Pizza. It’s ubiquitous. It’s a fixture at parties and office break rooms, and there’s a good chance you order it from your favorite place for dinner every single week.
But there’s one setting where pizza doesn’t show up very often, and that’s in your own oven, having been made in your own kitchen. But my guest today, who’s spent decades pursuing the perfect pizza, says you ought to be making your own pies more often and will teach you the secrets to getting restaurant-quality pizza at home. His name is Dan Richer, and he’s the owner and chef of Razza in New Jersey, as well as the author of The Joy of Pizza: Everything You Need to Know.
We begin our conversation with what makes pizza such an awesome, go-to, inexhaustibly delicious dish and how to overcome the obstacles that typically prevent people from creating pizzeria-level pizza at home. Dan then gives us his recommendations on sauce, cheese, and toppings in order to create the perfect pizza pie, including his take on that most burning of questions: does pineapple belong on a pizza?
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Read the Transcript!
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Pizza, it’s ubiquitous. It’s a fixture at parties and office break rooms, and there’s a good chance you order from your favorite place for dinner every single week, but there’s one setting where pizza doesn’t show up very often, and that’s in your own oven, having been made in your own kitchen. Well, my guest today, who spent decades pursuing the perfect pizza, says you ought to be making your own pies more often. We’ll teach you the secrets of getting restaurant quality pizza at home. His name is Dan Richer, and he’s the owner and chef of Razza in New Jersey, as well as the author of, The Joy of Pizza: Everything You Need to Know. We begin our conversation with what makes pizza such an awesome go-to, inexhaustibly delicious dish, and how to overcome the obstacles that typically prevent people from creating pizzeria level pizza at home. Dan then gives us his recommendations on sauce, cheese, and toppings in order to create the perfect pizza pie, including his take on that most burning of questions, does pineapple belong in a pizza? After the show’s over, check at our show notes at aom.is/pizza.
Alright, Dan Richer, welcome to the show.
Dan Richer: Thanks for having me.
Brett McKay: Alright, well, so you’ve got a book out called The Joy of Pizza, and it’s all about making… It’s about your quest to make the perfect pizza, or get as close as you can to the perfect pizza. Tell us, what led you on this quest to get as close as you can to pizza perfection as possible?
Dan Richer: Yeah, that’s a hard question to answer. But the gist of it is, I was 26 years old. I bought a failing pizzeria, I maxed out three credit cards and borrowed very small sums of money from a lot of different people, and I… At 26, I had my own restaurant and it happened to have two wood-fired ovens and a really bad pizza recipe. And I recognized very early in my career that the restaurant business is a meritocracy; the better we are at our jobs, the more people enjoy it and return. And that’s what makes a successful restaurant. We’re good at what we do, people are gonna come back. So I just really wanted to make the pizza as good as I possibly could, and I’m still doing that every day, it’s still not… It’ll never be finished. Pizza is a life-long quest, it’s a series of choices and techniques that we use to put together a pizza, which seems so simple, everybody understands pizza, my four-year-old son understands pizza, but it’s extraordinarily complicated when you want to put it together in a way that you truly believe in.
Brett McKay: So you’re the chef of a restaurant, the Razza Pizzeria.
Dan Richer: Yes, in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Brett McKay: In Jersey City, New Jersey. What kind of pizza do you do? What’s your specialty?
Dan Richer: Okay, so we make American artisanal pizza, that’s the only way I can describe it. It’s not a New York slice, it’s not a Detroit style pizza, it’s not Sicilian, it’s not Neapolitan. Our fuel of choice happens to be wood, so we bake in a wood-fired oven. When I was coming up with the pizza of my dreams, I started writing a list of characteristics about pizza in general that I love, and that I wanted to re-create in my pizza. I knew I didn’t want it to be soft, I knew I didn’t want it to be wet and soggy, so I started with a list of maybe eight or 10 characteristics, and over the years, and over the decades at this point, I’ve accumulated a list of about 60 different characteristics about pizza that I think makes my perfect pizza. And now listen, this is my perfect pizza, it’s not everyone’s perfect pizza, but it was a set of blueprints that I used for the creation of our pizza, and it’s a list of characteristics that I use to teach my team, and hold my team accountable, and let them hold themselves accountable for producing the product that is the Razza pizza.
