Sous Vide

 

sous vide
/ˌso͞o ˈvēd/
noun

Sous vide, which means “under vacuum” in French, refers to the process of vacuum-sealing food in a bag, then cooking it to a very precise temperature in a water bath. This technique produces results that are impossible to achieve through any other cooking method. –  Anovaculinary 

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Our sous vide station.

I have been cooking for a long time, starting in the late 1970’s.  First as a prep cook in a neighborhood restaurant, while in high school, making beer money.  I had no passion for food at the time.  I was still feeling my way through life, not sure what I was going to do.  Slowly, and I mean really slowly, I found that I not only was pretty good at cooking, I was actually enjoying it.  Looking back I don’t think it was the food that I was falling for.  Rather, I was an impressionable young man who enjoyed the camaraderie, the manual work and the fact that a free beer was never far from reach.  However, the more I cooked and discovered new foods my passion finally blossomed…I digress.

This post is supposed to be about sous vide, my digression stems from- In those many years of cooking there have been a few techniques or processes that I have learned which have changed the way I cook and think about food. Cooking sous vide is probably the biggest one for me, with whole animal butchery / charcuterie being a close second (see my 10 part “Death of a Pig” blog post).

When I first encountered cooking sous vide I remember thinking- cooking something in a pot of water in a plastic bag…how lame; what skill does that take?  Well, I was quite wrong.

About 14 years ago we started experimenting using a big pot of water, Ziplock Bags and an instant read thermometer on a burner where we would constantly check the temp and adjust the heat.  I quickly realized that this was a great  cooking method.  We could perfectly cook a piece of meat ahead of time, taking the guess work and timing with a lot more possibilities of screwing something up out of the equation.  Once the meat was cooked ahead of time, perfectly, all we had to do is once the customer ordered and it was time to pick-up the meat all you had to do give a quick sear to the meat and serve it.  No more inexperienced cook fucking-up an expensive piece of meat.

Our experiments started with meats using the ziplock method, now we have several immersion circulators and a restaurant size vacuum sealer that are in constant use cooking all sorts of different things; red meats, burgers, chicken, vegetables, eggs, fish and even an occasional pudding for part of a dessert.  Gone are the days of over cooked chicken breast (sorry, Trisha), every chicken breast we serve is moist and tender.

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My initial trepidation was replaced with “why wouldn’t we cook this way”…a little bit more forethought (prep before service) equals serving a better, more consistent product, it only makes sense.

Sous vide cooking is not just for the professional kitchen,  My Anova immersion circulator and FoodSaver vacuum sealer have been an integral parts of my home kitchen for the past 10 years.

I highly recommend all cooks- pros, wanna-be pros and amateurs to get into sous vide cooking.

The below link is to an informative article in Bon Appetit Magazine.

https://www.bonappetit.com/story/what-is-sous-vide-cooking

 

 

 

 

New Vegetarian Dish

Polenta Croquette with Braised Spinach, Stracciatella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Parsley, Last Summer’s Tomato Sauce and Pine Nut Crunch  

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I have written in the past about my approach to vegetarian dishes, you can check out my previous post here.

 

This dish came about when I was thinking about what should we do with all of the plum tomatoes that we put up in Mason jars this past summer.  To me that’s the coolest thing about this dish; we are using local tomatoes in the middle of January. Sure they’re not fresh tomatoes. However, they were bought from local farms (Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, MA and Kimball Fruit Farm in Pepperell, MA) during the height of the local season. So.. we are still supporting the local community and best of all- they’re freaking delicious!

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To go with the tomatoes-we made polenta croquettes with Four Star Farm’s (Northfield, MA) cornmeal.  We braised The Food Project’s (Roxbury, MA) spinach and topped the croquette with  stracciatella from The Mozzarella House (Peabody, MA).

This one of the many vegetarian dishes that we have produced where you don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy.

Spotlight on Peter and Colleen McCarthy

About a year ago (maybe, closer to 2) we got a new website; with the new site my blog got lost in the shuffle for a while. Well it’s back and I’m going to start with a post that Steve Kurland our business partner and the general manager in Kendall Square produced for EVOO’s 20th anniversary.  At the time we had been periodically writing a spotlight about different employees.  Steve would ask them a bunch of questions and I would write an intro with a few anecdotes about the employee and through in a few photos. For EVOO’s anniversary post Steve wanted to Spotlight Colleen and I.

