Meat combination pizzas remain menu mainstays
Meat and I have a funny relationship. I once took a butchery course and found it to be incredibly therapeutic. Maybe it was the connection with the animal you’re about to cook, or the focus it takes to make the perfect cut. That being said I don’t eat a lot of it. The only time I do, is on pizza. Well, pizza and the occasional juicy burger — with pickles of course. As you can probably guess, I’m not much of a supreme pizza girl. I don’t generally like to pile meat on top of meat for the sake of having a ton of it unless each type is truly bringing something to the pie. The closest thing to it at my pizzeria is called the Spicy Pig with sausage, pepperoni, roasted jalapeños and garlic.
You could say I’m somewhat of a purist when it comes to meat on pizza and meat combination pizzas. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all about flavor … and most meats carry a heavy hit of it. In my opinion, it should be salty, fatty, delicious and celebrated on the pizza instead of just buried in. It is something that I like to highlight; whether that means how it is cooked or what specific farm, shop, region or country it is from. I know a lot of pizzerias that focus on making everything in house, others that are driven from locally sourced ingredients and even more that import most of their ingredients from Italy. All of these are amazing but change the type of menu that you will have and the meat that is offered.
Even something as seemingly simple as pepperoni has multiple dimensions. There is natural casing that curls up and others that lay flat. There is thick pepperoni and paper thin. Some are spicy and others much more mellow. There are commercial brands and more boutique companies. What you choose all depends on what flavor profile you are going for.
Let’s talk about sausage. It is an ingredient that I feel is often taken for granted at pizzerias, yet one that you can really make into a signature item. We make our sausage in house and use it on a variety of different specialty pies. One of them, our Italian Mamma, has sausage, lacianto kale, sauce, caramelized onions and shaved Parmesan. It is so easy to make and a great selling point when you do make it in house. You can vary the flavor profile by shifting just a few simple ingredients around. For example, add honey for some sweetness, hot peppers for heat or choose from tons of different herbs and spices. You can also swap out the type of meat to create specials. A few ideas to play around with include:
- Lamb sausage with cumin, oregano and smoked paprika. Accompany it on a pie with charred radicchio and an aged balsamic.
- Chicken sausage with roasted sweet peppers, garlic and basil. Top the pie with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes.
- Pork sausage with green chilies, roasted garlic and onion powder. Add some caramelized onions, a leaf of rainbow chard and an over easy egg on top with some shaved piave.
Sausage can also be a textural thing depending on how you cook it. I love how sliced links caramelize in the oven and how juicy, freshly pinched sausage taste on a pie. They can be composed of the same ingredients but taste totally different depending on how they are prepared.
I feel that people often get stuck on the standards. They eat what they know. And I’m not telling you to get rid of the classics. ‘Cause, I mean, is there really anything better than a perfect pepperoni slice? But it’s also fun to offer things that go outside the box. That’s what makes independent pizzerias so special. They are a reflection of the owner — who they are, where they’re from and what they love to eat. In addition to the essential (at least at a slice house like mine), don’t be afraid to branch out. Do you have a strong background in barbecue? Do you make the best Porchetta around? Is there a plethora of wild boar in your area? Well, put it on a pizza! I’ve found that customers love to see something unique, as it creates a story.
Our meatballs are one of our most popular menu items. We dish them out as a side, serve them in our homemade rolls as a grinder and also slice them up on pies. I make them as my mom always has, and my grandma used to. It is a family recipe — and now a customer favorite.
Cured meats are also a staple. They can be used in so many different ways, and how you top the pizza with them might be just as controversial as ranch! Well, maybe not that heated of a topic. But, really. Do you cook them on with the other toppings or use them as a finisher at the end? For me, it depends on the cured meat. Prosciutto should always go on after. Always. Why would you ruin its translucent beauty by drying it out in the oven? Mortadella is another, and one I learned by error. There is a ton of fat that needs to remain intact and contributes to its flavor profile, so it should also be topped after. One of my favorites is Calabrese salami. Big surprise, I know. It’s spicy. I cook it onto the pizza and afterwards top it with Calabrian chilies and shaved Parmesan for our Diavola pie or our house-made Calabrian chili honey and basil for our Hot Disco Honey Pie. The Disco offers up all of those sweet and salty elements that I crave.
Why do you think the Hawaiian is such a popular pizza? The saltiness of the ham and sweet, juiciness of the pineapple appeal to your taste buds. Now, I’m not going to debate the merits of pineapple on pizza here, but I will say that you don’t have to make this exact pizza to create the sensation it causes — especially when it comes to meats. There are endless possibilities. One of my new favorites that I just added to our menu is called the PB & AJ. It’s prosciutto, burrata, arugula and jam. Other great fruit and meat combos are: bacon and apples, peaches and prosciutto, pork sausage and cherries, lamb and pomegranate, and chicken and grapes.
There are so many different ways to prepare and utilize meat as a pizza topping. Don’t get rid of your customers’ favorite classics; but also don’t be afraid to be creative and play around outside of your comfort zone.
Get a Lamb Sausage recipe.
Audrey Kelly is the owner and pizziola at Audrey Jane’s Pizza Garage in Boulder, CO.