Brett McKay: So give us the distinct, what is your perfect pizza? What are some of the characteristics that it has? So we have an idea.
Dan Richer: Yeah, so it’s everything from the structural integrity of it. It should be able to be picked up with your hands and not have that floppy, wet soggy thing. It should have a crust that is deeply caramelized. It should have a crust that is light, airy, tender, big open holes in the crust separated by thin cell walls. The flavors of the crust should be aromatic and floral fragrant. It should smell and taste like fermented wheat, because that’s what it is. The tomatoes should have a balance between sweetness and acidity, the sweetness shouldn’t be cloying, like I added some sugar to my sauce. We don’t ever do that. Tomatoes are a fruit, and they should be sweet. The cheese should melt and flow fully on the pizza, it shouldn’t be little clumps of un-melted cheese. Yeah, there’s so many.
Brett McKay: What makes pizza… It seems like… Pizza night, that’s a tradition, I think, in most American families. What makes pizzas such a go-to food, and even mediocre pizza, even pizza that’s got the floppyness with…
Dan Richer: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Or the cardboard crust. It’s okay. You’re never like, “Oh, this is… ” I’ve never had a pizza where I was like, “This is disgusting.” I’m like, “Yeah, it was okay.”
Dan Richer: Yeah.
Brett McKay: What is it about pizza that makes it good, such a go-to?
Dan Richer: Yeah, so for me, it’s probably three or four things, one, it’s fundamentally delicious. It satisfies on a very… Deep level. Melted cheese tastes great. Who doesn’t love melted cheese? It provides a little bit of protein, fatty, rich, and then it’s balanced by a sweet yet acidic tomato, an acid always balances fat, acid is the counterpoint to fat, and sweetness is the counterpoint to acidity. So you have all of these flavors and it’s all baked on top of a fresh piece of bread, because fundamentally pizza is a flat bread with condiments baked onto it, so when you bake on something like melted cheese and sweet tomato, it’s just fundamentally delicious. There’s also the affordability factor. A pizza is not very expensive in the realm of dining out. It’s accessible and approachable to everyone. It’s probably the first food that I was able to buy for myself as a child. And I’m dating myself a little bit, but when I was a kid, a slice of pizza was $1, so I knew that I could scrounge up four quarters nestled inside my couch cushions and go to the store and buy myself a slice of pizza. And that’s childhood, that’s another thing, pizza is deeply ingrained in a child’s life.
It’s at every birthday party, after baseball games and soccer games, school events, we had pizza night twice a week when I was growing up, and it was a way for the family to come together and there’s that equity portion, that a kid gets the same slice of pizza as your parents. It levels the playing field, and it brings people around this communal dish, and I’m personally, as a chef, I’m obsessed with communal dishes. Like paella is one of my favorite things to make so we’ll make a big batch of paella and I’ll take the paella off the grill after it’s done, and I put it in the center of the table, and we all share from one communal dish. There’s just something so connected about that. And that’s one of the things that food does in general, but when everybody gets their own dish, it’s a little bit less special than when everyone shares from the center of the table.
Brett McKay: So you make pizzas for a living, but your book is about helping people make pizza at home, and I was thinking about this the other day as I was reading your book, is pizza is a simple dish. You say it’s bread with cheese and sauce and some toppings on top of it, and it can’t get simpler than that. Yet, people typically don’t make pizza at home. In our own family, we’ve made pizza at our home, in our own family before, but it’s rare that we do that, and I imagine there’s a lot of people like me as well. What do you think holds people back from making their own pizzas, despite being a simple dish?
