Photo by Josh Keown
Two years ago, my general manager, Joel, and I visited the Yellowtail Restaurant in the Bellagio Hotel for a relaxing beer and sushi after a full day at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. We sat next to three women when I heard one of them say: “It’s the sauce, I swear…”
I looked over on the women’s table to what looked like a small red Frisbee with micro greens sitting on a plate in between them. I smiled and asked: “What’s that?”
“The Bigeye Tuna Pizza,” one replied, smiling, “I was just telling my friends that this is so good because of the white truffle oil but they don’t agr…”
“No way, it’s the sauce underneath, the yuzu mayonnaise…mmm, to die for,” a second lady said. She then gobbled up her slice as the third lady spoke up: “Yup, it’s the sauce.”
I immediately ordered two Bigeye Tuna Pizzas, which were served cold on a tortilla wafer crust with yuzu mayo, red onion, thinly sliced tuna and topped with micro cilantro and bulls blood greens. As much as I hate to admit that a sushi chef made this spectacular pie, it was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten and some of the greatest sauce to topping combinations ever.
Since then, we’ve always made the trek to the Bellagio to visit Yellowtail. In fact, Owner/Chef Akira Back and his chefs are now friends we see at every Pizza Expo. This accidental pizza run-in was also a wake-up call to me that behind every great pizza is an even better sauce, and you should take advantage of these outstanding flavor combinations.
Sauces are an easy way for you to sell some great pies to customers who are increasingly more savvy, smart and educated about world foods and cuisine. On the other end of this spectrum is our duty as business owners to deal with rising food costs and find sauces that can both make a profit and make my customers raving fans.
These are the variables I think about when starting a new sauce hunt:
Will the public buy a pizza with this sauce on it?
How much will this sauce cost me by the pizza?
How many ways can I use or modify this sauce in my menu mix?
Here are some cool ideas that can be used as a pizza or dipping sauce:
Basil Pesto. This traditional combination of basil, garlic, oil, Parmesan cheese and pine nut is spectacular paired with your tomato sauce and mozzarella. It can be made in a food processor or by mortar and pestle. There are some great frozen products on the market that do or do not include nuts and can be made into dipping sauces as well as squirt-bottle ready for your make line. This is the best sauce I’ve ever introduced on my menu.
Chipotle Blueberry. Take four cups of sliced white onions from your make line, add three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and hand-grind one 7-ounce can of chipotle peppers in adobo found at any store. Mix and pass through or bake in your oven, stirring frequently until the onions become soft and caramelized. Add two cups of dried or with an immersion blender till saucy. This makes a great BBQ or spicy-sweet dipping sauce. I use this whole onion blueberry mix and fold ciabatta dough around it, cutting vents for steam and then bake it with spectacular results!
Curried Onion and Raisin. Use the same procedure as above except pour some powdered curry on the oiled onions and add a little water to mix well and pass through or bake in the oven. When hot and caramelized, add raisins, which will re-hydrate and plump. Try this curry mix with fresh spinach and chicken topped with melting aged Provolone. It will blow you away!
Jalepeno and Roasted Garlic. We use canned jalepeños with the juice and add roasted garlic, mayonnaise, sour cream, pepper and salt for a very popular dipping sauce.
Spicy Marinara. This can be created by combining your pizza sauce and red pepper flakes. Pour into two-ounce dipping sauce cups and serve. Add onion, green pepper, cumin, taco seasoning and add steak or chicken for some great Southwest Fajita flavors.
Ghost Chili Sauce. All I do is blend five cups of my pizza sauce with four dried ghost chilies, some jalapeño and roasted garlic. Let this sit and macerate for three days for devastating results. I call it the “Beelzebub,” and it has a big customer following. My staff calls it “Haters-Gonna-Hate” sauce or “Sauce of the Damned.”
Tuscan Crema Paradiso
Don’t freak out with the use of raw bacon in this sauce. In Sienna, they’ve been eating this on toasted bread with Chianti for thousands of years. When my sous chef Patty first made this, my initial wariness turned to bovine love at the first creamy bite. This sauce is perfect to dollop on a pizza or cheese bread before the oven for a melting pork paradise!
½ pound of lean back bacon or Italian pancetta
1 teaspoon salt
5 turns cracked black pepper
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
3 to 4 garlic cloves, chopped and crushed
1 sprig of fresh rosemary stripped and chopped fine
First, chop the bacon and add to a food processor or in a container with an immersion blender with all the other ingredients. After integration, smash this putty-like mass out between a sanitized stainless steel table and the flat side of a knife, ensuring smoothness. Scrape up with a dough knife and knead like dough for a few minutes. The fat from the bacon will melt but the mass will soon become creamy. Put this in the refrigerator for one day to amalgamate flavors.
John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio. He is also a speaker at International Pizza Expo and a member of the World Pizza Champions.
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