Decoding Apizza: the Art of New Haven Style Pizza

Among the many types of pizzas out there, New Haven style pizza emerges as a distinctive culinary masterpiece.

Hailing from the vibrant city of New Haven, this pizza variation is a testament to the innovation and passion of Italian immigrants.

Historical buildings in the downtown of New Haven CT

While they cherished their Neapolitan roots, they ventured to craft a pizza that’s uniquely American.

From its signature coal-fired brick oven preparation to its judicious use of cheese and toppings, every aspect of this pizza narrates a tale of tradition and creativity.

Join us as we explore the history, techniques, and flavors that make New Haven style pizza a must-try for every pizza lover.

What Makes New Haven Style Pizza Unique?

New Haven style pizza with clams on a table

New Haven Style Pizza, also known as “apizza”, is a culinary gem that stands out in the world of pizza.

Its uniqueness lies in its coal-fired brick oven preparation, which gives the crust a slightly charred texture that pizza enthusiasts can’t get enough of.

Another distinctive feature of this pizza is its sparing use of cheese, which often results in a drier texture compared to other pizza varieties.

This style of pizza is also known for its liberal toppings, which range from traditional favorites to more adventurous options.

The history and origins of New Haven Style Pizza trace back to the early 20th century, when Italian immigrants brought their love for Neapolitan pizza to the shores of America.

However, the pizza they created in their new home took on a life of its own, evolving into a distinct style that’s now synonymous with the city of New Haven.

Why It’s Called Apizza?

Close up of New Haven pizza

The term “apizza” (pronounced “ah-beets”) is derived from the Neapolitan dialect spoken by the Italian immigrants who first introduced this style of pizza to New Haven.

In standard Italian, “pizza” is pronounced “peet-za”, but in the Neapolitan dialect, it’s “piz-za” or “ah-beets”.

As these immigrants set up pizzerias in New Haven, the local vernacular adopted this pronunciation, and it became a distinctive marker for the New Haven style of pizza.

The name “apizza” not only signifies the style of pizza but also pays homage to its Neapolitan roots.

The Birth of New Haven Style Pizza

The birth of New Haven Style Pizza is a tale of tradition, innovation, and a deep love for pizza. This story is best told through the lens of the iconic pizzerias that have shaped and continue to define the New Haven pizza scene.

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana is a name that resonates with pizza lovers far and wide.

Established on Wooster Street, this pizzeria has been a cornerstone of the New Haven pizza scene since its inception.

The pizzeria’s coal-fired brick oven and signature pizza, the white clam pizza, have become legendary in their own right.

Over the years, Frank Pepe’s has expanded to additional locations, each carrying the legacy of the original pizzeria.

Modern Apizza

Modern Apizza, nestled on State Street in the East Rock neighborhood, is another heavyweight in the New Haven pizza scene.

Known for its open flame brick oven, Modern Apizza serves up pizzas with a charred and chewy crust, thanks to a special breadcrumb recipe.

The ingredients used for the dough, cheese, and sauce are meticulously selected, with the dough undergoing a 24-hour cold fermentation process and the sauce made from whole hand-crushed Italian peeled tomatoes.

Other Notable Pizzerias in the Scene

The New Haven pizza scene is a vibrant tapestry of pizzerias, each with its own unique story and specialties.

Sally’s Apizza, and Zuppardi’s Apizza, among others, have made significant contributions to this scene.

Whether it’s the coal-fired ovens of Sally’s Apizza or the traditional methods employed by Zuppardi’s Apizza, each pizzeria adds a unique flavor to the New Haven pizza landscape.

Ingredients and Techniques Used to Make New Haven Style Pizza

The magic of New Haven Style Pizza lies in its ingredients and the techniques used to bring them together.

From the coal-fired brick ovens that give the pizza its unique flavor to the crispy and chewy crusts that provide the perfect base, every element plays a crucial role.

Let’s delve deeper into these aspects that make New Haven Style Pizza a culinary masterpiece.

Coal-Fired Brick Ovens

Coal-fired brick ovens are a defining feature of New Haven style pizza.

These ovens, which were initially used in the 1920s and 1930s, have been instrumental in shaping the pizza’s distinctive taste.

While modern establishments like Modern Apizza use oil-fueled open flame brick ovens, the essence of the original coal-fired ovens is still preserved.

The blistered, sooty, and smoke-imbued flavor that these ovens impart to the pizzas is a testament to their significance in the New Haven pizza tradition.

Crispy and Chewy Crusts

Close up of a pizza with clams New Haven style also called apizza on a metal tray

The crusts of New Haven style pizza are a delightful paradox – crispy yet chewy.

Achieving this balance requires meticulous dough preparation and kneading techniques.

The dough is kneaded just enough to develop the gluten, ensuring a chewy texture without becoming tough.

