It seems to me that most operators are scared of putting raw sausage on a pizza. I hear it all the time. Sometimes they blame it on the health department. Or they say that if raw sausage is not handled properly it can be a big problem. Of course that could be true. But as long as raw sausage is kept at 40 F, it is not expired, your employees wash their hands before and after use and it is applied correctly, then it should be perfectly safe.
Another excuse is that pinching raw sausage may slow down your line because of the extra time it takes to pinch each piece. That’s correct as well — but that little extra time it takes can’t compare to the overall flavor you achieve from raw sausage that is cooked on a pizza. It cannot be surpassed by any pre-cooked product on the market. Back in the day when pre-cooked sausage (or what I called rat pellets or droppings) was introduced, I was never a fan. This was decades ago and it looked and tasted terrible. Since then manufacturers have made several changes including size, flavor and appearance. The pre-cooked or boiled type sausage today has made significant improvements in quality. I would have to admit that you may have seen me recently testing these pre-cooked sausage samples at Pizza Expo.
Still, I prefer pinched raw sausage for any style of pizza. A lot of people say that raw sausage won’t have enough time to cook thoroughly when you’re cooking at 900 F in a wood-burning oven. That’s not true. Understanding that when you cook raw sausage at certain degrees the mass of the sausage is important. Typically, in higher degree ovens the raw sausage should be pinched flat in dime size pieces. This will allow your raw sausage to cook better, faster and more thoroughly. You should also apply any raw ingredient on the top of your pizza and make it the last ingredient before going into your oven.
Some pizzerias have pineapple juice on the side so employees can dip their fingers into it. This releases the sausage from their fingers faster, helps with browning and sweetens the sausage because of the sugar content. Remember that this pineapple juice has to be changed within three hours of use and employees should wash their hands before and after. Old timers would use olive juice, too. Olive juice is typically discarded in pizzerias — but not for pizza makers that use raw sausage. That’s how I was taught by a 50-year-old veteran over 25 years ago.
Remember that the longer the bake the larger the sausage can be. In Chicago-style deep-dish pizza that is typically cooked between 450 to 525 F, sausage can range from quarter size pieces to half-dollar size. Sometimes you will even see a large patty size sausage that can fill the entire inner circumference of the pan within the dough. These pizzas are cooked for 25-45 minutes, so there is enough time for the sausage to be cooked through. Years ago a friend named Leo Spizziri was using the same tomato sauce that goes on the pizza to apply his raw sausage onto his Chicago deep dish. He was super-fast and would add the tomato sauce to his fingers and then apply. It was a cool trick to see. That was when he was working for Giordano’s in Chicago. The fastest fresh sausage applicators that I have ever seen were working at JB Alberto’s in Chicago. These guys were so fast I couldn’t believe my eyes. They have been around for 50 years and still today they use raw sausage on all of the pizzas. They are one of the highest-grossing independent pizzerias in the nation, by the way.
Next month I’ll give you a look at how and why I actually use several different sausage types in my shops.
RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento. Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.