Help me make perfect pizza sauce
September 27, 2020 12:50 PM   Subscribe

I want to impress my daughter with the perfect pizza sauce. She's had pizza all over Europe and the US, and she says good pizza is all about the sauce. I need recipes and tips for amazing pizza sauce for when she's home over the holidays.

She says the two most perfect pizzas she's ever had were in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Las Vegas, Nevada. She's not real clear on what makes a sauce perfect, other than it's not too chunky and it tastes like "real tomatoes from the garden." I have access to fresh garden tomatoes, but I'm open to using canned because I've had some pretty damn good canned tomatoes in my life.

I'm looking for recipes that you use and love, as well as any tips and tricks you have for making it turn out perfect. I'm a fairly experienced cook with time on my hands, so I'm open to time consuming recipes as well. I'm only looking for tomato based, more-or-less traditional style sauces.

I have the crust and toppings under control, however, if anyone has any wonderful suggestions, please, let me have them!
posted by SamanthaK to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
best sauce I have ever had or made is canned san marzano tomatoes, salt and pepper. period (do not cook before preparing your pie)
posted by silsurf at 12:54 PM on September 27, 2020 [8 favorites]

Chiming in to second not cooking the sauce, although I usually add basil, garlic and some red pepper flakes to the canned tomatoes. Whatever you add, the key is to keep it simple and let the sauce cook on the pie in the oven.

I learned this from a college roommate who used to work at a NY pizzeria. He maintained, and I have come to agree, that the main reason most people's homemade pizza doesn't taste right is that they cook the sauce ahead of time.
posted by Opposite George at 1:04 PM on September 27, 2020 [6 favorites]

Marcy Goldman has a recipe for Bottle-it-and-sell-it pizza sauce, made in a blender and not pre-cooked. She adds some softened sundried tomatoes and jarred red peppers. Extremely easy and quite good.

I wanted to give you a link, but they all go to her website (betterbaking) which requires a sign-in.

I spoke too soon. Here it is in the Washington Post, which is where I first encountered it and clipped the article. Every recipe of hers I've tried has been excellent.
posted by sevenstars at 1:13 PM on September 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

The thing is, we can't know what your daughter loves. I mentioned in another thread that I have searched for the perfect pizza sauce since I was 8, and I think I'm getting closer. I think it is maybe a plain passata cooked for 15 to 30 minutes with a bit of oregano and garlic. (The timing depends on your herbs, dry herbs take a bit longer).
posted by mumimor at 1:16 PM on September 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

Nthing the idea that keeping it simple and uncooked is the key (though mumimor has a good point that we don't know what flavors your daughter is looking for). For what it's worth, though, I always had a hard time describing what made a pizza sauce taste right to me, and went through a lot of different cooked sauces without any luck, but the first time I tried just plain crushed tomatoes it was exactly what I'd been looking for.
posted by DingoMutt at 1:36 PM on September 27, 2020

We can'tknow what she likes, and I don't know if those locations are much of a clue, but I'd definitely say a smooth purée of good canned tomatoes is a good place to start, especially if she wants fresh-tomato flavor. Save your garden tomatoes for eating raw. If it's not what she has in mind, that'll be more data to go on for try #2.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:59 PM on September 27, 2020

Best answer: The recipe I use is from a master baker who traveled all over the world to find his perfect pizzas, and wrote a book about it. The recipe is here, and includes a few paragraphs explaining his reasoning and method.

I have to admit that more often than not I make it with just the crushed tomatoes (usually a canned brand I trust, sometimes fresh but the flavor is never quite as intense), salt, pepper, oregano, and a tiny squeeze of lemon. Purists would leave out the oregano, too, but leaving it out doesn't taste right to me. Adding the basil and garlic powder makes it taste more like "Mom Pizza"* than "excellent pizza from around the world" to me.

I got the book then figured this out by trying a few variations at the same time so I could compare the differences. Might be a fun thing to try with your daughter when she's home! Especially since she's not quite sure what it is about the sauce she does like--trying sauce with and without spices, with canned tomatoes vs. fresh, with lemon vs. vinegar vs. none, will help her describe what she likes and doesn't.

