Sunday, January 12, 2020

Eating off the Hill: Jeff's cast iron pizza

When I bought a cast iron pan, I had visions of searing steaks in the winter months. But I had no idea I'd be making pizza so often.

In fact, pizza has become my favourite thing to make in my cast iron pan, and it produces perfect crust every time. So for those who haven't discovered the wonderful world of cast iron pizzas, I thought I'd share my process.

First step is to pre-heat your oven. Some say to go to 500 or as high as your oven will go. After a few set off the smoke alarm incidents when broiling ribs, I prefer to take my oven up to 450 for pizza. And I find that's more than hot enough to cook a pizza perfectly.

Put your pan in your oven to pre-heat along with the oven. A hot pan is key to perfect crust.

While your oven and pan is pre-heating, prepare and stage your toppings. Things will need to happen fast when you take the heated pan out of the oven, so you want to have your cheese grated and toppings sliced and ready to go.

Then roll your dough out to the rough shape of your pan. If you don't have a rolling pan, a bottle of wine will do -- I prefer red. If you use a ball of store-bought frozen pizza dough I prefer to only use half for a pizza, otherwise it's too bready. But that depends on whether you prefer a thick or thin crust.

When your oven and pan are pre-heated, remove the pan to your stovetop. If your pan is well-seasoned no oil should be necessary, unless you prefer a more pan-style crust -- some olive oil won't hurt but isn't really necessary. I usually use a sprinkle of semolina just because.

Working quickly (while your pan is still hot) and carefully (because wow, that pan is hot) lay your dough in your pan and form it to fill the pan fully. The hot pan will start to cook the dough, and that's fine. You want that, but don't take all day finishing the pizza.

Start with your sauce, and don't be afraid to spread it all the way to the edge. Don't worry if it hits the edge of the pan, that's how you get the tasty crunchy bits.

Then finish building your pizza. I didn't want to brave the rain to hit the grocery store yesterday so I topped with that I had on on hand -- a cheddar/mozza mix, onions, sausage and leftover butter chicken. And then fresh Parmesan Reggiano, garlic powder, a bit of sea salt and olive oil. I like to top all the way to the edge to maximize my topping space, but that's personal choice.

And then quickly back into the oven it goes. I set a timer for 10 minutes, and then check it regularly until its done to my satisfaction. Usually around 13, 14 minutes or so. Once you're happy with it, take it out and let it rest on the stovetop for about 10 minutes or so to set. But first I usually do use my spatula at this point around the edges to loosen any crusties.

Cast iron method produces perfect crust every time...

Then slice, serve and enjoy!

There are lots of ways to vary the method to your preferences. One way is to saute your sausage/bacon in the pan first, and then use the pan with the residual oil to make your pizza (removing some of the oil first though). This infuses the crust with some of that flavour. I've done that, and it's good, but you'll want to give the dough a quick pre-cook in the pan on a hot burner before you top it to get the crust right and then return to the oven to cook the pizza, since you don't get that super hot pan cooking the crust while you top it.

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