Pizza sauce
October 21, 2005 9:32 PM   Subscribe

Pizza. What is it that distinguishes pizza sauce from any other pasta sauce? I notice that a good pizza sauce seems to have an extra zing, an extra bite to it, and I've never been able to pin down what ingredient it is. I've used spaghetti sauce and homemade tomato-oregano concoctions on homemade pizzas and it never tastes right.
posted by rolypolyman to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I always include sugar in pizza sauce. Not sure if that's traditional or if I just made it up.
posted by scarabic at 9:48 PM on October 21, 2005

If you like it sweet try sautéing in some oil some finely chopped carrots and sugar. Stir until carrots soften then throw in some fresh chopped thyme stir that in for a minute then pour in some chopped tomatoes and let it slow cook and reduce for 30 - 50 minutes.
posted by any major dude at 9:56 PM on October 21, 2005

When I make pizza sauce from scratch, I cook it down much more than I would for pasta sauce. Thicker, more concentrated, seems to be the trick for me.
posted by padraigin at 9:58 PM on October 21, 2005

Fennel seed helps. And, like scarabic said, sugar is a good idea.
posted by BradNelson at 10:14 PM on October 21, 2005

Oh, and if you are looking for "kick" or "bite" in pizza or pasta sauce, I recommend you get to know white pepper.
posted by scarabic at 10:16 PM on October 21, 2005

Here's a tip: many commercially available food products display a list of ingredients on the label. In fact I think there is a law that they do so. Try comparing the ingredients in some spaghetti sauce with those of some pizza sauce. Perhaps compare several brands to eliminate anything you don't recognize, or questionable chemical flavorings.

(Yes, I'm being a little snarky, but come on. "never been able to pin down what ingredient it is?" What, have you just been trying to guess by tasting it?)
posted by attercoppe at 10:16 PM on October 21, 2005

posted by dobbs at 10:35 PM on October 21, 2005

The answer is anchovies. Throw half an anchovy - or more, but go easy, unless you want sauce that tastes like fish stew - into the sauce while you're simmering it and let it dissolve completely.

Do not use anchovy paste, that stuff is nasty.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:38 PM on October 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

Attercoppe, often it just says "natural flavors" (or..."artificial flavors"). Some secrets are kept with flavorings.

I use sugar in tomato sauce all the time (to remove the some of the acidity)...I was told that tomato sauce becomes sweeter with lots of slow cooking (and I never bother with that), so if you try what padraigin suggested, you may not need to add extra sugar.
posted by artifarce at 10:53 PM on October 21, 2005

"Pizza sauce" is a fiction created by advertising. Real pizza has no 'sauce'.

Used peeled, crushed tomatoes, preferably in tomato puree (in juice is too watery). Spread on the pizza. sprinkle with oregano and basil. Feel free to further experiment with seasoning.

For my taste, I advocate two common pizza 'toppings' be used as seasoning. Onions and green olives, chopped fine and spread thinly. If you like these items especially, of course load up to taste. Add your usual favorite toppings. Oh, and for another touch of Napolitan authenticity, apply olive oil to the top before it goes in the oven.

Caveat: This tomato topping is fantastic. The oil part may not apply if you favor a thin/crispy crust. I like a thick doughy crust like I enjoyed in Naples, or a NYC-style 'Sicilian' crust (called deep dish, elsewhere).
posted by Goofyy at 11:20 PM on October 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't be surprised if commercial pizza sauce has substantially more salt in it than pasta sauce. That's in addition to all the sodium that tomatoes naturally have.

My secret ingredients are sage and nutmeg, and a pinch of baking soda. Also, I brush the crust with olive oil before laying on the sauce.

I prefer scattering a few fennel seeds over the top rather than cooking them in the sauce.
posted by mischief at 11:22 PM on October 21, 2005

I second the anchovy. Not enough to taste it, just enough to round out the flavor.

And I have to add the advice of my dad's friend Joe, who was famous for his sauce. Whenever anyone would ask him how to improve their sauce, before they even started describing what they'd already tried he'd hold up his hand and say, "you didn't add enough olive oil."
posted by cali at 11:36 PM on October 21, 2005

Yes, I'm being a little snarky, but come on.

Well I doubt that most of the pizza any of us has tasted has come in a jar from a store shelf. Most of the pizza I eat is from restaurants / delivery. No labels there. And I highly doubt that jar-sauce is of the kind of quality you want to learn from. If you tried, you might think that xanthan gum is that elusive ingredient you've been searching for.

A snark so lame it's hardly worth the name.
posted by scarabic at 12:22 AM on October 22, 2005

"Natural flavors" often just means MSG. Not that I'm recommending MSG for you pizza sauce. The opposite.
posted by Alt F4 at 2:56 AM on October 22, 2005

Pizza sauce tends to be very smooth.

Personally I like to season it with some fresh thyme and oregano, and maybe a few dried red pepper flakes... but the biggest difference is the consistency of the sauce.
posted by I Love Tacos at 3:25 AM on October 22, 2005

Don Pepino pizza sauce is pretty good, IMHO, and seems to have that je ne sais quoi that pizza sauce should have.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:00 AM on October 22, 2005

What Goofyy said. Real pizza (Italian, NY styles) does not have a "sauce," only crushed tomatoes. Get a good can of San Marzano tomatoes, or some other nice-tasting whole plum tomato, put them in a food processor or food mill (without the juice) and just crush them up a bit. Don't let them get watery. Add quite a bit of salt.

