Saturday, June 11, 2011

Technique: Cooking Surfaces for Pizza (Part 12)

The same stone, unseasoned and seasoned.
The first time I was aware of All Clad was when a company I worked for sent me to Pittsburgh for a few months. I visited the nearby(ish) All Clad factory for business and later went to their factory sale. When I got home with my new toys, people were unimpressed. No one had heard of All Clad. But I didn't care. I had seen inside those pots, and I knew very well what I had.

What does this have to do with pizza stones? Well, when I was researching stones, I saw that All Clad had a pizza stone. And unlike all the man-made products, this one was a hunk of soapstone. The stone itself is 13 inches in diameter, 3/5-inch high, and weighs 9 pounds, 10 ounces. It comes with a metal ring with handles that the stone fits into for transport. It also came with a pizza cutter.

What it didn't come with was a care and use sheet. Apparently there's supposed to be one in the box, but there wasn't one in mine. No matter. I contacted All Clad and they emailed a PDF of the instructions.

Meanwhile, I did some research about soapstone, and thought I had just about all the information I needed, even without the official company brochure. But when I got the information from All Clad, some of what they said conflicted with what I found on other sites.

For example, All Clad said that the suggested maximum temperature was 450 degrees; other sites said that much higher temperatures were perfectly fine. All Clad suggested that the stone didn't need to be seasoned with oil first, but seasoning should be done with olive oil or vegetable oil. Other sites suggested that mineral oil was preferred, and still others said that seasoning was required reather than just suggested.

The instructions from All Clad didn't include the proper use of the metal ring, but they answered that for me when I emailed them. It's not intended for oven use, it's just for holding and transporting the stone outside the oven. That explains why some people on Amazon complained about the metal darkening in the oven - it's not meant to go in there.

Other care instructions note that the stone can be washed with soap and water and that you can cut directly on the stone. Since the stone is a little soft, you can scratch it, but you can also lightly sand it if you want to smooth it out again. Seasoning, according to All Clad, can make the stone more non-stick, but the seasoning would happen over time, anyway, as the stone is used. Seasoning it right away makes it an even color immediately, if that's what you're looking for.

In the end, I decided to season the stone (which turned it from a light gray to a dark gray) and then treat it just like every other stone I used - preheat to 550 degrees for 1 hour. The dark gray turned to a dark brown and there was some smoking from the oil residue on the stone.

At 45 minutes, the stone was at 501 degrees, and at 1 hour it was at 539.

At 8 minutes, I pulled the pizza out. The cheese wasn't quite as browned as with some of the pizzas, but it was melted and bubbly. The pizza was also a little puffier than previous examples.

I didn't bother taking the stone out of the oven and putting it into the metal ring for serving. I just removed the pizza and carried on.

When I cut it, there was a nice crunch, and the bottom had the most blackened (and the darkest black) spots of any of the pizzas. If you're not looking for that much char, then reducing the heat to the recommended 450 degrees might be wise.

Overall, it was a good pizza, and if you're looking for a stone that can give you char, this one accomplishes that. The metal ring that comes with the stone make it easier to transport and would offer a nice presentation, but moving a screaming hot stone to that metal ring might be troublesome.

This stone (including the metal ring and pizza cutter) sells for $125.