauced, cheesed and baked. It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for, the moment where you’ve just pulled the pizza from the oven. What more can we tell you at this point? Just dig in, right?”
And so it begins: the end. The last chapter of Modernist Pizza. But knowing Mhyrvold & Migoya, you’re going to get the Modernistas’ take all the way through to serving and storing your pizza, which means (yes): They did experiments.
How to vent steam from the bottom of the pizza is a conundrum. Steam makes the pizza soggy, so how do you prevent that?
How do you cut the pizza? That matters. It affects the visual aesthetic as well as the eating experience. If the pizza sits too long, it declines in quality. How do you prevent that? (Surprise! They’re going to even tell us how to do it--and even how to reverse it!)
Serving, holding, storing, reheating—the un-sexy parts of pizza making are here. Mhyrvold & Migoya are going to educate us in the things we never really think about so we can make our pizza as good as it can be. Whee!
The speed with which one must serve and eat pizza is dependent on a simple variable: How thick is it? Yes, there’s even a photo diagram. Naples, meet Chicago. A Neapolitan pizza should ideally be eaten within two minutes. A Chicago-style deep-dish has a “heroic” 26-minute window in which to eat it. In between are six other styles and times. And how did they figure out all this? “When we started our experiments for this chapter…”
They timed the crust’s internal temperature decline. And guess what: pizza cools faster once you’ve sliced it. Never thought about that, didja? Thank you, Modernist Pizza!
They also describe how the pizza characteristics change during cooling, as well as how it’s behaving during the ideal eating temperature. That’s great. I’m glad to know it. BUT—isn’t part of the eating experience trying to eat it while it’s too hot? Then, enjoying it while it’s perfect? And after that, eating a pizza that’s too cool, already longing for that perfect slice whose time has passed?
That’s just me? OK. Moving on…
There are descriptions of the physical challenges that occur as various types of pizza cool. And speaking of pizza serving problems, have you considered the problems of pizza in space? They’re described here, along with a photo of NASA astronauts eating pizza. Also, there's an account of Pizza Hut’s 2001 pizza delivery to the cosmonauts on the International Space Station.
Does your pizza pan have nubs? No? Those nubs will keep your pizza warmer longer. Yes, there’s a discussion of the best types of serving pans, there are also instructions on the best way to cut a round pizza—and why cutting a pizza into 10 slices is No! Fun! (Yes, there are tips on how to best execute even slicing.)
The purposeful square cut. The nonsensical strip cut. Math-based slicing protocols for pizza based on monohedral disc tiling. (Yes! Finally!) From sensible to zany, we’re talkin’ geometry. But only briefly.
What knives do and don’t work when cutting pizza? Why does the world-famous DeLorenzo’s Pies in New Jersey slice their pizza with an oyster knife? (SPOILER ALERT! Because that’s the way they’ve always done it!!)
There’s even a little section called, ”The Problem With Cutting Deep-Dish Pizza.” Some smartass is going to argue the problem is simply that it’s deep-dish pizza and to throw it in the trash. But truly, each pizza has its own cross to bear when it comes to slicing.
The section on cutting tools covers wheel cutters, the mezzaluna or “rock and roll” cutter, and scissors. I’m scratching my head over this assertion: “For most pizzas, scissors are the most effective cutting tool.” I suspect you have to have tried scissors to understand the scratching sound that’s coming from my scalp. But what do I know? I am neither a professional chef nor a technical genius.
There is more than you ever wanted to know about the origins of the pizza cutter. And all five paragraphs are totally worth reading. Because after that, we move on to…
“Holding Pizza Hot.” I have one word on how to do it. Ready? "Don’t." Most pizza styles do better by being cooled to room temp and then reheated. Pizzas that are held hot continue to change. However… (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) there are exceptions. And if you’re a pro who needs to hold hot, the Modernistas’ favorite method by far (and the most economical to boot) is heat lamps over a perforated pan that prevents the crust from getting soggy.
And yes, there’s a chart! “Hot-Holding Whole Pizzas In A Pizzeria” looks at different pizza styles, recommended holding times, and a star rating for the various methods. For what it’s worth, on the Modernistas’ three-star scale (good, very good, exceptional), no method rates better the two stars.
The section titled “The 30-Minute Delivery Fiasco” is exactly what you expect. Plus, it offers a few facts that maybe you didn’t see coming. “The Future Of Pizza Delivery” says nothing surprising about tomorrow—but does tell us a few surprising historical facts about robot pizza delivery that you’ve probably never known. Zumba, a California company, was promising pizza-making robots in delivery vans capable of making 56 pizzas before being refilled. (They failed to deliver—ha!—after spending a lot of investor dollars.) Robots seem to still be a long way off.