Dan Richer: I think pizza making is a very difficult skill. I put pizza making in the same category, we’re more similar to plumbers and carpenters than we are to chefs, where we have to learn… If I was a carpenter, I have to learn the properties of wood, I have to understand the hardness and how walnut’s different from oak and maple and how to treat it slightly differently, and then I have to learn the techniques for how to join wood and put pieces… Put the pieces together to make the art. So I have to understand the science and the technique in order to practice the craft, and it’s a life-long pursuit, it’s not something that you can typically nail the first time you try it. I think I’ve… Over the course of 20 years of making pizza, the first 15 years, I had awful success when I tried to bring the restaurant’s dough to my house and just bake it in my oven. It doesn’t come out the same. The restaurant equipment is typically… The ovens are typically at a slightly higher temperature than your home oven can get, so by using a store-bought dough that was produced for, say, a higher temperature oven, which most pizza dough is, you’re gonna have bad results. What I did with my doughs in our book is I reverse-engineered the dough to bake properly in the home oven.
Brett McKay: Gotcha.
Dan Richer: Does that make sense?
Brett McKay: Yeah, that makes sense. Let’s talk about that, how people can get closer to pizza perfection in their home, like equipment… At your restaurant, you’re using wood-fired ovens, brick, people have probably seen those at different pizza restaurants. Do you need something similar in your own home to get a quality pizza?
Dan Richer: Absolutely not. And that’s one of the biggest misnomers that prevents people from making pizza in their house. “Oh, it’s the oven.” It’s not the oven. You just need to tailor your dough around the specific oven that you have. So there are high temperature ovens now for the home, like Ooni makes one, Gozney has the rock box and dome, there are… It’s a booming industry. People are getting these cool little home ovens to make a pizza that you need a higher temperature oven for. But your home oven can make equally as good, if not better pizza than any of those high temperature ovens, but you need the right formula, and that’s one of the things that we go in-depth in our book is specifically tailoring the dough recipe around the home oven, ’cause I’m not gonna use the same dough, let’s say I make one batch of dough, I can’t bake one pizza in the home oven and one pizza in my wood-fired oven. It doesn’t work like that.
Brett McKay: What is it about the dough? Maybe we can get into this, but kinda briefly…
Dan Richer: It’s really just the water content of the dough is different.
Brett McKay: Gotcha.
Dan Richer: ‘Cause water… So water is a very good conductor of heat, so because the heat is so low in a home oven, you actually need additional water in the dough.
Dan Richer: So that the heat transfers to the dough more efficiently. Now, let’s say I used a wood-fired oven, my water content would be very low because the heat is so intense that I want a low water content to prevent burning. So if I used a very wet dough in a very hot oven, the water would aid in heat transfer to the dough too efficiently and the pizza would burn, which is something… It’s not common sense. It’s… Really, I had to study a bit of thermodynamics to understand how a pizza bakes properly in different environments. It’s super interesting, and that’s the thing about pizza. It’s… Yes, it’s a simple food, but there are tons of rabbit holes that you could go down. And I really enjoy going down those rabbit holes. It’s fun, it’s engaging, it keeps me learning, it keeps me growing, it keeps my team engaged, and it’s just… It’s endless, in what we can learn from such a simple and understandable food.
Brett McKay: Okay, so the key to making good pizza at home is you gotta raise the water level in the dough, and you got recipes in the book with exact ratios on that, and it all depends on the type of oven you’re using. But besides that is there anything else people can do to cook good pizza in a conventional oven? For example, do you recommend a pizza stone?
Dan Richer: Yeah, so there are two main pieces of equipment or tools that you absolutely have to have in order to make great pizza in your home oven. Okay. One is a scale… Okay, for weighing your ingredients. You have to weigh out all of your ingredients for these recipes to work. Okay, baking is… It’s all based on ratios. The ratio of flour to water, the ratio of salt to flour, the ratio of yeast to flour. They have to be weighed out because volumetric measurements are not accurate. Your cup of flour versus my cup of flour, even if you try to scoop two cups of flour in a row, you’re gonna get different quantities of flour.
