Co. Chef Jim Lahey on Homemade Pizza and Infecting Himself with Hookworms
Jim Lahey revolutionized home bread making with the simple no-knead technique he perfected at the Sullivan Street Bakery. He then turned his attention to pizza, dishing up inventive pies at Chelsea pizzeria Co. And now you can make Jim's pizza at home. He's got a new cookbook out called My Pizza: The Easy No-Knead Way to Make Spectacular Pizza at Home. We called him up to learn more about making pizza at home and ended up learning a hell of a lot more than we ever wanted to know about infecting oneself with hookworms.
Squire Fox Jim Lahey makes awesome pizzas and awesomer home remedies.
I think people are intimidated to make pizza at home when it's so easy to call for delivery. How easy is it to make pizza at home?
How hard or easy is it to boil an egg or cook it? I don't think it's more difficult than any other food people can process. When you make a steak or burger or roast a chicken, a certain set of things are useful to know. ... Some people have prejudices of what they're used to eating or seeing, whether it's watching Melissa Clark [make pizza] on a JetBlue flight [television] or [eating at] their local pizzeria. When they go to make pizza, they're going to emulate that. At the end of the day, you'll enjoy the things based on experience. ... I wrote my book for people to create their experience and open up the dialogue for that experience: how we make food and dressing a pie and cooking it. I can't control their baggage, and that can be the standards they're used to. There's social discourse with food about how popularized food is by food blogs. Every assistant I have has a food blog. Food in its digital form is feeding the latest bubble, but the book I wrote is not trying to confront that, but to give people the basic tools to have fun and make pizza at home.
What's the essential equipment people need to buy?
A good pizza stone. You can go online and find a kiln supply store and find a kiln tile you can cook on. You'll want to season it first, though. Take a batch of dough and practice dough-making techniques and get it dirty and cook off anything that might not be nice in it. If you don't have a good pizza stone, take a 12- to 14-inch Lodge cast-iron skillet or griddle and use that. And then you have to have a reasonably good but not great oven and know how your oven works. It's a matter of looking around in your kitchen and having fun. Practice the thing that you're making and look at the results. You can follow the recipe to the letter and be blown away because it exceeds expectations, or you can follow the instructions and not be blown away because it falls short of your expectations, but you won't know until you try it out. The book really just wanted to open the dialogue.
A home oven isn't as hot as a pizza one, though. How high do you need to go?
If you have the fancy equipment and gizmos like lasers you're looking for up to 600 or greater, that's awesome, but if not, that's OK, too.
What's the most popular pizza sold at Co.?
The Margherita, which, regardless, is ultimately the test. You couldn't open a pizzeria and not have a good Margherita pizza. And the Popeye, our spinach pie.
How do you come up with the ideas for your toppings?
99.9 percent of all your ideas sound great and look good on paper. Well, maybe 95 percent. I'll do this, I'll do that, but usually they aren't that interesting at least to inspire reproduction. However, I would say if the dish works well in pasta, then there's a pizza equivalent out there. Lots of recipes I came up with are inspired by pasta. Or vice versa.