“The Genius Of Pizza Boxes” talks about the demands we place on a simple, corrugated cardboard box. And thankfully (perhaps unsurprisingly) the Modernistas mention pizza-history guru Scott Weiner, who has a Guinness World Record for his pizza-box collection. The Independent calls it, “One of the most effusive displays of love for corrugated cardboard the world will ever know.”
Yes, there are photos of pizza boxes from around the world—almost 50 of them. And in case you were wondering, there’s an ode to “The Ubiquity Of The Pizza Saver.” If you don’t know the Pizza Saver by name, it’s the little plastic support that goes in the middle of the box and prevents cheese from sticking to the lid. (“Engineers consider it an ‘elegant solution.'”)
Here now: “Reheating Pizza”! Would you be surprised to learn that this section is comprehensive? No, of course not. Not if you’ve been following along for any of the dozens of reviews of the previous 13 chapters. Example: “When reheating a slice in any type of oven, the rim should face the door. This will allow you to place the spatula under the rim when removing the slice from the oven so the pizza slice is less likely to rip. Do not slide the spatula under the tip of the pizza first because this is the weakest point.” Glad to know that, right?
There are instructions for reheating in a home oven with baking steel. Reheating in a home oven with a broiler. And a toaster oven (which gets more props than you might imagine). And the three main professional ovens: deck oven, countertop oven and impinger oven.
There are also extensive instructions for reheating whole pizzas at home. Of course, those come with an extensive table for whole pizzas and slices, as well as ideas and a table for “Enhancing Leftover Pizza At Home.”
And finally, another experiment: “The Ultimate Leftover Pizza Slice”! They did a comprehensive deep dive into the best ways to get a crispy frico crust of baked cheese on various kinds of leftover pizza slices. Science!
They also introduce us to a kind of “grilled cheese” slice by reheating two slices face-to-face in a skillet. I admit, I did that little exercise myself right before writing this. It works! (Yes, Free The Pizza tries these things so you do’t have to.)
And they introduce the “pizzadilla,” which is a quesadilla-style leftover whole pizza folded in half. There are batch reheating methods for home and pro kitchens. There’s info on reheating specific styles of frozen pizza. And a dissertation on reheated versus baking fresh al taglio pizza. While more likely to be useful in a pro environment (unless you have a blast freezer at home), it’s still intel that is delivered in the typical concise and efficient yet quite insightful Modernist Pizza style.
Comprehensive advice here tells you how to store leftover pizza. The section on food-safety rules and regulations helps keep your pizza safe. There’s a little sidebar about a cryogenic pizza in Italy that’s frozen in a liquid-nitrogen refrigeration tunnel. And another about “The Quest For Shelf-Stable Pizza,” regarding the MRE-version of pizza for the military.
Want to Learn how to freeze pizza at home? It’s here, along with how to freeze Neapolitan pizza for retail purposes.
“The Case For And Against Frozen Pizza” is essentially boosterism for pizzerias that freeze their product well so you can order it online. They of course have a chart of heating instructions for various styles of pizza that’s been frozen.
And that is all she wrote. Mainly. There’s some back matter: Further reading; grain cooking instructions; conversion tables; resources; pizzerias visited; an index of various step-by-step procedures (Where do I find instructions on how to make a poolish, anyway?); and last but not least, right before the index, acknowledgements and a photo spread of The Faces: All the people who made all this possible. (Most of them are smiling! Really! How much fun must it have been making this book—and doing so through a pandemic?)
I admit relief that I’ve made it to the end. But I know it’s not over. This book will be an ongoing source of reference in the years of pizza to come. And I’m glad to know it’s here. To think I bought this 32-pound beast of a book with the idea that, “Well, I can return it within 90 days.” Ha! I scoff at myself freely. (So does my wife.)
At the outset of all this, I employed a word I rarely use, and I do not use it lightly: Awesome. Just unboxing Modernist Pizza is an awesome experience.
But there is just one thing I wish: That there was a Kindle edition (or a proprietary Modernist e-reader and an e-book version) of these volumes for those of us who own the book. It would make searching for things so much easier.
Other than that, reading these entire three volumes has been both work and a pleasure. Next time, a final farewell to the back cover of Modernist Pizza. That includes the answer to the age-old question: Was it worth it and should you buy it?
If the idea of owning a copy of Modernist Pizza attracts you like a moth to the candle flame, you can find it here. If you want a skinnier, simpler, sillier book that teaches only one kind of pizza, you can find Free The Pizza! 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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