So you gotta use a scale, because 100 grams of flour is 100 grams of flour all around the world, man. So the other tool that you need is a pizza stone, a pizza steel, or some fire bricks. You have to build thermal mass into your home oven. Pizza bakes in a multi-directional way. Okay. It’s baking from the bottom up. Okay. It’s called conduction, it’s that direct contact. Your pizza’s sitting on a hot surface, okay, and it’s cooking the pizza from the bottom. Then you have radiant heat and convection, where you have moving hot air and waves of heat from all the other directions. And that’s what’s cooking the rim of the pizza and melting the cheese, cooking the toppings, and making it all come together.
So we, really… You have to balance those three types of heat, and it’s really the radiant heat and the conductive heat that we’re trying to keep in balance. Okay. Your home oven has a wire rack. There is no possible way to get that conductivity, that conduction, to cook the bottom of your pizza. So you’ll be left with a pale white… It’ll probably be completely raw on the bottom, and that’s just not delicious. You have to build that conductive heat by inserting something into your home oven to capture the heat of your oven, and then be able to transfer, by conduction, to your pizza.
Okay, so a pizza stone, a pizza steel, or even fire bricks… Every big box store sells fire bricks that you could just… Get eight or 10 of them. Put them into your oven close together, you don’t want gaps in between them. Preheat that thermal mass for a minimum of an hour. Two hours is better. You want that heat from your oven to be stored in that thermal mass, to be available for conduction. So if you don’t have that thermal mass, don’t even try to make a pizza. It’s not gonna come out great.
Brett McKay: We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. And now back to the show. Okay, so you make your dough. The thing, I think, that might intimidate a lot of people is shaping the dough into a pizza shape. So how do you get it to that… Where you have that rim of crust, and it’s not too thin in the middle? ‘Cause every time I’ve tried to stretch a pizza I’m like, “Oh, this is way too thin in the middle.” Where do people mess up, there, in the dough-shaping part?
Dan Richer: They tend to exert themselves onto the dough, and touch the dough too much. You just have to be very gentle, touch the dough as little as possible, keep the dough dry with dry hands and extra bench flour. But, honestly, gravity is one of the best stretchers of pizza out there. Just hold it up and it will stretch itself. My six-year-old daughter can make a pizza start to finish, and if she can do it, anyone can do it.
Brett McKay: How big a pizza do you go for, usually?
Dan Richer: We do 12 inch pies, ’cause that fits great in a home oven. I also like the smaller size because I can make more varieties. Right? We can start with a margarita, then we can do a mushroom pizza, then we can do anything else that we picked from our garden. Or if we happened to have leftover sauteed broccoli from the night before, I can chop it up and make a broccoli pizza. Right? So I like having a smaller pizza so I can make more of them. Plus, as we’re making pizza in my home kitchen, everybody is gathered around our center island. They’re in our kitchen. My wife, my kids… My son gets a chance to stretch one of the pies and top one of the pies, my daughter gets a chance, my wife even gets a chance. And by having that smaller pizza, it’s just a little bit more fun, it makes a night out of it. And we just… We love that because it’s again, about connectivity and being together and teaching skills, and there’s so many things we can learn about pizza that I can teach to my kids that we try to make a night out of it, it’s special.
Brett McKay: Alright, so you have the dough, that’s the foundation, the next part, the important part of the pizza is the sauce, and you keep things really simple with your sauce. Tell us about your approach.
Dan Richer: Yes. So my approach to all ingredients is buy the best raw materials and treat them as simply as possible. If you have a great tomato or a great butternut squash, you don’t have to do anything to it. They’re perfect as is. And that’s why I feel like I’m not really a chef because I just let the ingredients do the talking. But when you taste my tomatoes, it would be a crime to add garlic, oregano, basil, sugar. It’s just a crime, they’re perfect. They were grown very well, they were canned very well, and it would be sad for that tomato to lose its sense of self.
Brett McKay: Okay, so you don’t add anything to it, you just… It’s like pretty much raw. And also, the thing you don’t do is you don’t pre-cook it before you put in on your pizza.
