Photos by Rick Daugherty
No member of pizza’s holy trinity — dough, sauce and cheese — should be overlooked. Without hitting all three out of the park, your pizza easily gets lost in the crowded foodservice landscape. So why do so many operations simply open a can of tomato sauce and roll with it? In my opinion, giving your customers the very best sauce should be a top priority. And one way to do that when working from a canned sauce base is to take matters into your own hands with a little “sauce doctoring.”
With that said, here’s my advice to you: do some research to find out what people like in your area. What I served in Massachusetts helped put me in the top 100 independent pizzerias in the country about a decade ago. But I needed to tweak that recipe a little bit to please the diners here in Georgia, where I now live. Lesson: we must be willing to understand what our customers want if we plan to succeed.
In my years of working in foodservice, I have met more than my fair share of arrogant chefs and operators who insist that their way and their recipe is the best. Regardless of what kind of feedback they receive, they aren’t willing to alter their recipes for anyone. While that approach actually does work for a select few, I can promise you that the demise of many a restaurant has come about as a result of this stubbornness.
That’s why it’s important to learn the most loved flavor profiles in your area. Some regions tend to favor sweeter sauces, while others spring for spicy, chunky, zesty, herbladen, etc. There’s an audience out there for each type … which audience lives in your town?
In my restaurant, I take a centrist approach and go for the middle ground when it comes to the flavor profile of my sauce. My sauce is mildly sweet, but with a rich and fresh tomato flavor that isn’t overpowered with herbs. I find this has an appeal to a wide audience. Those looking for a zestier sauce or something with more herbs can shake on some crushed red pepper and oregano or basil at the table.
Knowing that the quality and flavor of your pizza sauce should be amongst the highest priority in your business, it’s crucial to understand some important principles. Let’s start at the beginning. I can’t stress this enough, so listen up: it is nearly impossible to take an inexpensive, inferior product and make something superior out of it. Let that sink in. Reread the sentence again if you have to. If you are starting with a substandard sauce, you are already losing.
Let me share an anecdote with you. Recently, I went to a pizzeria and was excited to see Veal Parmesan with spaghetti on the menu. Much to my surprise, the sauce that smothered this dish was so horrible that I couldn’t eat it. It had to have taken great effort to make any sauce taste that bad. The operator obviously started with a cheap, inferior sauce and tried to doctor it up. But, like I said, you can’t make a superior end product if you start with inferior beginnings.
If you aren’t pleased with the sauce you’re using for your base, start by getting samples from your vendors so that you can experiment with different brands. Or if you’ve heard of a company or have seen sauce ads that appeal to you in Pizza Today, call that company directly and ask for a sample and who you can purchase their product from.
Once you have a base and are ready to alter it to your specific needs, there are several options. Let’s say, for example, that you are using an extra-heavy pizza sauce, but you want to cut the heaviness a little. You can do this by adding some ground tomatoes and puree, but that will dilute the flavor. So you’ll have to compensate by adding ingredients such as sugar, salt, garlic and Italian seasonings. Treat this process like the Colonel did with his 11 herbs and spices for his secret recipe chicken. You need to first measure precisely. Secondly, make sure your employees understand the importance of following the recipe and do not alter it.
If your sauce is too acidic, add just a little bit of sugar to cut the acidity. If your sauce is too thin, add either some extra heavy pizza sauce or even a little tomato paste to thicken it.
Some people get confused about whether or not to cook pizza sauce like we do when we’re making a marinara. The short answer: don’t do it! It is not necessary to cook pizza sauce during its preparation. In fact, cooking it can be highly detrimental.
Just keep in mind that basic is better when it comes to your pizza sauce. Keeping it simple will result in a better sauce and fewer operational headaches for you. ❖
Jeffrey Freehof owns the Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia, and is a frequent speaker at the Pizza Expo family of tradeshows.
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