Most people are familiar with cooking tomato sauce for pasta dishes, but a little unsure whether to cook pizza sauce. After making countless pizza sauces this is my experience.
Pizza sauce doesn’t need to be cooked if the fresh tomato taste is desirable on pizza as it will be lost if cooked before being baked. You can choose to cook pizza sauce if you want to have a more concentrated, deeper flavor which is more common in New York style pizzas.
Simmering pizza sauce essentially means the sauce gets cooked twice as it gets cooked on top of the pizza. Many sauces just mix up the ingredients until smooth and are then used as is.
What about the best tomatoes to use and how to prepare the sauce? I’ll cover my best tips on how to make the tastiest pizza sauce below.
Cooking Pizza Sauce Vs Not Cooking
Pizza sauce doesn’t need to be cooked as the tomatoes are ready to eat straight from the can. They are steamed when processed to remove the skin and kill bacteria on the surface.
They also technically get cooked on top of the pizza when it bakes, so cooking it first would mean you are cooking the sauce twice which kills that fresh and raw tomato flavor.
If you use a good quality canned tomato, producers use the best quality plum tomatoes picked off the vine when perfectly ripe. This means the product tastes great already and doesn’t need much messing with.
This flavor is best enjoyed without too much cooking so you can taste the tangy fresh taste of the tomatoes.
If you want a thicker sauce then strain the tomatoes and hold back on some of the tomato juice that comes in the can.
On the other hand, you can cook your tomatoes if you really want to. Just like a pasta sauce, the flavors will concentrate and take on a cooked taste.
Cooking the sauce is more common in American-style pizzas rather than in Italy.
How To Make Pizza Sauce
Start with some top-quality canned tomatoes. Whole peeled plum tomatoes from Italy are the best, it’s worth spending a little extra.
The most famous is the San Marzano tomato which is a premium variety grown near Naples and has a wonderful taste and flesh. If you can’t get these then any quality whole plum tomatoes will do just as good.
Next, blend them into a liquid by using your preferred method. Make sure to not blend them too much as this makes the sauce watery.
Try pulsing your blender 5-6 times until liquidized but still a little texture. You can also use your hands or a potato masher in a bowl just fine.
Season the tomatoes with a large pinch of salt for every can used – taste it to see when it’s seasoned enough. At this point, you have a traditional Italian pizza sauce that can be used on any pizza.
To make an American pizza sauce as you might find on a New York style pizza, you can add a few more seasonings. Add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon of oregano, 1 teaspoon of finely minced garlic, and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
These are added to make a bolder pizza sauce that has more flavor to stand up to the richer toppings of American pizza. There is usually more cheese, salty pepperoni, and other meat which is added, so a bland sauce can be lost without a bit more guts to it.
If you want to cook your sauce you can simmer it on low heat for 45 minutes or until thickened.
How To Sauce A Pizza
Use a large spoon or ladle. Add several spoonfuls to the middle of the pizza and then spiral outwards, getting bigger on each circle so that the sauce gets pushed to the edges.
If you need to use more sauce then add it to the center and spiral out again. You don’t need to overload the base with sauce – some thin areas where you can see the color of the dough coming through is fine.
Leave a half inch for the crust, a little more if you like a larger puffy crust, or smaller if you want a tiny crust. The sauce stops the crust from rising when in the oven.
Make The Pizza Sauce The Day Before
You should make your pizza sauce ahead of time to allow the flavors to integrate together. A few hours before is adequate but you can also make it the day before.
Like any good sauce, casserole, or curry, making it in advance always makes for better flavors later on. The standalone tastes mix together, mellow out and you get a much better tasting sauce.
If you don’t have time to make the sauce ahead, then do not fear. The sauce will still taste great mixed up just before making your pizza.
Best Tomatoes To Use For Pizza Sauce
The best tomatoes for pizza sauce are whole peeled plum tomatoes of the best quality you can afford.
Whole tomatoes are better than diced/chopped tomatoes that are canned. The best tomatoes are put into the cans whole and the lesser quality cut-up tomatoes are used in the diced tomatoes and other products.
Plum tomatoes have the best taste and do well in the canning process. They are tart and sweet at the same time and have that rich tomato flavor.
Any quality Italian whole plum tomato is great to use, but San Marzano is the classic tomato used in Naples pizza. They are grown in the volcanic soil around Vesuvius and taste fantastic – they are also the most expensive!
Can you use fresh tomatoes rather than canned ones? Of course, but bear in mind fresh tomatoes might not be as tasty, especially in the winter.
Some fresh tomatoes in the store are picked when still green and ripened in the storage on their way to shelves. This means they don’t taste as good.
Canned tomatoes are grown in perfect conditions and picked off the vine at the last minute to maximize flavor. They are canned immediately after being picked.
So the sauce they make tastes great and they are available all year round when tomatoes aren’t in season.
Tips On Storing Pizza Sauce
Store pizza sauce in a sealed container in the fridge and use it within 3 days. The ingredients will mix together and improve in flavor over 12-24 hours and then start to deteriorate in flavor. It’s best to use it fairly fresh.
Remember to keep it covered or sealed so that it doesn’t take on other flavors that might be in your fridge.
If you want to freeze it then you can. Freezable containers or bags are suitable and it will stay usable for several months.
If you want to use up excess pizza sauce then a simple pasta arrabbiata is perfect. Simply add some chili and toss with some penne pasta.
For more ideas to use up the sauce, see my 22 ways to use up pizza sauce so it doesn’t go to waste.
Hopefully, you now know whether pizza sauce needs to be cooked before topping your pizza.
Most people don’t cook their sauce as it doesn’t need any more cooking than when the pizza bakes. The raw, fresh flavor makes for a perfect pizza, especially when aiming for a delicate balance like in a classic Neapolitan Margherita.
For a New York style pizza, you can add more seasonings and reduce the sauce if you like.
Test out a few sauces and try the recipes in this article. You will see how they differ and pick your favorite sauce to accompany your toppings.