Dan Richer: Right, right. Yeah, so 90… I’d say 95% of all pizza sauce is uncooked. And when I say “uncooked”, it’s actually… It’s been cooked once, right? When fresh tomatoes are put into a can and sealed, they have to be pasteurized. So they take the can, they cook it. So when you open a can, that tomato’s actually been cooked one time already, right?
Brett McKay: Right.
Dan Richer: That’s why a canned tomato doesn’t look the same or taste the same as a fresh tomato. We’re spreading such a thin layer of tomato sauce, we’re talking two to three ounces of tomatoes for a 12-inch round pie. The sauce is such a thin layer and it’s gonna be in your oven anywhere between two minutes and four… Two minutes and six minutes, depending on your oven of choice. In that time, that sauce is gonna cook. If I cooked it and made a pasta sauce out of it, first, it would get overly reduced and thick, acidic, pasty, it’s just not very delicious. The only time we do use a cooked tomato sauce is if we’re gonna put it on after or if I’m making a square pie or a grandma slice, if you’re familiar, that, I would use a cooked sauce, but it’s really just a small fraction of the time.
The gist of the tomato situation is buy the absolute best quality tomato that you can find. And unfortunately, the only way to know that is to buy about eight to 10 of them, open them all, take the labels off, but mark the bottom of the can, and do a double-blind taste test. And in our book, we have an instruction sheet for how to taste these tomatoes, and we’re tasting them based on their actual merits. And their actual merits are positive flavor attributes, negative flavor attributes, whether there’s an abundance of seeds and skins, the texture of them, the color of them, the sweetness, and the acidity. That’s what makes up a great tomato.
Brett McKay: So these are canned tomatoes?
Dan Richer: Exactly, yeah. Because I would never use a fresh tomato unless it’s in the peak of tomato season, wherever you’re located. And for us, in New Jersey, that is July through the first week of October. And during that time of year, we’re using fresh tomatoes and it’s a completely different experience, it’s just… It’s phenomenal, it’s so delicious. But the rest of the year, it’s always canned tomatoes because they’re grown in their peak of season, they’re packed when they’re super ripe, and then they’re good all year long.
Brett McKay: Are there brands you found that are pretty consistently good?
Dan Richer: There are, yeah. The one we use at the restaurant is not available retail, it’s a wholesale only. But at the restaurant, we have… We always have about four or five different tomatoes in the restaurant at all times and we use them in different methods. We have a yellow tomato from Southern Italy that is just mind-blowing and we make a yellow Margherita out of it. And when you see this pizza, it looks like a pizza, it doesn’t look like a Margherita, but if you close your eyes, it tastes like a Margherita. And these tomatoes are just glorious. We also have a tomato from the Southern part of New Jersey, which is where I live, so that kinda tells a story of time and place. And we use it on a pizza that we call the “Jersey Margherita ” ’cause we’re located in New Jersey, and we want a pizza that kinda tells the story of time and place, right?
Brett McKay: Okay. So sauce, keep it simple, canned tomatoes, you don’t have to cook it again, don’t add oregano, don’t…
Dan Richer: Yeah, but taste. But taste those tomatoes…
Brett McKay: Taste the tomatoes before…
Dan Richer: And use the best one that you… Use the winner of your tomato tasting and use that all year. And for me, when I go to the supermarket, I’m walking up and down the tomato isle looking for a new brand that I’ve never tasted before, and if I ever do see a new one, I’m buying it, tasting it up against what I currently use, and if it’s better, I’ll switch to that better tomato. But tomatoes are a product of agriculture, and every year, they might be subtly different. So just because you bought this tomato from Julia last year and it was phenomenal, maybe you should taste it next winter and see if that next vintage, the next season of it, is the same because it very well might not be. Especially if it’s an Italian tomato because their canning technology is not nearly as advanced as our canning technology here in the United States.
Brett McKay: And also, the sauce is like less is more. I think a lot of people will be tempted just to slather the thing, you don’t wanna do that.
