Author Topic: Journey to Reverse-Engineer my favorite NY Style Pizzeria's Sauce (Help?)  (Read 873 times)

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Offline Chef Manardee

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I finally scored another sample of some sauce from my absolute favorite pizzeria. It's a little pizzeria called Roma's that has a few shops in Upstate NY. It's been here my whole life with a few of the same people working there since I can remember. I admittedly have only had pizza from shops around Upstate NY, but Roma's has been by far my favorite. And now that I have a mildly tangible understanding of the craft of pizza-creation, I figured it's time to figure out what the heck makes their sauce so dang good. I'm moving soon, so I would love to crack the code before I have no more access to the shop.

With that being said, I'm just going to jot down my notes and ideas in this post as almost like a diary and a way to keep track of my progress. If anyone has any ideas on what to try/what they think something in the sauce is, I would seriously appreciate hearing it. My apologies if this post is a little jumbled, my main goal right now is to get my ideas/notes down.

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Qualities of the Sauce

  • Has a little bit of heat
  • Savory
  • Not sweet
  • Hint of Acidity
  • Very tomato-y

Random Notes


- Very red sauce, which makes me believe it's uncooked (Photo 1 and 2)
- Definitely has bits of onion
- Garlic? (Photo 3. Although it could just be torn up chunks of tomato as well.)
- Surprisingly large amount of tomato seeds (Photo 2)
- Pepper (A good amount, where I think the heat comes from)
- Orange-y Pool on surface (Oil?) (Can somewhat see it in Photo 1)
- Oregano
- Did not see any basil which is very surprising. I have bought the sauce before and could've sworn there were very apparent basil leaves.
- There is NO wine in the sauce. I found this out today after directly asking one of the main workers there who's been a godsend so far. I was almost certain there was a wine flavor in the sauce. I'm not ruling out all alcohol in general just yet though.
- There is just an absolutely smooth, distinctive flavor to the sauce that I just cannot figure out. I feel like everything is pretty basic minus this one aspect that I cannot comprehend. It's almost a "smooth-pungent" flavor - if that makes any sense.


Questions

- Photo 4 has a little stemmy thing that I thought could be fennel/anise, but could it just be a stem from some oregano or basil? I tried tasting it but honestly everything just had a general, balanced flavor of the entire sauce. This is my first attempt at trying to reverse-engineer anything.

- That orange colored pool that forms around the surface I have seen many of times before - especially in their marinara. Does anyone know how this is created? My guess is that it has something to do with oil added to the sauce.

- Photo 5 is a black, stemmy-shaped piece thing. I thought all the black bits in the sauce was just pepper, but I've never seen pepper in that shape. Is it pepper? Again, I tried tasting it but I couldn't distinguish anything.

- If anyone has any tips on things I can do to further figure this puzzle out, I WOULD SERIOUSLY LOVE TO HEAR IT. Like I mentioned, this is my first attempt at reverse-engineering.
« Last Edit: March 15, 2016, 06:24:27 PM by Chef Manardee »
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Offline tinroofrusted

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To me it looks uncooked, and the solid substance looks like garlic, but it could just as easily be onion.  To create a sauce like that I'd guess you would want to start with whole canned tomatoes (New Jersey tomatoes are very good) put through a food mill, some crushed red pepper for the heat, a bit of olive oil, some finely diced onion and garlic, maybe a tiny bit of anchovy paste, salt and then see what it tastes like compared to your target sauce. 

Offline Chef Manardee

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To me it looks uncooked, and the solid substance looks like garlic, but it could just as easily be onion.  To create a sauce like that I'd guess you would want to start with whole canned tomatoes (New Jersey tomatoes are very good) put through a food mill, some crushed red pepper for the heat, a bit of olive oil, some finely diced onion and garlic, maybe a tiny bit of anchovy paste, salt and then see what it tastes like compared to your target sauce.

That's pretty much my plan exactly right now lol. There is a ton of tiny little white chunks that I'm pretty sure is garlic. I'm going to do 3 or 4 different sauces with different ingredients and see what I can't whip up (I'll leave garlic out of 1 of them). Good call on the crushed red peppers, I'll have to see if I have any kicking around. If not I'll probably try just regular black pepper. Also I literally went to the walmart today to get anchovy paste and I accidentally bought Sardines and didn't notice till I got home. :(

Also the onion pieces I picked out are clear, so that means that they would've sauteed the diced onions/garlic in oil before adding to the uncooked sauce right?
« Last Edit: March 15, 2016, 07:19:25 PM by Chef Manardee »
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Offline invertedisdead

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Thyme? I find it very savory.
Ryan

Offline Chef Manardee

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Thyme? I find it very savory.