I’m pretty sure that this post did go out on social media, so it may be old news to some of you.  But I do think it should be in a blog since there is so much of our and EVOO’s history in it.

 

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Me and Colleen in Spain.

Spotlight on Colleen and Peter McCarthy, by Steve Kurland

I first met Colleen and Peter when I lived in Union Square. EVOO was just opening in its original location on Beacon Street in Somerville and I loved the place. The food was locally-sourced, unique, and of course delicious. It was the atmosphere though, that first attracted me. I could feel the love and care in EVOO. The staff truly cared, and everyone did their best to make EVOO successful. As a guest, EVOO was warm,welcoming, and customers quickly became regulars. 

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EVOO’s original sign from Beacon Street in Somerville

I soon became friendly with Peter and Colleen, so when I looked to get out of the corporate restaurant world, I asked if they knew of any opportunities at independent restaurants. Luckily, this was just as Za, in Arlington, was getting ready to open. so timing was perfect. It has been 14 years. and I am genuinely happy I found such great partners.

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Za, 138 Massachusetts Ave. Arlington

Colleen is one of the kindest people I know. She truly cares about all the people she comes in touch with at the restaurants. Long-time guests are friends, and Colleen goes to great lengths to take care of employees who need her help.

I admire Peter’s high standards and drive, but mostly appreciate his passion. He puts his imprint on the restaurant every day–through his concern for people, and for our environment. He has taught so much to so many, and has worked on sustainability long before it became the popular thing to do.

Colleen

You are a proud and capable CPA. How were you drawn into the restaurant business?

Pete dragged me in… For years, Pete aspired to open his own restaurant. I knew he would someday open a restaurant but honestly didn’t think about how it would impact my career. At the time I was working for Parent, McLaughlin & Nangle, CPAs, and really enjoyed my job. 

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We opened EVOO in June 1998, and for the first two years I worked both jobs. I would work at PM&N during the day, and then head to the restaurant most nights. It was pretty exhausting (especially during tax season), but hey, I was only 29 and we didn’t have kids yet, so it’s what I did. 

A few years in, the front of the house manager told us that she was moving on, so Pete and I talked it over, and I made the decision to leave public accounting and work at EVOO full-time. It wasn’t an easy decision, but a decision I’m glad I made. Of course, we weren’t sure about how we would be working together, but figured we’d give it a shot. It’s been great. As long he understands that I’m always right things will go smoothly! 

As EVOO comes up to its 20th Anniversary, how is it different than you thought it would be in 1998?

I never thought we’d be operating in a larger space in Kendall Square, that’s for sure. 

We opened ‘old’ EVOO on Beacon Street in Somerville. It was a 70 seat restaurant with a small bar and open cooking line. We had an amazing core staff and a lot of long-term regular guests. One of our regulars was developing the Watermark Building, and invited us to take a look at the space. At the time, our son Shane had just been born, and we had recently opened the first Za in Arlington, so I was in no position to take on that move. 

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A few years later, when the residential piece was complete, we were approached by yet another regular who was in charge of leasing the space at the time. This time around, the move made sense… so after twelve years, we moved EVOO to Kendall Square. The ‘new’ EVOO has 120 seats, including three rooms that can be private rooms. We also opened a second Za location in an adjacent space, with a shared bar. I’m not sure what I was thinking taking on this project when our kids were one and four, but it was a good decision. Kendall Square is a pretty cool place to be!

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You are surrounded by your family and long-time friends at work. How did this happen?

First and foremost, I’m really lucky to work with my husband, Pete. The rest sort of just happened. Dan, my brother, was the first employee; he worked the bar a few nights a week to help us when we first opened. 

Nina, who I’ve known since I was 16, and grew up with Pete, started working with us a few years later. Steve was a regular and friend at ‘old’ EVOO, and he became a co-worker when we opened Za in Arlington. He became a partner when we opened in Kendall.

