Better than McDonald’s

A couple months back I set out to make shoestring fries at home. As anyone who’s attempted this can tell you, it’s frustrating. Homemade fries, especially McDonald’s style shoestring fries are very hard to do well at home. There’s a reason for that. McDonald’s and others’ french fries are made in a factory, and created by food scientists using equipment and ingredients the home cook doesn’t have access to. Most homemade fries lack the crispness and golden color of chain restaurant fries. They come out limp, dark brown, have an overcooked taste, and lack the lightness of processed fries.

I started doing research and stumbled upon a technique that works. I used my harshest critic, my wife, as a taste tester and after eating a few, she said to me, “These are better than McDonald’s.”


Making these fries are a process, and they’re somewhat of a pain. But, the result is nothing short of spectacular. They’re very crisp, with a golden color, a light fluffy interior, and great flavor.

I start with Russets. I buy the longest potatoes in the bin. Then I cut them into shoestring shape on a mandolin. Next, I brine them in a salt and white vinegar brine for two hours. The salt and vinegar brine help to pull startch and moisture out of the potatoes which helps to create crispness. Next, I fry them at around 275-300 for three to four minutes until they’re just cooked through. It’s important not to get any color on them, we’re essentially blanching them in the oil. Then I lay them out single file on a sheet pan and freeze them. Once they’re fully frozen I put them in a ziploc bag until I’m ready for the final cook. Freezing is important. The ice crystals that form in the interior help to create that light fluffy texture that’s so pleasant to eat. Lastly, I fry the frozen fries at 375 degrees for about 3 minutes until crisp, being careful to not let them get too much color.

These fries are just as good, or better than McDonald’s. And really, all of the work is done ahead of time. I make a big batch and can pull as many fries as needed from the freezer to have amazing fries in just a few minutes.


Years ago, I fell in love with Neapolitan-style pizza. I loved its light, airy, char-speckled crust. It was a revelation to me. But really, that revelation was due to never experiencing great pizza and growing up in an area where mediocre pizza was the norm. As time has worn on, and I’ve eaten dozens of styles of pizza all over the country, in literally hundreds of pizzerias, I’ve cooled on Neapolitan style a bit

I am a big fan of a neo-Neapolitan style. Still light and airy, but not as thin and soupy as Neapolitan and with some crunch, too.

I’ve been working on perfecting a neo-Neapolitan style and have come close to my ideal. These pizzas have a light, and tender/chewy crust with a little crispness.

This dough is 64% hydration. It’s a mix of 60% Caputo Pizzeria, and 40% Caputo Chef’s flours. 24-hour fermentation. Cooked at 800F for two and half minutes.

Torn basil and red pepper flake.
Sliced jalapeño.
Light, airy. tender, and pleasantly chewy.
Charred blisters on the undercarriage help to create a more tender crust and add crunch.

Ground Pepperoni

I’ve absolutely love pepperoni on pizza. The stuff is magical. I’ve been thinking of creative ways to use it, and got the idea to grind it up, similar to ground beef or ground sausage. I had never seen anyone grind up pepperoni, and googling it I found one pizzeria in California that is famous for their ground pepperoni pizza. Still, this is a very unique and novel way to use pepperoni.

It is definitely a pepperoni lovers pizza. Every bite is a mouthful of pepperoni, and the texture is very pleasant as well. It’s delicious. This is a pizza that requires high quality pep, don’t skimp on quality.

This is my 62% hydration NY style dough, cooked on a steel in my home oven at 550F.


Thick and pillowy upside down Sicilian inspired by L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn.

The dough is 65% hydration, with 4% oil. I cooked it in a 10×15 quarter sheet tray. 825 grams of dough, enough for 5.5 grams of dough per sq inch, which made for the perfect thickness

I’m pleased with how it came out, with one exception, I overcooked it a bit, and the crumb wasn’t quite as moist as I would’ve liked. The bottom was well browned and crunchy, and the crumb was light and tender enough. There was a satisfying amount of sauce and cheese, with that pleasant “sauce first” eating experience you get with an upside down slice.

All in all, very good for a first try.


I used Roma Sausage—Utica’s most famous tomato pie—as my template when I set out to make a facsimile. In my opinion, what makes Roma’s pies so special is the sauce. The sauce is laid down in a thick layer, and one gets lots of that deliciousness in each bite. The sauce is simple and tomato forward. Its balance of salt and sweetness is nearly perfect.