*cf. "Mom Tacos" as opposed to street tacos
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:59 PM on September 27, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: As a frequent consumer of both shop bought and homemade pizzas here in NYC, I have to say I think the Smitten Kitchen sauce is really perfect. Uncooked canned tomatoes, salt, garlic, pinch of red pepper--- this is what NY pizza sauce should taste like. Her main trick is draining the tomatoes before pureeing, which gives a thicker texture without needing to cook the sauce (which gives you spaghetti, not pizza, sauce).
posted by MeadowlarkMaude at 2:36 PM on September 27, 2020 [10 favorites]

Well, this directly contradicts the "do not cook" approach mentioned a few times above. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

However, I am a die hard believer in this New York-Style Pizza Sauce recipe from Serious Eats. It's anecdotal evidence, but whenever I make pizzas for guests, I frequently get some comments on its tastiness and requests for the recipe.
posted by jeremias at 2:46 PM on September 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

She says the two most perfect pizzas she's ever had were in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Las Vegas, Nevada.

To quote Rick Sanchez: "Your boos mean nothing, I've seen what makes you cheer."

I mean, even if I didn't live in NYC, the city to which all other cities' pizzas are constantly compared, if someone I knew fed me that line I would roll my eyes and resign myself to the fact that they're just going to critique something for the sake of it. Unstress yourself and make whatever pizza you want to eat, your daughter's going to look down her nose at it no matter what.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 2:55 PM on September 27, 2020 [14 favorites]

Best answer: I use canned, whole San Marzano tomatoes. Put the contents of the can into a bowl, then squish the heck out of them with my hands. Gently at first, because a couple times one of 'em squirted juice all over the kitchen. Discard any hard, unripe chunks you feel in there. I put this—unseasoned—on my pizzas, then sprinkle Kosher salt on the crushed tomatoes.

The much-maligned Mario Batali taught me this trick via my television. I prefer doing it this way, as some parts will have a saltier kick than others, each bite a little different. Batali was big into the idea of Italian cooking having what he called a "capriciousness" where nothing is thoroughly homogenized and perfectly mixed and apportioned. Each bite has its own appeal. Similarly, my toppings are not perfectly arranged— but instead purposely unevenly scattered.

I live by this concept of capriciousness in most of my cooking, and I am a goddamned good cook. But I'd say try different kinds of sauces and techniques until you find one you like.
posted by SoberHighland at 3:03 PM on September 27, 2020 [8 favorites]

For the benefit of your Scottish readers, please ask her where in Edinburgh she bought that pizza!
posted by penguin pie at 3:26 PM on September 27, 2020 [6 favorites]

Another plug for San Marzano tomatoes.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:44 PM on September 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

okay so San Marzano tomatoes are a must if you're going for strict accuracy.
lightly cooked; use an immersion blender. salt, but no pepper for a pizza sauce. a bit of garlic. and - hear me out - a tiny bit of brown sugar, or honey. a good pizza sauce is just a little sweet. not too sweet; you want to taste the tomatoes; but it's easy to tip too far into salty and savory, especially if you're heavy on the garlic or you cook it too much. a little sweetness complements the tomato taste, lets it stand out, and lets a slice taste light and cheesy.
posted by entropone at 5:33 PM on September 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Penguin Pie, of course, she can't remember the name of it. Just that it was a small, mom-and-pop type Italian restaurant, and she ordered a margherita pizza that tasted "fresh and tomatoey."
posted by SamanthaK at 7:09 PM on September 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

So people tell me my pizza sauce tastes "so fresh!" and ask questions like "are these your tomatoes?"

This sort of isn't odd because I do tend to make a lot of my own stuff from scratch using fresh ingredients.

But it also most definitely is odd, because my pizza sauce is a Frankenstein blend of all that is unholy.

Take a bottle of supermarket brand plain passata. Dump it into a plastic lunch box that holds about a litre. Sprinkle over generic Italian seasoning blend (I think it has dried oregano, parsley, marjoram, red pepper, and garlic) - sort of a layer to cover the top. Add extra garlic powder - again, a really decent amount, maybe a couple of heaped teaspoons. Add chicken stock powder - a good couple of teaspoons for a 700 ml jar of sauce. Repeat, this time with sugar. Add a teaspoon of MSG, and a lug of EVO.

It's smooth, a perfect balance of savory and sweet, and deeply tomato-y, probably because of the sugar and the MSG.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 9:29 PM on September 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Echoing all the comments about just using canned San Marzano tomatoes. But consider also adding a bit of good olive oil and garlic too. The olive oil gives it a bit extra richness and the garlic adds depth.

..even if I didn't live in NYC, the city to which all other cities' pizzas are constantly compared

If your daughter fondly recalls a pizza in Edinburgh then it was almost certainly Italian-style rather than NY-style. Possibly a Neopolitan style pizza - Napoli being the city to which all other cities pizza are compared here in Europe.