Dan Richer: Yeah, yeah. In our book, we… Each of the pizza recipes has a before the bake picture and then after the bake picture. So you can see how much of each ingredient really goes on and it’s way less than you actually think. It’s human nature to just wanna put more and more and more on ’cause you spent a lot of time cutting that cheese and making your other toppings, of course, you think it needs a little bit more than it actually does.
Brett McKay: Okay. So let’s move to cheese. What’s your go-to… Is mozzarella your go-to cheese for pizza?
Dan Richer: So mozzarella is my go-to. We always have at least two different types of mozzarella, but really any cheese is great for pizza, as long as you like it, right? I can tell you Taleggio is the best cheese for pizza, but if you think Taleggio smells like feet, and you are disgusted by it, that would be the worst cheese possible for you. So, number one, use what you like, but really look at cheese, look at the cheese, right? If you’re gonna put the cheese on before you bake it, the cheese has to be a good melter, and some good melting cheese are mozzarella, Taleggio, scamorza, any of the Swiss cheeses like Gruyere, raclette. There are great melting cheeses out there. So if you’re gonna put the cheese on before the bake, make sure it’s a good melter.
After the bake is a completely different story. Then you can use hard, grating cheeses like, of course, Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, Pecorino Romano. But even if… Let’s say you love goat cheese and you wanna make a goat cheese pizza, well, goat cheese doesn’t melt at all. It kinda just stays put and gets crusty and weird, so put it on after the bake. So just look at the cheese that you love and decide if it’s a good melter, if it’s a good melter before the bake, if it’s a bad melter after the bake.
Brett McKay: So how do you spread your cheese out on your pizza so you ensure adequate coverage and you want that structural integrity so things don’t just plop off when you lift the pizza to your mouth?
Dan Richer: Yeah. So the quantity is super important. It’s more important than the actual moisture content of it. So I do a wetter mozzarella that will flow fully and completely, but I tend to use much less of it than if I was using a drier, more processed mozzarella. So, quantity really is everything here.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. So let’s do the toppings. We got the dough, sauce, cheese…
Dan Richer: Yes.
Brett McKay: What are your go-to toppings for pizza? This is the fun part.
Dan Richer: Oh, sky is the limit, man. Sky is the limit, everything from… So we have a little, a sad little backyard garden that, depending on how much time and energy I have, it grows great things or just sits there and does nothing, but anything that grows can make a great pizza topping. Like I said earlier, even leftover sauteed broccoli or spinach or… Really, the sky is the limit. If you like it…
Brett McKay: You got a corn pizza. You got… There’s corn pizza.
Dan Richer: Hell yeah, biggest selling seasonal pizza all year.
Brett McKay: Is the corn pizza?
Dan Richer: By far. Yeah.
Brett McKay: Wait. Okay, so what… Do you use like a regular Margherita sauce on that? What do you do for that?
Dan Richer: No, no.
Brett McKay: No, okay.
Dan Richer: That’s a white pie. So we do fresh mozzarella, a little scamorza cheese, which is a cousin of mozzarella, it’s a drier, more aged mozzarella, a little bit of shaved onion, and in-season corn. I would never make this corn pizza any other time of the year except August, September, okay, because the corn is completely different when it’s out of season. We want it to be that glorious taste of summer where you bite into the pizza and each kernel pops in your mouth with sweetness. And then we pair it with a little bit of fermented chili paste that we make to increase the heat, which balances the sweetness of the corn. And, listen, I know you guys, whoever’s listening out there, you’re gonna think I’m nuts for putting corn on a pizza, but trust me, follow me on Instagram, watch the reactions to people when they bite into this corn pizza. It sounds weird, but when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, man. And in August, in New Jersey, we got corn everywhere, and it is good if it’s treated properly.
Brett McKay: So when you… So a lot of your toppings are dependent on in-season, ’cause you like to use in-season… Seasonal ingredients.
Dan Richer: Yes, because a strawberry in the middle of January does not taste like a strawberry.
Brett McKay: Have you put a strawberry on a pizza before?
