Recipe: Vaughn's Perfect Skillet Pizza
Making restaurant-style pie in the home kitchen can be tough. The author shares his technique.
Instructions for a home pizza of stunning perfection: Four to six days before you want pizza, prepare a good dough and allow it to mature. I can add nothing to Jeff Varasano's minutely detailed instructions. Shape the dough into single-serving balls and allow to mature in the fridge.
Sixty to 80 minutes before you want your pizza, take the dough out. Lightly coat each ball in oil a separate bowl and leave to warm up to room temperature and double in size. Do not overlook the oil, as it prevents the dough from adhering frustratingly to the bowl later on. If the dough isn't doing much of anything after 20 to 30 minutes, placing it in a gently-warmed oven accelerates the process: switch on the oven for a minute, then shut it off and open the door to vent hot air before placing the dough inside.
Prepare your sauces and toppings. Have all the toppings grated, cut, and ready for extremely rapid deployment.
Prepare your broiler by putting baking sheets or other heat-proof objects under the broiler. The skillet will rest upon these objects so it is as close to the heating element as possible. You should be able to slide the skillet under the broiler easily.
Turn on the broiler and preheat the dry, ungreased skillet on the stovetop on the highest setting for eight to 10 minutes. As soon as you begin heating the skillet, lightly flour a wood cutting board, or better yet a pizza peel.
Note that everything in this step should happen within three to four minutes: With about four minutes of skillet heating to go, begin to shape your pizza. Scoop a ball of risen dough out of its bowl, taking care to deflate it as little as possible. Holding it gently by an edge, allow gravity to stretch it out. Move around the edge so that the ball of dough becomes a thin disk with a slightly thicker edge all around. Speed is of the essence. Lay the disk on the floured board and shake the board from side to side to prevent the dough from sticking. Immediately sauce it lightly, being careful not to deflate the dough by pressing down with your saucing spoon, then add toppings. If you dally, the wet dough will stick to your board and be impossible to slide it onto the hot skillet.
Slide the pizza into the skillet. You may find that having another pair of hands to guide the leading edge of the pizza onto the skillet helps. There is no way to get this right without practice or to describe in words the experience of sliding a damp, soft, floppy disk of dough covered in liquids onto a smoking iron skillet. Your first pizza is likely to be a mess, but you should bake it anyway. Persevere, but clean the charred bits off the skillet before you do so.
When your pizza is in the skillet, immediately take the skillet off the flame and place it in the preheated broiler with the handle of the skillet pointing as far to one side of the oven as possible. Close the broiler door quickly. Place a heatproof dish into the main oven compartment (not the broiler) to warm up.
After 45 seconds, rotate the skillet so that the handle points to the opposite side of the oven. After one and a half minutes, pull out the pizza to see if the unsauced rim has begun to char lightly. If not, push the skillet back in. If your broiler runs cool, your pizza may take up to three minutes to cook. Then remove the pizza and place it on the now-warm plate you put in the oven in step seven. Enjoy, jumping up and down with pleasure both during and after each bite.