Just wrote it down to remind myself to try it.

I made the mistake of buying Cento SM peeled tomatoes w/ basil (not sure why I did that) and Great Value puree that tasted like bleach, so this round of tests has already been botched. So far I have realized that the tomato base is very important.
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Offline The Slice

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Go behind the joint and take a peek in their dumpster. You should see some tomato cans in there.

Online carl333

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Hey Chef, Been lurking your post from the beginning. I would bet that those white chunks are from garlic and any translucent bits probably come from onion. I have always wanted to try fresh onion and garlic as I have been using the powder variety for quite some time. I will attempt a sauce this weekend using fresh onion are garlic mildly sautéed for a min or so. Interested to hear how your 4 sauces turn out. I read somewhere yesterday where someone added a small amount of MSG to their sauce and it made a substantial difference. I will try that out with and without and see if I can detect an improvement. I really can't recall any recipe that I have seen that calls up MSG as an ingredient.
Carl

Offline TXCraig1

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A couple thoughts going through your post:

 - Why do you think there is a "good amount" of pepper? I don't see it. Could the heat be from cayenne? I think you'd see if it was crushed red pepper.
 - It may be slightly cooked or not. Don't think it's cooked much if it is.
 - Picture 3 is tomato skin. If there is a lot of that, it's probably from crushed. If only a bit, probably from a peeled product. Look in their dumpster to see what they are using.
 - If it turns out to be a whole peeled tomato, I'll be a bit surprised if it one that doesn't have basil leaf in the can.
 - The orange color on the surface is lycopene from the tomato. It's not soluble in water but it is soluble in oil. It dissolves in oil which floats up to the top.
 - It kind of looks like it has garlic powder in it.
 
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Offline texmex

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This is just a wild guess, but sometimes I puree a little bit of roasted red pepper into my sauce which gives it a peppery, yet smoky flavor.  If I use steamed unroasted red peppers, the flavor is quite different, but adds this round fullness of a mild umami, depending on how much I use.  Yesterday I made a puree out of some homemade giardiniera and added that to my tomato puree for another type sauce.

Good luck with figuring it out!
Reesa

Offline Chef Manardee

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Go behind the joint and take a peek in their dumpster. You should see some tomato cans in there.

Oh I really want to (Never though I'd say I want to go dumpster diving). The dumpster is just off one of the main roads in town so it would be very sketchy, unfortunately. Or is it not illegal to do that?

Hey Chef, Been lurking your post from the beginning. I would bet that those white chunks are from garlic and any translucent bits probably come from onion. I have always wanted to try fresh onion and garlic as I have been using the powder variety for quite some time. I will attempt a sauce this weekend using fresh onion are garlic mildly sautéed for a min or so. Interested to hear how your 4 sauces turn out. I read somewhere yesterday where someone added a small amount of MSG to their sauce and it made a substantial difference. I will try that out with and without and see if I can detect an improvement. I really can't recall any recipe that I have seen that calls up MSG as an ingredient.

I have been using fresh onions and garlic for my sauces for awhile now, I love the difference they make when using them fresh. Also I haven't thought about using MSG directly yet, but my main focus right now is definitely focusing on that Umami flavor in this sauce. I tried fish sauce in 2 sauces I made this weekend and it definitely made a noticeable positive impact. (I wanted to use Anchovies but I accidentally grabbed Sardines at the store :( )

This weekend I learned that the tomato base is extremely important for creating a good sauce - not even just for this sauce in particular. The 3 sauces I made this weekend were all actually pretty good, but the tomato flavor was a lot different. I'm not trying to clone this sauce again until I get my hands on some real SMs, 6 in 1s or 7/11s. (Hoping a local supermarket will have some, otherwise it's a bit of a trip to a food supplier)

A couple thoughts going through your post:

 - Why do you think there is a "good amount" of pepper? I don't see it. Could the heat be from cayenne? I think you'd see if it was crushed red pepper.
 - It may be slightly cooked or not. Don't think it's cooked much if it is.
 - Picture 3 is tomato skin. If there is a lot of that, it's probably from crushed. If only a bit, probably from a peeled product. Look in their dumpster to see what they are using.
 - If it turns out to be a whole peeled tomato, I'll be a bit surprised if it one that doesn't have basil leaf in the can.
 - The orange color on the surface is lycopene from the tomato. It's not soluble in water but it is soluble in oil. It dissolves in oil which floats up to the top.
 - It kind of looks like it has garlic powder in it.