Dan Richer: I know it’s a bad reference because I would never put a strawberry on a pizza. But the gist of my topping situation is, number one, I pick a star of the show, I pick a main character. So, if peas are coming in my garden and I have these glorious fresh peas that I can only get really three weeks a year, if I have those fresh peas, I’m gonna pair them with something super, super simple and complementary. So complementary to a pea would be something like a really delicate ricotta cheese, maybe a little bit of guanciale or bacon. We try to keep that supporting character complementary and not overpowering.
I love meats on my pizza, so obviously pepperoni is the world’s favorite pizza topping, besides cheese. I love other cured meats, prosciutto, speck. I try to keep it really, really simple. When I choose my toppings, it’s kind of like being the conductor of a symphony. You’re not really playing a role here, you’re just putting the pieces together and making sure that they’re all in harmony, right? And we try to keep them in balance with each other.
Brett McKay: Well, speaking of pepperoni, I love pepperoni pizza, but there’s a particular type of pepperoni pizza that I like. I like it when it’s cooked in a way where the pepperoni kind of curls up.
Dan Richer: Cuppers.
Brett McKay: Cuppers. Those… I don’t like it when it’s just the big giant…
Dan Richer: Lay-flat.
Brett McKay: Lay-flat, I don’t like that, because it’s all floppy and gross.
Dan Richer: There’s lay-flat, and there’s cuppers.
Brett McKay: I like the cup ’cause it’s crispy on that edge and it hits nice.
Dan Richer: Exactly.
Brett McKay: Is that your preference?
Dan Richer: Yeah, we’re cuppers here.
Brett McKay: What makes the pepperoni cupper lay-flatter?
Dan Richer: So, if it’s sliced to the right thickness, cuppers are typically sliced a little thicker and they’re also in a natural casing. And the casing, I guess, contracts faster than the meat and… You get that cup when it… Once it hits a certain temperature. I prefer cuppers cut to a very specific thickness. For our pepperoni, we actually have to slice on a deli slicer every round of pepperoni that goes on our pizza. It’s very labor-intensive, but for me, it’s a no-brainer. It’s very well worth it. I love those two different textures where the rim of the pepperoni is a little bit caramelized and crispy, but the bottom lays flat. There’s a little pool of pepperoni juice. We actually shave garlic on top of that pizza, like super, super thin. And when a slice, a really thin slice of garlic gets stuck in one of those pepperoni cups and, from the heat of the oven, it gets fried in that pepperoni oil, that is one of my favorite bites of food in all of humanity.
Brett McKay: That sounds… My mouth is watering right now just thinking about that.
It sounds like your takeaway with toppings, you’re asking or suggesting to people to open up their horizons when it comes to toppings. Don’t just think sausage, pepperoni, bell peppers, mushrooms, there’s other stuff you could try as well.
Dan Richer: Yes, but if you are a simple person like I am… If I could make one pizza for the rest of my life, it would be a Margherita pizza like no questions asked. When I’m at my house, I always make at least one Margherita. It’s kind of my gold standard. It offers comfort. It offers challenge. It offers creativity. Like I said, we have four or five different tomatoes in the restaurant. And if we change one product on the Margherita, it completely changes the experience of that pizza.
Brett McKay: Okay. Here’s the question, Does pineapple belong on pizza?
Dan Richer: I get that question all the time.
Brett McKay: I know you do. What’s your take?
Dan Richer: Yeah. Okay, so me, personally, I do not make a pineapple pizza. If my restaurant, Razza, was located in Hawaii or Costa Rica or anywhere where pineapples grow down the street, and there’s a huge abundance of them, I would put them on a pizza. Granted, pineapples have sweetness and acidity, right? That’s what a pineapple is, sweetness and acidity. So I would not add tomato sauce, which also offers sweetness and acidity. That is not a good combination, but I would do a white pie with a little bit of fresh pineapple, definitely never canned pineapple. That’s just an abomination. [chuckle]
Brett McKay: Well, speaking of…
Dan Richer: But frank…
Brett McKay: Okay. Speaking of the regional differences of pizza, you just reminded me of something. When I lived in Mexico, they had pizza down in Mexico, but they would put jalapeno peppers on it, but fresh out of the can jalapeno pepper sliced. But then here’s the weird thing, a lot of people down in Mexico, at least in Tijuana, they get a piece of pizza and they would pour ketchup on top of their pizza.
