The Dirty F-Word And 7 Simple Steps For Making Sensational Homemade Pizza With Your Own Two Hands, Part 4: Prepping The Pizza
PART 4 OF A 7-PART SERIES
Focus, focus, focus. Such a dirty word. So laden and loaded. So much unwillingness to play the game with focus. Check out the following comments from a reader of Free The Pizza…
“There are so many good things you pointed out that I have talked myself out of doing, and the book is the inspiration to not cut those corners. I did one pizza…in the 900-degree oven with your guidelines of being intentional and it came out immaculate.”
That message came from a guy who had read the book, and was looking at my website, trying to find instructions for using a 900-degree outdoor pizza oven. I told him there weren’t any and gave him some basic encouragement. He went ahead and used his oven and the guidelines of focus. Seems it worked out really well.
With that, welcome to the fourth point of focus for pursuing pizza perfection knowing once again that, yes, pizza perfection is unattainable. Please know that this isn’t some effort to be a pizza Yoda. That would be silly. Among other things, I am taller than Yoda (barely), and I have more hair. And I don’t even know that Yoda can eat pizza. But I digress...
So far, we’ve focused on 1) Style Of Pizza, 2) The Oven, and 3) Making Dough. Your dough has presumably had a nice, sleepy 72-hour cold ferment and it’s time to make pizza. This next step is (yet again) going to sound so simple.
That’s because it IS simple. It’s simple to blow it off, too. See also: the man above: “I talked myself out of doing…so many good things.” The next thing we’re going to talk about not blowing off is preparing your pizza-making space.
Yes, the fourth point of focus is your pizza-making mise en place. That was your French lesson last time, and it’s back. It means “putting in place” or “gather.” Think of it as having a place for everything, and having everything in its place.
Crazy as it may seem, there are people who don’t grate their cheese or make their sauce until they’re shaping a pizza. If this sounds like you, know you’re not alone. I’ve even done it. Sometimes, it’s on purpose when I’m making just one pizza and know what rules I can break.
Other times, it’s an oversight. I have literally prepped a five-pizza night and forgotten to make sauce. It’s easily fixed. But it’s annoying. And the more you don’t prep properly, the harder it is to make pizza.
Watch a guy cranking out pizzas in a place that does 300 pizzas a night. You think he can get away with not having everything at the ready? Of course not. He would eventually dissolve into a blubbering mess of ineptitude.
His pizza would never get baked. People would never stick around. He’d hate his life and eventually throw himself off a bridge with a pizza stone around his neck.
Do not let this become you! Overstating the case? For sure. Your livelihood does not depend on 300 covers a night. But your few pizzas--even one pizza--will be better when you have everything prepared and ready to go.
This starts by knowing what pizzas you’re going to make. If you’re making more than one pizza, have a list. I do it every time I'm having a pizza party or making more than one pizza. Then, after making sure I buy whatever’s missing from the list (and that’s also easy to screw up), I prep ALL of my toppings.
From making the sauce to grating the cheese to chopping, slicing, dicing, par-cooking certain toppings and arranging it all, everything should be ready to go. Making a pizza then becomes a matter of shaping, topping, launching and baking. Nothing is left to chance and it all becomes easier.
Are all of your tools handy? That means your wooden peel for launching, your metal peel for retrieving, your ladle or spoodle for spreading the sauce, your cooling rack, your pizza trays and slicer—anything and everything you’re going to use when making that pizza.
Have you developed a workflow that makes sense? Life is easier when you put everything you’re using someplace that makes sense relative to the progression of your pizza assembly.
Have you ever thought about what happens inside a Subway store? They make you watch them assemble your sandwich. Their mise en place and workflow are simple and excellent. They cut the bread, then move quickly and smoothly down the line in a progression that makes 100% sense relative to the assembly of your sandwich.
I realize that your kitchen might not lend itself to something that linear and expansive. Mine certainly doesn’t. I didn’t design the kitchen where we are now, and it’s a weird space.
Nonetheless, I’ve developed a workflow that’s smooth, convenient and logical. And sometimes, when I’m doing a big party, I even bring out a giant cutting board. (It's really a slab of butcherblock countertop I picked up at Lowe's.) I use it to cover the rangetop and double my counter space in the prep area.
“Yeah, but what really is the net benefit to all this?” Good question. Because it seems to take all the spontaneity out of things, doesn’t it? Wrong!
If something goes awry, it’s easier to deal with. You’ve left nothing to chance and removed all the variables. So if something does happen—like you had a brain fart and forgot to make sauce—it’s easy to fix. Everything else is prepared and in its place.
Your spontaneity is reserved for that which matters. Besides being able to develop a creative solution to a problem, you also have the opportunity to be pizza-creative and make something you hadn’t planned on. (When I get to do that, it often ends up being one of the most memorable pizzas.)
You’re focused and ready to take it all as it comes. And less will come at you because you’ve removed as many obstacles as possible.
I used to work in film production. We would work our asses off to leave nothing to chance—especially when shooting on location.
And you know how often a film shoot goes 100% smoothly? Almost never. But when things do go sideways, it's much easier to handle when all the other ducks are lined up and swimming in the proper direction.
Making pizza at home isn’t fraught with that much peril. It’s a much smaller production. But it’s also much easier to create a disappointment. Doing thorough preparation vastly increases the potential for success.
Mise en place is money in the bank. Unless, of course, you’re not making pizza for money. And then, mise en place is pizza memories for you and your family and friends. All other parts of the equation being equal, prepping your pizza workplace can be a game changer.
Next time, Pizza Focus Factor #5: Stretching The Dough. It’s another area that turns into a head game that dogs the newbie—and works out much better when you focus without trying quite so hard. (A paradox? Perhaps…)
Are you struggling with basic pizza preparedness? There are simple things that (surprisingly) you won't find in a lot of pizza cookbooks. But you will find them in the insanely simple, 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) 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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