Considering the fact that sausage is the second most popular pizza topping, it’s interesting that all too often we take this major money maker for granted. And because sausage is one of the most popular topping requests, we should be doubly sure that we are doing the right thing.
The “right thing,” in this instance, is the right sausage –– the sausage that gets the job done, the sausage that adds flavor, the sausage that totally enhances the total pizza eating experience.
What sausage would that be? Let’s find out. I am not here to try and convince you to use a sausage that’s different than the one you’re using now, especially if your customers are in love with your sausage pizza. But what if you have been having second thoughts about the sausage you are using? What if you are just starting out in the business? What if the distributor that supplies your sausage is changing to a different brand, and you are not satisfied? Or what if you simply want to shake things up a bit by trying something a little different?
Let’s first take a look at the different styles and types of Italian sausage. In Chicago I see just about every type of Italian sausage you can imagine. Mild, sweet, hot. Fennel, no fennel. Pepper, no pepper. Spicy, not spicy. Coarse-ground, fine-ground, chunks, patties, pinched, raw, precooked. Grind your own? Whew! Bulk, patty, link, rope? Frozen, refrigerated, fresh? That’s a lot to deal with.
Let’s narrow things down a bit by posing a few questions: Is the sausage going on the pizza raw or precooked? Do you want the pizza to show a chunky sausage or something a little finer? Are you considering a sausage patty (as used in most Chicago restaurants that serve deep-dish pizza)?
What about the fat-lean ratio? When putting the sausage on the pizza raw (instead of pre-cooked), I favor a ground product that is about 80-85 percent pork and 15-20 percent fat. This ratio allows for enough fat to develop a good flavor, but not so much fat that it makes the pizza greasy. And, relative to food costs, less fat equals a higher price (more fat, lower price).
Putting sausage on raw, safety issues aside, can cause a few problems relative to speed (raw sausage sticks to your fingers) and messiness.
I have noticed that more and more restaurants are using precooked sausage. And there are a number of reasons for this, including: safety in handling and overall usage; consistency; the ability to specify the chunk or style you want to use; the shelf life is longer; and the fat/grease problem is practically eliminated. On the other hand, there are a good number of operators who swear that the only way to really punch up the sausage flavor of pizza is to start with raw sausage.
Sausage crumbles (tiny pieces of sausage) are my least favorite. You get more coverage, but you get less flavor. There’s not a whole lot to bite into, and there isn’t much for the teeth and taste buds to get acquainted with when using small crumbles.
You and you alone have the final say relative to the Italian sausage you want to use. For example, if you want to put forth a healthier approach for your customers, you can still offer a sausage topping, just go with a sausage that has less fat and more lean pork. Choose carefully, though, because most of your customers will judge the worth of your pizza relative to the sausage you use.
Testing the product is a good idea before you order a lot and find out that it doesn’t work for you. To determine if a raw sausage product works for you, first cook some off in a sauté pan (do not add any oil to the pan) and see how much fat is thrown off. Taste for flavor and texture. Also, determine the amount of shrinkage, because this is how it will ultimately end up once the pizza is cooked. When testing a pre-cooked product do the same thing. Cook some off to develop the flavor. Check for shrinkage. Taste.
When putting raw sausage on a pizza here’s an important tip. Pinch each piece between the thumb and forefinger as it goes on the pizza. This will insure even and thorough cooking.
Should you wish to explore sausage options other than Italian, there are plenty of possibilities, such as turkey or chicken sausage (healthier implications), andouille (for a Cajun-Creole pizza spin) and lamb sausage (for a Greek or Mediterranean approach)
Classic Sausage Pizza
In simplicity lies goodness. There is nothing new or fancy about this recipe, but it is quite delicious. Use good tomatoes, good sausage, and good cheese. Presto! Great sausage pizza.
1 14-inch pizza shell
6 ounces all-purpose ground tomatoes
8 ounce blend shredded mozzarella and provolone
¾ (three-fourth) pound mild or sweet Italian sausage with fennel seed
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Spread the tomatoes evenly over the crust (this is less tomatoes than you are used to using, but go with it). Sprinkle on the cheese blend. Pinch pieces of the sausage and flatten between your thumb and forefinger. Place sausage over the cheese evenly, pressing the chunks into the cheese a bit. Sprinkle on the oregano. Bake.
After the pizza comes out of the oven, and just before sending it out, drizzle on the olive oil.
Note: If using precooked sausage, the method is the same. Use a version called “Pinched Italian Sausage.” It has a pleasing chunky appearance and is fully flavored.