Dan Richer: Ah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Abomination.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I never… I tried it because when you’re in Mexico, you gotta do what the Mexicans do. It was okay, but I just thought it was a kind of a weird thing that they decided, “Okay, you have this tomato-based food, you’re gonna put more tomato on top of it.”
Dan Richer: Yeah. Yeah, you’re not speaking my language here because I can’t stand ketchup. I think it’s the worst condiment out there. There’s so many better condiments in the world than ketchup.
Brett McKay: I don’t like ketchup either. Yeah. I’ve noticed I’ve kind of… I’ve stopped using ketchup, even when we have a burger and fries. I don’t dip. I don’t…
Dan Richer: Yeah. Give me mayo all day long.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Mayo and… I like mustard. I like the punch of it and that’s pretty much it.
Dan Richer: I love mustard.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Okay. If you’re in Hawaii, you might put pineapple on a pizza.
Dan Richer: Yeah, but if you like pineapple and if you grew up on it and you have this deep connection to your childhood eating ham and pineapple pizza, who am I to tell you what you should like or dislike? I’m nobody. You should keep doing what you do and enjoy it.
Brett McKay: How long do you cook these pizzas for? You said like six to eight… Was it four to six minutes depending on the oven?
Dan Richer: Well, it depends on the oven. In a wood-fired oven, you’re looking at… For my bake time and temperature, we’re looking at two to three minutes in a high-temperature oven. In a home oven, we’re looking at six to eight minutes for a round pie, about 20 minutes for a square pie.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. Okay. It’s not that long. That’s the nice thing about pizza is it’s fast.
Dan Richer: Exactly.
Brett McKay: You can get it fast. When you take it out, do you like to let the pizza rest? Is there anything you like to add to the pizza after it’s done?
Dan Richer: Yeah. I always land my pizza out of the oven on a wire cooling rack to let the steam kind of escape, because if I put it onto a flat surface like a plate, all the steam would get trapped between the plate and the pizza, and your crust would get a little soggy. I like to land it on a wire cooling rack for at least 10, 15 seconds. I’ll add any other finishing toppings like arugula or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. I’ll grate that on while it’s cooling. And then I move it off the cooling rack and slice and it’s go time.
Brett McKay: Well, Dan, I’m feeling really, really hungry right now. This has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?
Dan Richer: Yeah. You can go to thejoyofpizzabook.com. There’s also links on my Instagram. My personal Instagram is @danricher. The restaurant’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook is @razzanj. So that’s, R-A-Z-Z-A-N-J like New Jersey dot com or… Not dot com, but that’s our website too.
Brett McKay: Awesome. Well, Dan Richer, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Dan Richer: Dude, thank you. And thank you for all of the information you’ve given me through this podcast. What you’re doing is so special, and how you’re doing it is just really fantastic.
Brett McKay: Well, thank you so much. That means a lot. My guest here is Dan Richer. He’s the author of the book, The Joy of Pizza. It’s available on amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. You can find more information about the book at his website, thejoyofpizzabook.com. Also, check out our show notes at aom.is/pizza where you can find links to resources where we delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of The AOM Podcast. Make sure to check out our website at artofmanliness.com where you can find our podcast archives, as well as thousands of articles written over the years about pretty much anything you can think of. And if you’d like to enjoy ad-free episodes of The AOM podcast, you can do so on Stitcher Premium. Head over to stitcherpremium.com, sign up, use code “manliness” at checkout for a three-month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android or iOS, and you can start enjoying ad-free episodes of The AOM Podcast. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate it if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple Podcast or Stitcher. It helps out a lot. If you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think will get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, it’s Brett McKay reminding you to not only listen to The AOM Podcast but put what you’ve heard into action.