Then, there’s a whole lot of people that started working at EVOO and Za who have  become long-time friends. I joke I’ve known Tiego for over half of his life. We’ve even had a few nieces and nephews of long-time employees come to work for us, so that’s pretty cool. We are really lucky to have such a great bunch to work with!

Do you have a favorite all-time EVOO menu item?

Beef Tenderloin EVOO

The Garlic and Parsley Studded Beef Tenderloin with Sweet ‘n’ Smoky Onions, Sour Cream Whipped Potatoes, Carrots and Orange Béarnaise is my all time favorite EVOO dish. I used to joke with Pete that if he ever took it off the menu, our marriage may be over. He did take it off the menu for a short time (was he testing me??) because he wasn’t able to locally source the cut he wanted to offer. Thankfully, he was able to find a new source for local grass fed center cut tenderloin, so our marriage survived! 

What do you look for when you go to other restaurants?

Good food and good service. Sometimes you want to just go out and grab a quick dinner, but the food should still be good and the service, welcoming and friendly (see pet peeve below!). Obviously, the restaurant has to be clean too. It’s always interesting to watch the way the staff interacts. My kids even comment on various things we see. We usually joke those are the things we discuss in the car on the way home

What makes you crazy when you go to other restaurants?

My biggest pet peeve is when no one thanks me on the way out, or says goodnight. I find it especially frustrating when employees and managers are standing right there, but don’t acknowledge us, or bother to thank us. There are so many dining options, and feeling appreciated on the way out or not impacts whether or not I want to go back. It’s your last impression on the way out.

Who cooks at home, and what’s your favorite dish to make?

When he’s home, Pete cooks, we are pretty spoiled. Unfortunately for me, Pete’s not home most nights, so the nights I’m home, I’m head chef. I call myself a mom-cook. I cook pretty basic food, but I think I cook it pretty well. 

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Our son Shane (13) will eat anything, and I mean anything. He was the kid who wanted to try a fish eyeball when he was 11 (no thank you). And then there is Caitlin (10). She’s a little fussier, but she’s come a long way. The other day, I asked them what my best dish is. Shane said steak and cheese subs, and chicken piccata.Caitlin said homemade mac ‘n cheese, and fettuccine alfredo. We always make it a point to try to sit down for dinner together on the nights we’re home. 

 

Peter

You have spent so much of your life and career working with and promoting local food and local purveyors. What motivated you to start working this way?

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While working at The Bostonian Hotel in the 1980’s and 90’s, I was exposed to a few local farmers: Eva Sommaripa from Eva’s Garden, Verrill Farm’s, Ken Ryan’s Van, and Roger Jones to name a few. They were so passionate about what they were growing, I wanted to support them by buying as much as of their produce as we could use. It helps put meaning into what we do; we strive to be a part of our community.

As EVOO comes up on its 20th anniversary, how is it different than you thought it would be in 1998?

I don’t know, in 1998 we were just trying get by; there was a lot to figure out. We were mostly thinking day to day not really looking too far ahead. After a few years, we settled in and moved ahead, opening Za in Arlington. A few years later we moved EVOO to Kendall Square and opened a second Za location in an adjacent space. It will be interesting to see what the next 20 years will bring. 

You are surrounded by your family and long-time friends at work. How did this happen?

They all threatened to expose me for what I really am. So, we’re stuck with them.

Where do you like to eat when you’re not working?

My favorite place to eat is at home, with Colleen and our children–whether it’s a simple meal on the grill, or an elaborate all day experience, there is no place I would rather be. 

Do you have a favorite dining experience (other than EVOO and Za, of course)?

It’s sunset on the beach in Nerja, Spain. I’m with my brother Steve, brother-in-law Dan and a couple of friends, and we go into the beach-side bar and for some beer, and ask about food. The proprietor sends us out to the beach with our beers, assuring us food will be taken care of. 