Additionally, the dough undergoes a longer fermentation process, enriching its flavor and enhancing its chewy consistency.

When baking, New Haven-style pizzas are typically cooked in coal-fired ovens at extremely high temperatures, often exceeding 650°F (343°C).

This intense heat crisps the exterior while retaining the inner chewiness, resulting in a crust that is both rich in flavor and perfect in texture.

Olive Oil and Fresh Tomato Sauce

Olive oil and fresh tomato sauce are two key ingredients that contribute to the unique taste of New Haven Style Pizza.

The extra virgin olive oil adds a subtle richness, while the fresh tomato sauce brings a vibrant tanginess.

The sauce is prepared by smashing San Marzano tomatoes and adding oregano and a small amount of garlic.

This simple yet flavorful sauce complements the other ingredients perfectly, rounding out the New Haven Style Pizza experience.

Classic White Clam Pie

The Classic White Clam Pie is a signature dish in the New Haven pizza scene.

This pizza is a delightful medley of clams, grated aged cheese, garlic, and smoky bacon, all layered on a thin crust.

The unique flavor combination of the briny clams, the sharp cheese, the pungent garlic, and the smoky bacon creates a taste experience that’s truly one of a kind.

The historical significance of this pizza is deeply rooted in New Haven’s culinary culture, making it a must-try for any pizza enthusiast.

Tangy Tomato Sauce for Classic New Heaven Pizza

This sauce, made with hand crushed tomatoes, is cooked solely by the heat of the oven, resulting in a vibrant and tangy flavor.

The classic tomato pie is known for its absence of excessive toppings and cheese, allowing the sauce to take center stage.

New Haven pizza parlors adhere to this tradition, each adding their own unique take on the sauce, further enriching the New Haven pizza landscape.

Cheese Used in New Haven Style Pizza

Traditionally, this style of pizza is characterized by the absence of mozzarella as the primary cheese, instead opting for a more aged, hard cheese blend.

However, variations have evolved over time, and many modern New Haven pizzas now incorporate whole-milk mozzarella as a base cheese.

This mozzarella provides a creamy, melt-in-the-mouth texture that contrasts beautifully with the pizza’s crispy, slightly charred crust.

To elevate its flavor profile, a sprinkle of Pecorino Romano is often added.

Pecorino Romano sheep milk cheese on a cutting board

This sharp, salty cheese enhances the overall taste, adding depth and a hint of tanginess.

Some establishments also drizzle olive oil over the cheese, enriching the flavor and assisting in the browning process.

The combination of these cheeses, especially the signature touch of Pecorino Romano, gives New Haven-style pizza its unique and beloved taste.

Popular Toppings for New Haven Style Pizza

New Haven Style Pizza is known for its liberal use of toppings, each adding a unique layer of flavor to the pizza.

From traditional favorites like pepperoni and sausage to more adventurous options like anchovies and olives, the choice of toppings is a testament to the creativity and diversity of the New Haven pizza scene.

Pepperoni, Sausage, Mushrooms, and Onions

Pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, and onions are among the most popular toppings for New Haven Style Pizza.

These toppings are a favorite among pizza lovers for their robust flavors and the depth they add to the pizza.

Pepperoni and sausage bring a meaty, savory element, while mushrooms and onions contribute a touch of earthiness and sweetness, respectively.

Anchovies and Olives

Anchovies and olives play a unique role in New Haven style pizza. These toppings, while not everyone’s first choice, add a distinct flavor and contrast to the overall taste profile of the pizza.

Anchovies bring a salty, umami punch, while olives add a briny tang.

These toppings are often paired with other ingredients to balance their strong flavors, and pizzerias have found innovative ways to incorporate them into their signature pies.

The Influence of New Haven Style Pizza

New Haven style pizza has had a profound influence on other pizza styles and the pizza industry as a whole.

Its unique characteristics, from the coal-fired brick oven preparation to the liberal use of toppings, have inspired pizzerias far beyond the borders of New Haven.

Notable pizzerias across the country have adopted elements of this style, further spreading the love for New Haven style pizza.

Closing Thoughts

In the tapestry of global pizza traditions, New Haven Style Pizza holds a special thread of its own.

Its rich history, unique preparation, and unparalleled taste make it a culinary experience not to be missed.

If you ever find yourself in the vibrant city of New Haven, it’s an absolute must to visit the historic pizzerias that have been serving this delicacy for generations.

Walk the same streets, sit in the same booths, and savor a slice of history. But if a trip to New Haven isn’t on the horizon, don’t despair!

The influence of New Haven Style Pizza has spread far and wide, and you might just find a pizzeria near you serving this iconic dish.

Wherever you are, make it a point to try this incredible pizza and be a part of its ongoing legacy.

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