1. I only thought there was a good amount because of the heat. There's little black bits in the sauce, which I could only imagine was black pepper. There was obvious dried/fresh herbs in the sauce as well, which to me would mean that the herbs in the sauce would be darker if that black stuff isn't pepper. What do you think it would be if not pepper? (Also, I'm definitely not ruling out any other pepper for the heat.)

2. Actually, when I made 3 tests sauces this weekend, they ended up being brighter than the Romas sauce. One of my next ideas is to cook half of the tomatoes, then mix at the end. Because you're right, it doesn't look like it's cooked much if it is. But another thing that could change the color would be like a dark vinegar or something, which is another thing to add to the list of stuff to try.

3. Yup, this was my conclusion after making my own sauce with tomatoes I had crushed.

4. It really surprised me that I didn't find any basil leaves, I don't even recall it having a basil taste either. Just a nice, smooth, "savory", tomato-y tasting sauce. I don't think their sauce is made with canned whole peeled w/basil because I used that for a couple of my sauces and the basil was very apparent. I'm not ruling out them tossing in some fresh basil towards the end of cooking, then removing it though.

5. Does that effect happen when the oil isn't heated? Or does there have to be heat for Lycopene to develop?
EDIT: Forgot Google was my best friend. I guess heat is needed, and apparently the hotter the better. http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/lycoproc.htm (Interesting article on Lycopene)

6. What makes you think that? There are a lot of small, crushed, white/yellow pieces in the sauce that I could only imagine was fresh garlic. I'm open for ideas though.

This is just a wild guess, but sometimes I puree a little bit of roasted red pepper into my sauce which gives it a peppery, yet smoky flavor.  If I use steamed unroasted red peppers, the flavor is quite different, but adds this round fullness of a mild umami, depending on how much I use.  Yesterday I made a puree out of some homemade giardiniera and added that to my tomato puree for another type sauce.

Good luck with figuring it out!

Actually, this might explain the small bits of black stuff in the sauce if it's not black pepper. I'll try to remember to grab a red pepper to try in a sauce. Do you just toss a bit of oil in a pan and cook the pepper until it has a bit of char to it?

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Also, thanks for the replies guys! I'm already getting excited for my next test batch(es).  :drool:

« Last Edit: March 21, 2016, 08:12:11 PM by Chef Manardee »
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Online hammettjr

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One strategy I've seen used here before is inquiring about the sauce recipe based on an allergy. If someone tells the manager that they are allergic to fish, you should get a truthful response on whether or not fish is an ingredient.

Offline TXCraig1

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- It kind of looks like it has garlic powder in it.

6. What makes you think that? There are a lot of small, crushed, white/yellow pieces in the sauce that I could only imagine was fresh garlic. I'm open for ideas though.

It might just be the pictures, but it has a speckled look that is very similar to salsas I've seen that have garlic powder.
"We make great pizza, with sourdough when we can, commercial yeast when we must, but always great pizza."  
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Offline texmex

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Roasted red pepper can be done on the gas stove top direct flame, or in the broiler.  Basically burn the skin really black all over, stick the pepper into a plastic bag to steam a bit then peel off most of the skin, but leave some of the char...for flavor..
http://www.thekitchn.com/quick-tip-how-to-roast-peppers-60699
Reesa

Offline oliveview

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One strategy I've seen used here before is inquiring about the sauce recipe based on an allergy. If someone tells the manager that they are allergic to fish, you should get a truthful response on whether or not fish is an ingredient.

Unless you're actually allergic to something, and you intend to eat at that restaurant, I would be extremely cautious about bringing that up with a restauranteur just to glean their ingredients. It's rather unscrupulous at best, and at worst, it can set their kitchen into a frenzy. More and more these days, people are using "perceived" or even entirely fake allergens as excuses to have ingredients tailored to their liking. They don't realize the massive impact this has on a restaurant kitchen.

I realize that you're not adverting any such actions, but all the same, restaurants are tough businesses, and it makes little sense to even broach the allergen topic, unless you truly suffer from such.

Offline Chef Manardee

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Roasted red pepper can be done on the gas stove top direct flame, or in the broiler.  Basically burn the skin really black all over, stick the pepper into a plastic bag to steam a bit then peel off most of the skin, but leave some of the char...for flavor..
http://www.thekitchn.com/quick-tip-how-to-roast-peppers-60699

Awesome, thanks for that info! Should be picking up a pepper or two soon.
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