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A few minutes later the proprietor is making a wood fire on the beach, stoking it, adding a bit more wood as needed, replenishing our beers. Once the coals are just right he brings a bucket of fish out to the fire. He skewers the fish on fairly thick planks, slits the skin to keep it from curling while cooking, and seasons the fish with coarse salt. He then jammed the planks into the sand, so the fish would lean over the fire, with their drippings creating a pleasant smoke while gently cooking them. All the while, he kept the beer flowing. When the fish was finished, he simply slid the fish off the planks on top of some crisp romaine lettuce, adding a healthy squeeze of lemon juice and a long drizzle of EVOO. It was so good!!! Quite often the simplest preparations are the best.

Paul Bocuse

The other extreme would be upon visiting Paul Bocuse’s eponymous restaurant in Lyon, France, where the master himself met Colleen and I at the door with flutes of Champagne, giving us a wonderful personal tour of the restaurant, followed by a perfectly prepared and presented 8 course meal. 

You mentor many people? Any hints for others, and did you have an important professional mentor?

Treat people how you would want to be treated. 

Kitchen work is stressful enough; you don’t need some egotist with a tall hat and limited skills yelling at you, blaming you for their inadequacies. 

Give good directions and constantly follow through with critiques that will make your cooks better. Understand that everyone is different, so you should find ways to use an individual’s strengths, and guide them to better their weaknesses.

Bill Poirrier

Chef Billy Poirier

Professional mentors? Billy Poirier was the Executive Chef at the Bostonian Hotel when I started working there in 1987; it was an eye-opening experience. My previous experiences at lesser quality restaurants, and at culinary school paled in comparison to the food being prepared at the time, which was, all made in-house with seasonal ingredients.

Other mentors whom I did not work with, but respect their work, are Gordon Hamersley, Jasper White, Lydia Shire, and Alice Waters.

 

 

Employee Spotlight – Athena Hay

Athena Photo

March’s Employee Spotlight is a shout out to Athena Hay.  Athena’s contagious smile has been welcoming our guests at EVOO for almost a year.  As a host she is often the first and last person to interact with our guests, and she is exactly the type of person we want for that job:  friendly, outgoing and affable.  When you arrive at EVOO she may be there to greet you with her professional yet vibrant demeanor shining through, assuring you that we will take great care of you.

As usual Steve Kurland our General Manager and business partner, took on the task of presenting this month’s employee spotlight, Athena Hay, with questions.  Read on and get to know her a little better.

How long have you worked at EVOO and in which job(s)?   I’ve worked at EVOO as a nighttime host for about a year or so.

What’s your favorite food item on our current menu?   Current favorite is the Beef Tartare, but the Chinese Box is still my go-to item.

What have you enjoyed about working at EVOO?   Often when beginning a new job and learning about the “behind the scenes” work, the magic of a place can be lost. But, what I loved about EVOO is that the magic just grew. Learning how much EVOO takes to heart the mission to be environmentally conscious and support and serve local.  And, the actions taken that not all patrons might first notice, like how we reuse all our plate liners and how the server notepads are made from our re-purposed menus.  Or how we grow our own herbs and little tomatoes right on the roof of our building!

What are you watching on TV these days?   Planet Earth II on Netflix is a must see if you haven’t watched it yet!

Do you have any pets?   I do not unfortunately! I do try to keep animals in my life as much as possible however. When I’m not working at EVOO, I have an independent dog boarding and walking job so it is not uncommon to see me walking around town with a posse of pups!

Where did you attend college? What was your favorite class?   I attended Massachusetts College of Art and Design where I graduated with a BFA in Architecture. I loved all my design studios but it was also great to step out of my comfort zone with classes like Introduction to Jewelry Metal smithing.

What is the last show you attended?   Last show I attended was a jazz show at the Beat Brasserie in Harvard Square.

Where did you grow up? How did you end up in the Boston area?  I am from the suburbs of Boston and first moved into the city for school, Boston is definitely my hometown!

What is your dream job (other than EVOO)?   Researching and designing public outdoor communal spaces is what excites me most in design so my dream job would be working with a like-minded, passionate team designing for a future communities.

Athena

In 1982, at least 15 years before she was born The Who wrote a song about her.

 

 

What’s Cooking: Keeping it local in January

Okay so it’s late January and nothing is growing in the fields of New England. What does a restaurant that prides itself on really being farm-to-table do to maintain a menu that is true to their ideals during a long cold winter?

