Apizza Fact #7: It’s not burnt, it’s char!
I’d like to talk for a bit about the “doneness” of an apizza. There is no right or wrong to this. Whether a pie is deemed “undercooked”, “too well done” or even “burnt”, it is all relative to the person eating the pie. That being said, New Haven-style apizza carries with it an expectation of char. Apizza is usually baked to a point where the edges are blackened, and there are some dark brown or black spots on the bottom sometimes referred to as leoparding. Many people, including myself, love a good char. The flavor of the charred crust mixed with the sauce and “muzz” is quite magical. It is part of what many have come to LOVE about New Haven Apizza. However, some people do not care for the char flavor, and that is fine and expected.
A true apizza aficionado understands that it is up to them, and not the establishment, to dial in their preference for wellness. You need to provide the pizza baker with some direction for your preference. If you are serious about your apizza, you will order it very much like you order a steak. When you order a steak in a restaurant, you don’t just say, I’ll have the 12oz ribeye, please. You say I will have the 12oz ribeye medium rare, please. If you are particular about how you like your steak, you would never roll the dice by ordering it without providing the degree to which you would like it cooked. If you DO roll the dice, and you get a steak that is too well or too undercooked for you, then that is on YOU.
Everyone usually has a “go-to” place for their apizza. That means they are quite familiar with how they tend to bake their pies and can provide baking directions accordingly. Someone like myself, who has been eating apizza from MANY different places throughout my life, has a knowledge of how a good number of places tend to bake their pies, which allows me to get my desired wellness wherever I go. However, if I find myself at an unfamiliar place, I’ll either look online to see pictures of the pies from that particular joint, or I will just ask, “do you tend to bake your pies more on the well-done side? I prefer to have a bit of char around the edges”. It’s never fair to just roll the dice and then complain that it’s not how you wanted it after the fact. For the most part, I order my pies with the direction “well done please”. Luckily, my wife also loves the crunch and the char of a well-done pie! That’s how I knew she was the one! However, if I am at Sally’s, that direction is not necessary. They tend to bake their pies exactly the way I prefer them. PRO TIP – I tend to NOT order seafood pies well done. I will sacrifice the char of the crust in order to avoid overcooking the seafood which should NEVER happen unless you enjoy the texture of rubber!! There are some places that will put the seafood on a pie a third to halfway through the cooking process if the pie was ordered well done. But I don’t expect that from any place and I am totally ok with sacrificing char on a seafood pie.
There is a situation that exists that is quite the conundrum for many apizza joints. They know that traditionally, pies should be baked to have a degree of char. But, what they also know, and have come to realize through experience, is that there are many customers who will deem the pie “burnt” if they see black anywhere on the crust. In light of that, they tend to bake their pies just before the point of char, if they are given no direction. The Holy Trinity of New Haven apizza joints are so popular, and so renowned, that they can get away with saying, “This is New Haven Apizza! Love it or leave it.” type of approach and attitude. But at the same time, they will usually accommodate you if you asked for “lightly baked”.
So, by now, you may be asking yourself the question, “Why don’t apizza places just ask how you would like your apizza baked”? Well, it’s just not that easy. One person’s “well done” is another person’s “burnt”. One person’s “lightly baked” is another person’s “raw”. If they were going to ask a question at all, I think it would be, “char or no char”. But again, there are so many personal preferences, that it is a big ask for places to go down that rabbit hole! In the end, it is UP TO YOU to KNOW your apizza/pizza joint, and communicate your preference! A great apizza chef will be able to provide you with your desired preference, and if you go there regularly, they will LEARN your preferences!!