Neopolitan pizzas use a sauce which is pretty much San Marzano tomatoes, usually fresh, with seasoning added. They might also mix in Piennolo tomatoes which are sweeter. In any case the pizza sauces here in Europe tend to be light, fresh, tomato-ey, closer to Mexican salsa in a way than to the Marinara sauce that Americans tend to use.
posted by vacapinta at 2:21 AM on September 28, 2020 [6 favorites]

Seconding the rec from American Pie - that sauce is the SHIT - no basil, no garlic though. It's the only kind we make and use, and our house tomatoes are Pastene Kitchen Ground tomatoes.
posted by ersatzkat at 6:06 AM on September 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

When we built an outdoor wood fired pizza oven, I found this board Pizza Making Forum which has a lot of interesting information about everything pizza. It is where I found out about Tomato Magic which everyone seems to love when we have pizza parties. According to the board, a lot of places use it as their sauce or doctor it up for their own "recipe." There are a lot of opinions out there about what makes the best sauce.
posted by maxg94 at 6:12 AM on September 28, 2020

The canonical pizza sauce for me and my girlfriend is from the food memoir The Comfort Food Diaries. It's a lot like this Serious Eats recipe but with twice as much butter and a lot of red pepper flakes. (And you don't need to puree the tomatoes, you just cook them down for ~3 hours.)
posted by little onion at 6:59 AM on September 28, 2020

When I worked at a pizzeria in high school, our seekret recipe was cans of food service pureed tomatoes, olive oil, and then double-handfuls of spices (mostly oregano) stirred in by a short, hairy prep cook (think Gimli in a chef's jacket) who rolled up his sleeve and used his whole arm. Personally I think that the cigarette smoke and tattoo ink added a little piquancy, but no one else ever backed me up on that.

So, uh, the moral of this unpleasant story is...keep it simple: tomato and oregano.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:33 PM on September 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As a counterpoint, here is an obsessive's handiwork, "Jeff Varasano's Famous New York Pizza Recipe":

Scroll down to the line beginning "8 - Sauce" for his thoughts.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:37 PM on September 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Is this "Famous New York Pizza Recipe" really better than "Original New York Pizza Recipe," "New York Original Pizza Recipe," "Famous New York Original Pizza Recipe," "Famous Original New York Pizza Recipe," or even "Original Famous New York Pizza Recipe?" Opinions differ.
posted by rhizome at 1:27 PM on September 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I've gotten very good results with the sauce (uncooked canned tomatoes + spices and olive oil) and especially the 72-hour pizza dough recipes from
posted by ssmith at 2:31 PM on September 28, 2020

Here’s they key: use imported canned *ground* tomatoes, not purée, not crushed, not peeled, not whole. Ground tomatoes. This will give you the right basic texture. From there, a little fine diced fresh garlic, fresh basil In thin ribbons, splash olive oil. No salt. No sugar.
posted by Miko at 7:11 PM on September 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Agree with Miko: it was ground, not pureed.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:35 AM on September 29, 2020

My husband and I developed our own pizza sauce recipe. We looked at a few recipes and got some common ingredients, then stood over the stove and taste tested each ingredient as it went in. Need more salt? More oil? Oops, too much pepper, next time put in less.

Here are the ingredients I put on the counter when I make sauce:
Tomato puree
garlic powder
oregano flakes
basil flakes
"shaker cheese"
olive oil
red pepper flakes
booze / wine
posted by rebent at 7:08 AM on September 29, 2020

Came across Itaian grandma makes pizza. She makes the sauce from her own canned tomatos. We did the whole thing, including canning our own just like she does and my god it's perfection.
posted by crayon at 12:01 AM on September 30, 2020

My two cents.

American pizza often has too much stuff on top. A little tomato, a little cheese, a little very good olive oil, maybe some pieces of fresh basil after it comes out of the oven. Then you taste the tomato, the cheese, etc.

Also, I've heard that Italians contend that pizza is about the dough. The toppings are a condiment. 'Course, many Italians say the same about pasta. And I think that's right. In this case, less is more.

I also think that the dough is best baked in a very hot oven. A home oven with a top of 550 degrees will never be hot enough to match the best restaurant pizza.

There are many foods that are better at restaurants than at home (the best restaurant french fries can't be duplicated at home) and the converse is true: there are dishes that are best cooked at home.
posted by tmdonahue at 12:33 PM on September 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

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