If your tomatoes aren't of the greatest quality, you can add a pinch of sugar. DON'T COOK IT! Also, I disagree with the oregano comment. I wouldn't add any dried herbs to pizza... I think they make it heavy-tasting.
posted by rxrfrx at 5:41 AM on October 22, 2005

I always add a pinch of cayenne pepper to my pizza sause, or sprinkle some crushed, dried chillies over it before the cheese. Great for a kick!
posted by londonmark at 7:28 AM on October 22, 2005

Real pizza (Italian, NY styles) does not have a "sauce," only crushed tomatoes.

What a crock of shit. Real pizza is about as identifiable as real space aliens. Everybody's got their own way. Pizza sauce exists and is used all over New York City in pizza restaurants everywhere, including some of the best.

The real contributions in this thread are right on the target: lots of salt (anchovies bring that, too), fennel, and sugar are what Iuse.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:47 AM on October 22, 2005

I always put in a hefty amount of hot pepper, usually in the form of sambal oelek.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:36 AM on October 22, 2005

I found this ridiculously simple sauce from Cook's Illustrated to be quite tasty. And you don't even have to cook it.

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
salt and ground black pepper

Combine everything. Set aside at room temperature for up to several hours.

They recommend Muir Glen and Progresso, if you're brand-specific.
posted by O9scar at 8:51 AM on October 22, 2005 [2 favorites]

I third the fennel seeds suggestion--and, if you can get fresh fennel where you live (that is, if you're not in a small town in rural midwest/southeast, and heck, these days, maybe even if you are) sautee the bulb with the onions/whatever else, and chop up & add 1/2 to 3/4 c of the fronds too. This may be more appropriate for certain pasta-type sauces, but I like it on pizza. Just cook it longer.
posted by pullayup at 8:55 AM on October 22, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks -- tons of great ideas. I hadn't even considered things like fennel and white salt. I'll be trying many variations of the above in the months ahead.
posted by rolypolyman at 8:56 AM on October 22, 2005

Oh, right, I forgot the point of adding fennel... Fennel--the whole plant--tastes kind of licoricey. It's closely related to anise, and some languages even use the same name for both, though I'm fairly sure they're different plants. If you can't find the fennel at the supermarket, sometimes it's labelled "anise bulbs."
Anyway, it adds a subtle, non-sugary sweetness to the sauce. It's like it enhances the fruit qualities of the 'maters.
However, some people I know just add a dash of maple syrup. No shit!
posted by pullayup at 9:04 AM on October 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

When I make spaghetti sauce, I use a few cans of diced tomatos and a can of tomato paste. Perfect texture. When I make pizza sauce, it's tomato paste, all the way.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:46 AM on October 22, 2005

Sugar? Sugar? You folks must be Dominos customers. Goofyy's right, despite the attempts to disparage the idea of "real pizza." What the fuck, are you guys bumpkins? You can't tell "real pizza" from delivery dross?
O9scar has a decent recipe. You can add other things to taste, like basil (add after cooking), oregano, rosemary, thyme, or crushed red pepper. You can also add a couple teaspoons of lemon juice, if you want more "zing" and kinda a sour bit in there. But tomatoes are already pretty acidic.
But don't add sugar. Jesus. You'd be better off with MSG before sugar. At least MSG would make it taste good (all it does is open up the pores on your tongue, making it easier for larger molecules to get through your taste buds).
posted by klangklangston at 9:48 AM on October 22, 2005

ahahahah mo nickels you're an effin bumpkin.

and about MSG, klangklang... i do believe that is a misleading statement.
posted by rxrfrx at 10:43 AM on October 22, 2005

At the place I used to work at (25 years ago), we made ours with red wine. Unfortunately I don't remember what kind. Great sauce, though.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:54 AM on October 22, 2005

posted by rxrfrx at 11:39 AM on October 22, 2005

My uncle's born-and-raised Sicilian mother did NOT put 'crushed tomatoes' on her pizzas. She spread tomato paste on the oiled crust, added a few anchovies and gave it a generous coat of freshly shaved romano. ... and woe to anyone who asked her to change!

Her foccaccia was topped by sliced fresh tomatoes.

Now, her pasta sauce was crushed tomatoes that she simmered for a couple hours with all the herbs.
posted by mischief at 12:54 PM on October 22, 2005

Sorry, mischief, by "Italy" I meant "Neapolitan." I should've been more specific... Sicilian pizza is some whole other thing. I tend to see a lot of anchovies or meat in Sicilian sauce.
posted by rxrfrx at 1:00 PM on October 22, 2005

Well, gee, rx, everybody knows that Sicilian is the real deal. heheh
posted by mischief at 1:28 PM on October 22, 2005

You know, now that I recall that fine old lady and the flavors in her pizza, it wasn't what she put on top, but I'm betting she added something to the crust dough.
posted by mischief at 1:31 PM on October 22, 2005

Sicilian pizza is some formidable monster I haven't barely begun to comprehend.
posted by rxrfrx at 2:15 PM on October 22, 2005

I've been trying to make a NY-style Sicilian pie with South African ingredients awhile. My crust results are so-so. My oven bricks won't fit in the smallish oven I have here, so I'm not messing with the Napolitan pie.

As for you scoffers about 'real pizza', I suggest you go find a back alley in Naples and try some. Til then, your not qualified to speak about real pizza. (Sicilian experience excepted, but it IS another thing). I have my method by way of my late partner's mother, 1st generation American-born Napolitan. And my own, direct experience in the back allies of Napoli, Italia (courtesy of the US Navy)
posted by Goofyy at 3:21 AM on October 24, 2005

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