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Local cellared roots

Well, fortunately for us more and more local farms either have, and are now using or they have installed root cellars.  These farms are able to supply us with all the root vegetables, winter squashes and cabbages we need.  Great local carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, radishes, kohlrabi and potatoes are easy to come by.  Many farms also have have heated greenhouses that provide us with lettuce, arugula, spinach, pea greens and even some herbs.  Getting local  sustainable livestock is not a problem, all of the land-based proteins used at EVOO year round are from independent small family-owned farms.

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A greenhouse at Red Fire farm in Granby, Ma

However, the most important thing we do is plan for it.  Throughout the local growing season starting in the late spring and finishing well after the hard frost we pickle, can, preserve, dehydrate and freeze.  This is a lot of work and it comes at great expense to us.  But, we made a commitment to ourselves and our community, to be as local and sustainable as possible.

Some of the items we pickled this year include: asparagus, rhubarb, fiddlehead ferns, garlic scapes, cucumbers, onions, garlic, okra, beets, green beans, peppers, jalapenos, cauliflower and green tomatoes.  Some of the pickles are sweet, some are dill and some are fermented.  Many pickles are canned in glass mason jars, while others are in big buckets finding their way to the inner depths of our walk-in refrigerators.

 

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We make gallons upon gallons of apple butter, which we use in our apple crisp at EVOO, on a winter squash pizza at Za and whatever other way(s) we can come up with.  Big vats of jalapeno and habanero hot sauces are made, processed and put-up. Many flats of local berries and grapes, at the peak of their ripeness are made into jellies and jams, and we canned more cherries than anyone would ever want to pit.

 

 

We oven-dry and vacuum seal cases of plum tomatoes, so that in the dead of winter we are still able to have local tomatoes on our menu.

 

 

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We shuck, vacuum seal and freeze bushels of corn. We had local corn salsa on our menu last week with a pastured MA beef empanada.

 

 

 

 

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Kohlrabi Kimchi

We also make buckets of kimchi, some using the traditional napa cabbage, while others are made with kohlrabi and still others are with zucchini or butternut squash.

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Dried mint and basil from our Rooftop garden

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Dried chives from our Rooftop Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our rooftop garden often provides us with more herbs than we can use, so we dry them for use in the winter months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We dry and grind locally grown chile peppers, using them wherever a little bit of heat is needed.

Running a sustainable restaurant in Massachusetts has its challenges and we have been taking them head-on for years.  During our 20 year tenure it has gotten a whole lot easier, the local movement has helped us immensely.  Farmers who used to look at winter as a time for a short break and planning for the upcoming season are now figuring out ways to grow, store and sell more to restaurants and at winter farmers markets.  We have also learned how to plan better for the winter, making sure we take the time to preserve our short growing season’s bounty for use throughout the whole year.

If you’re into root vegetables, pickles, preserves and greenhouse greens, come on in and see how we are serving them, at the same time you will be supporting us and your local farming community.

A link to our menu:

http://evoorestaurant.com/#menu

Employee Spotlight: Ryan Krystoploski

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January’s Employee Spotlight is Ryan Krystoploski, he is someone who I have a great bond with.  Ryan first joined EVOO in 2010, soon after we moved to Kendall Square; while he was still in culinary school and not yet old enough to drink.  Ryan had a brief reprieve from working with us, he was a sous chef in a north shore Italian restaurant, fortunately for us he decided to EVOO was the place to be.  He was very green, with limited experience in real food cookery.  Through his hard work, perseverance, and some guidance Ryan has become a very good cook.  Ryan is hard-working, conscientious and well liked by his co-workers.

One of Ryan’s best attributes is how much he cares, he really wants to do a good job; making great food, keeping the kitchen clean and organized.  He helps us strive to ensure every guest has a great experience.

Ryan, even with his poor taste in music, think adolescent female pop, is a pleasure to work with. He has become a big part of the core team here at EVOO.  His efforts are greatly appreciated, I look forward to watching Ryan grow as a cook and as a person.

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As is the new custom, Steve Kurland, EVOO / Za general manager and co-owner came up with the following list of questions for Ryan to answer.

