Think pizza-making may not require the same skill as, say, a flambé technique? Seasoned Opal chefs Michael Vogler and Michael Desorcie beg to differ – in a big way.
“There’s definitely a finesse that comes with it that takes time to learn,” says Vogler, who first really honed his own pizza-making skills while working at a restaurant under Wolfgang Puck. “You’d be surprised,” adds Desorcie “how much the average person is doing pizza wrong.”
As chefs with Opal resorts’ Drift Kitchen + Bars – Vogler helming the location at Hutchinson Shores Resort & Spa in Jensen Beach on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, and Desorcie at Lido Beach Resort in Sarasota on the Gulf – they would certainly know. That’s because these two restaurants specialize in wood-fired pizza, thanks to the beautiful wood-fired ovens that grace the restaurants’ main dining rooms. In fact, stone-hearth ovens can be found within the restaurants of many Opal properties, including La Bella Vita locations at both Harborside Hotel, Spa & Marina (Bar Harbor, Maine) and Samoset Resort (Rockland, Maine), as well as Sea-Guini at Opal Sands Resort (Clearwater Beach, Florida). Taste one of the Neapolitan-style pizza from these locations, and you’ll know you’ve long been missing out on what gourmet, handmade pizza is really about.
But, of course, it’s not realistic to be able to enjoy pizza from these restaurants every day. Which is why the two Michaels have shared their following secrets to getting that perfect stone-cooked pizza in your personal home kitchen.
Invest in Two Starting Essentials: A Pizza Stone & Peel
What do the Michaels have against a normal sheet pan? “It just won’t get crispy on a sheet pan, like it will a pizza stone,” says Desorcie, explaining how the ceramic material of a pizza stone holds heat more evenly, therefore allowing the crust to cook more evenly, unlike the metal of a pan. “Plus, by preheating the stone, it will give the dough a big burst of heat right off the bat when you slide it on there, which gives the crust a nice ‘puffing up,’” adds Vogler.
Of course, you can’t have a stone without the peel – the paddle-looking thing that slides the pie onto and off the stone during the baking process. “Just a 15- by 12-inch stone from Amazon won’t cost more than $30, and a paddle – whether wood or aluminum – will probably be around $20.”
Doing the Dough Justice with the Right Flour & Resting Before Rolling
According to both Michaels, the gold standard when making fresh pizza dough is to use 00 flour, which is a really fine, soft white flour (the “00” refers to the grind size of the flour). “It has a medium gluten content that makes for a nicely balanced crust – giving it enough of a chewy texture, but also letting it puff up around the edges of the pizza,” says Desorcie.
As for once you make and knead your dough, Vogler can’t understate the importance of letting it rest for at least a minimum of 30 minutes before rolling out. “When you knead the dough, it activates the gluten, but the gluten needs to be given some time to relax after – otherwise, it makes the dough difficult to roll out and shape,” he says. “It will snap back into place.”
Crank that Oven Up at Least 1 Hour Before Putting the Pizza In
“Not just because you want to preheat the stone,” explains Vogler, “but because you’re going to be cranking your oven to what is probably its highest setting: 500°F.” And when was the last time you did that? You’re going to want it to cook off anything inside that oven to make sure it’s clean.
Cornmeal – Your Secret Sliding Weapon
Once your crust is rolled out, it’s time for the toppings, right? Not so fast. You’re going to want to piece together your masterpiece on the peel (not off of it as that can make for a messy transfer). But before you do that, sprinkle just a bit of cornmeal – two ounces will do – on the peel. Then once you put that dough on the peel, give it a little shake back and forth a few times. “This is where that ‘pizza finesse’ I was talking about comes in,” says Vogler. “Without that little shake to loosen it, when it comes time to put that pizza in the oven, you might find it doesn’t want to release.” And then that’s a big mess.
Put Away the Pasta Sauce
Think pizza and pasta sauces are pretty much the same thing? (Somewhere, several Italian grandmothers are rolling in their graves). There’s a number of reasons why they are different, but, in the case of your pizza, the most important one to know is that a tomato sauce meant for pasta is going to have a higher water content. “If you use that on your pizza,” says Desorcie, “expect a very watery, wet-like pizza with sauce running all over the place.”
Vogler suggests simply using a straight tomato puree (anything from a can is fine) then mixing it with dry Italian seasonings and fresh basil.
Yes, There is a Thing as Too Many Toppings
A “Shrimp & Goat Cheese” pizza with spicy pesto as the base, topped with chimichurri shrimp, mozzarella and goat cheese, and cherry peppers. Or even a “Cheeseburger” pizza with a ketchup-mayo-relish sauce topped with ground beef, shredded cheddar, fresh tomatoes, and pickles. These are just two examples of creative pizzas that have been featured on the menus in both Drift Kitchen + Bars.
But while Vogler says the variety of topping combinations you can come up with are unlimited, the total amount of toppings definitely should have a limit. “If you load up on the toppings, it’s going to be too heavy and fall apart as you’re eating, plus, the bottom of your pizza likely won’t cook fully and will be more soft than crispy,” says Vogler. Desorcie suggests limiting your number of different toppings to three to five (not including cheese). “More toppings than that and the more likely you’re going to load that thing up,” he says. “Plus, you don’t want it to be a mess of competing flavors, but a symphony that allows each of the toppings to have their own solo in each and every bite.”