Pizza a la parrilla – Grilled Pizza

…or barbecued pizza.

I’m going to continue off the beaten path for a bit because I just couldn’t resist a little more experimentation. I was reading SaltShaker the other day, very well written site by the way if you have not come across it yet. Actually before I go further, if you want the dish on restaurants and cuisine in Buenos Aires–with a dash of tourism, a dollop of culture, and a heaping spoon of humor– I highly recommend you checking it out. He must go out to dinner every night for how many restaurants reviews appear each week.

Anyway, I was reading a post over there titled “Pizza BBQ“, and for the five years I lived in Buenos Aires, I never got around to sampling pizza a la parrilla. I’ve enjoyed matambre a la pizza numerous times but that is for another post. Therefore, the pizza post inspired me to give it a shot on my grill. The idea has popped into my head a few times, especially after watching an episode from a series by the guy who was voted the UK’s most annoying tv personality: Ainsley Harriot. He cooked a pie on a standard Weber-type grill and although his flamboyance was indeed annoying, the pizza made my mouth water. Since I prefer my pies to have a golden crispy top I knew I could never achieve that on my parrilla. Why? Well, if you’ve seen my parrilla then you know there is no top like your standard grill, like the one Ainsley used, and directing a good amount of heat toward the top of the pie is out of the question.

So this past Saturday I decided to turn the inspiration into reality. I figured that since this was going to be pizza a la parrilla, that I should stay true to Argentina by using the most popular toppings; mozzarella and ham. Ham is the meat topping of choice throughout Argentina much like pepperoni in the States. Still, however, I felt something extra was needed to add some smokiness to the pizza besides cooking it on a grill. Morrones, which are roasted red peppers seemed like a good choice. They’re probably right behind ham on the pizza topping popularity scale. Morrones have a smoky flavor but no, I’ll try them another time. I wanted some kind of meat topping that I could cook on the grill beforehand. Beef, chicken, or lamb didn’t win any votes because I just feel that they aren’t great pizza toppings. Panceta ahumada, or smoked bacon, would be the perfect match.

First the dough. I like to let my pizza dough rise about an hour or two before use, so I proceeded to get that out of the way and let it rise while preparing the grill. Just your standard pizza dough. I wish I had a recipe to post but sorry; pizza dough is one of those things i make without measurements. Just in case I seriously burned the dough, I made enough for about two pizzas. I was determined to have pizza that night and if the first one failed, the second would go into the oven.

Since I wasn’t preparing a full blown asado, I knew I wouldn’t need to light up a huge amount of coals. Just a decent amount to cover the bottom of the grill so that plenty of heat would not only hit the bottom of the pizza but also in the surrounding area. I also needed to cook the bacon a bit before placing the dough on the grill, therefore I cracked open a 3 kg bag of lump charcoal and lit up about 2 kilos (4.4 lbs) off to the side. I could always add more later.

When the coals were just about ready, I pulled some off the pile and placed them under the rack to get the bacon going. To be on the safe side I added some extra charcoal to the fire. I wanted to give the bacon a crispy coating and just in case, needed to make sure I had enough coals for the dough later.

On went the bacon. I lowered the grill to the lowest setting in order to cook it fairly quickly. After about 10 minutes I give it the flip and then pulled it off ten minutes after that.

Grilled Bacon

Time to make the pizza. In order for everything to run smoothly once the dough and grill were ready, I grated the cheese, sliced the ham and bacon, then prepared the sauce. A simple sauce of pureed canned tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, sugar, and a splash of lemon; sorry no recipe for that either. I then spread around the remaining pile of coals under the rack so that after rolling out the dough, I could immediately plop it onto the grill. About 10 inches, or 25.5 cm, seemed like a good height to set the rack. Still, fear was present in my head. Would the bottom blacken in less than ten seconds? Also, I preheated my oven in case the crust cooked too fast with the cheese partially melted. I figured if the problem arose I could just flash heat it under the broiler to finish it off.

I rolled out some dough to create a 14″ (35.5 cm) wide pie with the thickness of about a 1/4 inch. This was then placed on my trusty well floured pizza peel and with great caution, pushed onto the grill. Soon after it started to go a bit bubbly.

Plopped on the grill

One of the best things about this type of parrilla is that you can peek under the rack in order to prevent casualties of burn. After about 6 minutes, the bottom was getting a nice brown texture. Time to flip and pull it off the grill in order to dress the side that has browned with toppings and sauce.

Flipped

I sprinkled a little pizza adobo, a store bought mixture of red pepper flakes, basil, pimenton, and laurel, on top for some extra kick. Using my peel, I slid the pizza back onto the grill to finish it off.

Topped

The coals were not quite as hot as before, and I didn’t disturb them for a new blast of heat would have arisen if I knocked off the thin layers of ash coating. If the crust browned as quickly on this side as the other, then perhaps the toppings would be left behind on the heat race. Therefore a little extra cooking time could go a long way.

After about 6 minutes, everything was looking really great. Cheese was melting faster than I expected. I might just be able pull this off I told myself. A quick glance under the rack showed me that the crust was browning at a good rate.

Almost Ready

A couple minutes later the cheese was fully melted and the crust appeared brown and crunchy. Since I prefer my pizzas to be finished with golden and bubbly mozzarella I debated whether or not to slide this pie under the broiler for a minute or so. No. The whole point of this experiment was to see if I could create an enjoyable pizza that was strictly cooked on the parrilla so to the plate it would go.

Ready to eat

How did it turn out? Very good. I was quite pleased with myself actually. The crust didn’t have much in terms of the smokiness that I had expected; about the same as you would get with a pizza stone. I feared that the texture would be too dry but I was seriously mistaken. Slightly crisp the outside yet fluffy and moist on the inside; not chewy at all. However, I think it could’ve held up to more cooking on both sides to give it a more crunchy exterior. The toppings were not bad. Not the same texture as an oven cooked pizza but good nonetheless. Overall the pizza was very similar to one cooked on top of a pizza stone.

Would I do it again? Definitely yes, this is something I want to master. However, you won’t find me cooking this once a week. I think I could probably do two pizzas in a row but no more than that. If any guests want to eat pizza at my place it’ll come out of the oven.

Notes for next time:

I think I’ll cook the side I placed the toppings on longer next time. Also, I might rotate it a bit to brown the areas that were not exposed to the coals (see 3rd picture from above). Same goes for the second half of the cooking process. Although the cheese was thoroughly melted and the toppings were heated through, I felt it could have used a little more time on the fire. The crust needed a bit more crunch.

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