January 2018, Spotlight Questions

How long have you worked at EVOO and in which jobs?   On and off for about 5 years, starting off as the fry guy going to culinary school and worked my way up to lead line cook with aspirations to be sous chef one day.

What’s your favorite food item on our current menu?   I’m a big guy so I always go for the studded beef tenderloin. In late summer, when we have the heirloom tomatoes I like to substitute the vegetables for a creamy tomato and onion salad; delicious!

What have you learned working at EVOO?   I could write a 15 page paper on what I’ve learned at EVOO. This place has taught Me how to care, cook, plant, think, and become an overall better person. This place has helped me reach goals I never thought I could obtain. The best part is I’m still not done learning, even after knowing Pete for seven years!

If you received $1,000,000 tomorrow, what would you do with it?   Tell Peter [McCarthy-chef/owner] and Randy [Platt-sous chef] I’ll be back in a month!

What’s the last book you read?   I am currently reading It by Stephen King.

What was your favorite class in high school?   My favorite class in high school was Art and Animation. I took 3 years of that class and enjoyed every minute of it.

Do you have a pet?   I personally do not, but the rest of my family does. Combined they have 5 dogs and one cat. My sisters puppy Max is my best bud though.

What do you do on your time off?   I try to stay active as well as visit new restaurants and catch up with family and friends. Life is too short to let it pass by.

What was your first car?   ‘91.5 Acura Integra 3 tone crapbox; drove that bad boy to the ground.

Do you speak any languages other than English?   Thanks to my friends in the back kitchen and prep room, I can carry on a conversation in Spanish.

What is one thing you are passionate about?   I’m passionate about cooking and I can attribute that to Peter, Randy, and Anthony [Mazzotta], the old sous chef. They continue to show me what it means to be a chef and not a plain old line cook.

What’s your favorite song right now?   Anything but Wilco…[Peter’s favorite band-always on the EVOO music playlist].

 

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Don’t diss Wilco or I will post photos like this.

 

 

 

Ryan is looking for an apartment in the Medford, Somerville area, if you know of any availabilities, comment to this blog.

Za final cooking instructions

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1/2 cooked, not cut ‘za

As many of you know Za is EVOO’s sister restaurant with two locations, one in Kendall Square, Cambridge, abutting EVOO and the original Za is on Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington.  When the timing is not right for you to dine at either restaurant, you can still enjoy ‘za on your own schedule.  Below is the best way I have found for finish cooking or re-heating ‘za. So, if you are not sure what time you want to eat, but you know you want ‘za, don’t serve it soggy and cold.  Follow these simple instructions to eat crispy crusted hot pizza whenever you want with little effort.

The first thing you need to do is order a stack of za from either location.  They are 10″ pizzas that will serve one hardy appetite or two can share one za paired with one of Za’s amazing salads.  Order a bunch and finish cooking on your time.  I tend to order them early in the day, asking for them to be 1/2 cooked, not cut and refrigerated until pick-up. There is no need to take them home hot.  When I get home I refrigerate the pizzas until I’m ready, whether it’s a few hours or a few days it doesn’t matter.

When it’s time, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Once your oven reaches 375, place a heavy duty cookie sheet on the middle rack in your oven and heat the cookie sheet for 5 minutes, this will ensure a crisp bottom.  If you have multiple racks and multiple sheet pans you can finish cooking several pizzas at a time, however, be careful the temperature on the bottom and top racks can vary greatly from the middle one.

Now add your pizza, I have found it takes between 8 and 12 minutes to get the crust crispy and the cheese to gooey.  Use a burger flipping spatula lifting the ‘za in the middle.  The sides of the ‘za not being held by the spatula should not droop, the topping should be hot and bubbling in spots. Remove the Za from the oven place on a big cutting board, cut into eight equal sized pieces and serve.

 

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Step 1: Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

 

 

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Step 2: When oven reaches 375, place sheet pan on the middle rack in the oven for an additional 5 minutes.

 

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Step 3: Place ‘za on hot sheet pan.

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Step 4: Look at doneness, brown edges, bubbly cheese.

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Step 5: Check bottom, za is nicely browned and not droopy.

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Step 6: Cut and enjoy your za.