Utica tomato pie is working-class fare. It’s supposed to be cheap eats. This is not gentrified fare we’re creating. I used inexpensive crushed tomatoes.

I added nothing to the tomatoes except some tomato paste for body, salt, and a little sugar to get the salty/sweet balance just right. I cooked it just long enough to thicken it up a bit.

I didn’t want the sauce to cook in the oven. I wanted a light, bright sauce, not one that’s concentrated and cooked down like an Italian gravy. The pizza will spend a reasonable amount of time in the oven, and the sauce will further cook during that time. When I baked the pie, I put only a very thin layer of sauce to prevent the crust from browning. I added most of the sauce post-bake.

I was delighted with the result. The eating experience and flavor profile were very similar to Roma’s.

My tomato pie is on the left. On the right is Roma’s tomato pie.

Homemade tomato pie.
Homemade tomato pie.

True NY

I owe a debt of gratitude to Joe Rosenthal for helping me to make true NY style pizza. Before one can make something, one has to know what one is making, and to make it well, one has to understand the details and nuances of said thing. Joe Rosenthal goes into detail about NY style pizza, what it is and how to make it, and he leaves no stone unturned. Thanks to his tips, procedures, and dough formulation I’ve been making excellent NY style pizza at home.

Here are two recent examples of my homemade NY style pies.

NY style pizza made in a typical home oven — plain cheese.
NY style pizza made in a typical home oven with homemade Italian sausage and sautéed mushrooms.

Pep in your step

I discovered a very good NY style pizza dough recipe a little while back for use in a home oven with a steel. This has become my go to dough for pizzas made in my home oven at 550F, and it’s also worked well when I’ve used it in my Roccbox at about 850F.

I’ve fallen in love with pepperoni. I have half-a-dozen different brands in my fridge at any one time, and I’m constantly trying different brands. I’m not sure if this is an original idea, it likely isn’t, but I thought it’d be fun to put three different styles of pepperoni on one pie.

NY style pizza baked in a typical home oven with flat pepperoni, cupping pepperoni, and cubed pepperoni.


A Detroit-style pizza I made on a whim. 75% hydration, with a mix of 90% King Arthur 00 Pizza flour, and 10% semolina. Cubed Monterey Jack and Mozz blend. Topped with pepperoni and red chili.

It turned out beautiful. Tender open crumb, with a crisp undercarriage and lovely caramelized edges.

All Aboard the Palate Train!

Picky eaters drive me nuts. There’re few things more frustrating than dining with a picky eater. Some restaurants don’t have food that they’ll eat, and that usually means one person will dictate where a group eats because they ‘don’t like’ whatever it is the group wants. Any shared dishes must be chosen to appease their picky palate. They don’t like broccoli, so this dish it out, or they don’t like tomatoes, so we’re not ordering that appetizer. There’s no telling the weird restrictions picky eaters will enforce. I’ve met people who don’t like potatoes of all things.

Cooking at home is the same. Picky eaters enforce lowest-common-denominator cooking and dictate what is made. Sometimes two separate meals need to be prepared, one for people that will eat whatever you put in front of them, and one for the picky eater. I find it to be unfair, and I understand it’s not intentionally so, but it’s selfish.

To be clear, I’m talking about those who “don’t like” and choose not to eat certain foods. Allergies are a different issue; dietary restrictions due to allergy are not made by choice.

There’s a great irony here. I was a picky eater.

Continue reading “All Aboard the Palate Train!”

It’s the Culture

Why does NY City have the largest concentration of the most famous pizzerias anywhere outside of Italy? Why does NYC have so many fantastic pizzerias, compared to the rest of the country?

I have heard it said over and over, “It’s the water!” as though NYC water had some magical properties to it. But that myth is easy to debunk. If New York’s water were the secret to its great pizza, there would not be great pizza elsewhere, and we all know that is not true. Not only is there great pizza all over the USA (just not in the numbers NY has), but there’s also great pizza everywhere in the world—especially in the pizza capital of the world, Naples.

There are two reasons why NY has so many great pizzerias compared to other parts of the country. Continue reading “It’s the Culture”