food

Dear Pizza Guy: Please Stop Burning My Pie!

food, dear pizza guy: please stop burning my pie!

Are you tired of burned pizzas?

Have you noticed lately that the more you pay for a pizza, the more likely it is to be burned? Your neighborhood pizzeria doesn’t do it. The dollar slice places would never dream of burning your pie. But if you pay $20 or more for a boutique smaller pie, there will probably be charred spots the size of a quarter along the circumference of the crust and, quite often, big, ugly, burned bubbles that beg to be picked like a malignant blister.

This feature has actually become a predominant flavor element, and when you bite into your expensive pie, the entire pie often tastes… well, burned. If you’d ordered anything else (mac and cheese, refried beans, a soufflé), you’d probably send it back.

food, dear pizza guy: please stop burning my pie!

Burned slices sometime get left uneaten…

Yes, these pizzerias will tell you, the higher temperature of the wood-burning oven (around 800° F) as opposed to the conventional pizza oven (around 500°F) necessitates rapid baking and produces a char here and there, and that char is part of the Neapolitan mystique (and apparently other styles). Less dough + higher temp = charred pie. Well, I’ve eaten pizza in Naples, and though it might be stippled with small points of char, the pie never arrives with large burned areas. There, if a pie gets burned the cooks toss it out and start again; I’ve seen it.

But maybe some like their pizza charred and revel in the acrid flavor. That is certainly true of hot dogs, a taste developed around the campfire in childhood. Marshmallows in s’mores should likewise be burned. And ditto chorizo cooked in a flaming pig in a tapas bar. But burnt foods are thought to be unhealthy (or maybe not), and various studies have linked them to stomach cancer — so burnt pizza might actually be bad for you.

I asked someone who lives with a pizza chef and she said that there are generally four reasons for a pizza maker burning a pie: 1) wood-burning ovens are more likely to burn a pie; 2) an oven shouldn’t be opened too often lest the temperature fall, and a particular pizza getting yanked at just the right moment might endanger the progress of the other pies; 3) there is a certain buccaneer quality among pizza chefs, who want to be known for cooking brashly and boldly, and charred pizza is a sign that those chefs are producing an admirable volume of pies; and 4) inattention (or more charitably, multi-tasking).

And another thing. Why are toppings on expensive pies often strewn at random, as if the baker couldn’t be bothered spreading them out evenly? The customer has to pick up individual mushrooms or slices of pepperoni and reallocate them so that everyone gets a fair share.

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