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Trending: Hot Soppressata Is the New Pepperoni

Soppressata, end chunk

[Photograph: Adam Kuban]

Who's Using It

Fornino, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Ken's Artisan Pizza, Portland, Oregon
Roberta's, Bushwick, Brooklyn
Lolita, Cleveland
Motorino, Brooklyn/Manhattan
Il Cane Rosso, Dallas
La Piazza al Forno, Glendale, Arizona
Emilia's Pizzeria,* Berkeley, California

I'm calling it: Hot soppressata is fast becoming the it topping among serious pizzamakers. Why do I say this? Peep the places at right that feature it as an option. (In an earlier draft of this post, I had Philadelphia's Pizzeria Stella on the list, but the options seems to have dropped off its pre-opening working-draft menu.)

It took backyard-pizzamaker-turned-soon-to-be-pro Pauile Gee to call it to my attention, even though I had seen it as early as 2004 on the menu of Fornino in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

In fact, when I talked to Mark Buzzio of New York City cured-meat emporium Salumeria Biellese, he mentioned Fornino owner Michael Ayoub as the Patient Zero of the current hot soppressata meme: "He's the one who put it on the map."

Buzzio would know. As supplier to Fornino and many of the other New York–area pizzerias using it, he says he's seen an uptick in hot soppressata orders in the last year and a half.

20100121-robertas-rps.jpg

Roberta's is among the rising number of pizzerias using soppressata on its pies. [Photograph: Roberta's]

Which makes sense. Within that period, we've seen Fornino continue to offer it on its Calabrese pizza, and when Roberta's opened in early 2008 in Bushwick, Brooklyn, it had the R.P.S. (roasted red peppers and soppressata) on its menu.

But this is not a trend limited to New York pizzerias. Ken's Artisan Pizza has had a spicy soppressata pie on the menu since opening in 2006. Il Cane Rosso, a mobile wood-fired oven in Dallas, has removed pepperoni completely in favor of hot sopp. And newcomer Emilia's Pizzeria in Berkeley, California, is toying with the idea of putting it on the menu in addition to pepperoni. I talked to and emailed a number of these guys to get their take. Let's let them take it away.

Michael Ayoub, Fornino

pepperoni and soppressata slices

Pepperoni (left) and hot soppressata, both made by Salumeria Biellese. [Photograph: Adam Kuban]

I have had soppressata on the menu for the last five years. Where have I had it before? I became partners with Anthony Scicchitano (A&S Pork stores) in 1989. He was my partner at Cucina in Park Slope. I was making all kinds of salumi for the restaurant in those days, with porcini mushrooms, truffles, figs, dried cherries, etc. We had an aging room at the A&S Pork Store on 1st Street just down the avenue from the restaurant. When I opened Cucina, I was making a Neapolitan-style soppressata. A typical soppressata Neapolitana, which has diameter (1 3/4 to 2 inches) is half the size in diameter of a regular soppressata. The smaller the diameter, the more concentrated the flavor. Pepperoni or really simply dried sausage is too dry for my taste and doesn't cure for long enough time to develop the taste I enjoy. In an oven as hot as mine, it burns. The Neapolitan-style soppressata is not as dry and has a wonderful texture when sliced thinly and cooked. These types of salumi that I speak of were all cured, not cooked.

While we are on the subject of curing and the evolution of salumi. Around 1995 the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in New York (why are they together?) made it illegal to cure for sale. Every company that sells soppressata wholesale today, except for Salumeria Biellese, is selling a cooked, not cured, product.

Classically, the old-fashioned way of making salumi (which means for the love of salt) is that meat is ground or hand-cut and placed in a container with salt and spices and sits in the cooler for 30 to 45 days. It is then placed in natural casing and hung for 4 to 8 months at 55°F. This time is necessary for flavor to infuse and ferment. That's the only way to do it! Most companies that sell soppressata, or any salumi for that matter, are cooking it—fIlling plastic casings, hanging them, and then bringing the temperature to 140°F for a day.

Why is soppressatta being used instead of pepperoni? There could be several reasons. The answer could simply be the wording; as we're making more Italian-style pizzas now and writing more menus in Italian, the proper word would be soppressatta. Or, the trend toward "authenticity" would call for a more authentic product than the sliced crap that came in a bag when we were growing up. Or they have all been to Fornino and want to honor me.

Jay Jerrier, Il Cane Rosso

Dallas-based Jay Jerrier really points out the role the web may have played in spreading the soppressata meme:

On pizzamaking.com in the Neapolitan forum it's been a long-running joke that pepperoni is fugazi and that no Italians eat it. I first noticed the "no pepperoni" when the Brooklyn Motorino opened—but that was mostly because Paulie Gee was all over it. I am personally trying to stay as authentic as I can, and pepperoni has been the last holdout. A lot of VPN places still serve it—even Antica Pizzeria in L.A., where the American VPN delegation is housed. So I give credit to Motorino for starting the trend and Paulie Gee for his grassroots evangelism spreading the word. I am off pepperoni on my Cane Rosso business only. We still have it at Campania.

Mathieu Palombino, Motorino

Hot Soppressata Pie

[Photograph: Adam Kuban]

The sopresatta on the pizza at Motorino came as the natural substitute for pepperoni. The Neapolitan food heritage is so fresh in Brooklyn that finding a real artisanal spicy soppresatta is still easy.

Pepperoni was created as a substitute for soppresatta for pizzaioli that make pizza with a high profit in mind.

I may have been inspired by Fornino since I love everything about their pizza, but I can't recall. I accumulate a lot of things that inspire me every day, everywhere, and sometimes when it inspires one of my dishes, I'm not too sure if it's from me, from there or from both.

Cooking it really takes it to another level and brings out the spiciness, the saltiness, and the pork. The fat that renders in the heat cooks the garlic slivers that we place on top and makes it a flavor opera.

Keith Freilich, Emilia's Pizzeria

* Emilia's is still too new to have a set menu—and a soppressata topping is only a possibility at this point, but owner Keith Freilich had some good insight into its use.

I'm not sure I've had any pizza with it other than my own. Probably my first time was a few years back when the sous chef at Pizzaiolo started making "peperone." Pizzaiolo would never sell real pepperoni, which seems to be a pseudo-Italian thing, so he was trying to make a more authentic version, which I wasn't sure even made sense (though it tasted great). And calling it "peperone" really made no sense to me. So, I decided to try to find an actually authentic pepperoni-like thing. And that led me to salsiccia di Calabria and soppressata di Calabria. There are other salami called soppressata that are also delicious but are not at all pepperoni-like.

My guess is that other people have come to it via the same path, more or less: trying to find a more authentic replacement for pepperoni.

However, I'm not really interested in authenticity that much in what I'm doing now. I'm picking and choosing whatever I think works best, and the result might not be authentic to Naples or Calabria or Brooklyn, but it will be authentic Emilia's-style pizza.

Also, if I choose to do a more Italian salame picante and not an American pepperoni, then I'll probably do a salciccia di Calabria rather than a soppressata di Calabria. If I do real pepperoni and a salame piccante, I will probably do the soppressata di Calabria or maybe something else altogether. Right now I'm leaning toward doing real pepperoni and a rotating selection of other salumi.

By the way, I never liked pepperoni before Grimaldi's. Actually, there was one other place I liked it: Conte's in Princeton, New Jersey. There still aren't many places where I'd get it.

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