Food & Drink | September 19, 2022 6:00 am

Is NYC’s Pizza Superiority Really Related to the City’s Water Supply?

Plus, how to emulate that water and make the perfect New York pizza at home

A pizza from NYC restaurant Lombardi's
A pie from Lombardi's Pizza Restaurant in New York City.
Corbis via Getty Images

New Yorkers are a prideful bunch; this isn’t new information. This holds doubly true when it comes to classic New York foods like bagels and pizza. Ask your average pizzeria what their secret is, and somewhere in the conversation the words “the water is just better here” will assuredly come up. So is this merely protecting a family tomato sauce recipe, or does the claim in fact hold water?

To get to the bottom of the New York water well, let’s understand how water interacts in bready foods like pizza dough. Of all the ingredients in a pizza, perhaps the water is the most overlooked. Water is essential to the final texture of the dough, the ability of the yeast to ferment and for the formation of gluten, the protein responsible for a delightfully chewy and crisp crust. Water is also the second-largest ingredient in pizza dough, so quality is of utmost importance.

Before you run to your tap to fill up a measuring cup in advance of pizza night, keep one thing in mind. The average municipal tap water carries with it more than just pure water. Fluoride, minerals, trace amounts of salt and other byproducts of water treatment are all present. While these trace additives may not change the taste nor be harmful, some minerals (namely, chlorine and iron) will affect the way yeast ferments within the dough as well as the gluten formation during the knead and rise. Therefore, more pure sources of water are scientifically better for breads like pizza dough and bagels.

So, where does New York City water rank in quality? Thirty large metropolitan area water reports were compared against the 2021 New York City Drinking Water Supply and Quality Report for differences. The New York water was extremely low in chlorine, hard metals and iron, and ranked as slightly basic (7.3 pH). In short, this water is ideal for yeast growth.

What does New York do differently than just about every other area in the nation? NYC draws its water from rainwater runoff from the Catskill mountains and treats it minimally, resulting in a neutral acidity. The soil and bedrock is also low in the undesirable minerals, meaning less in the water that is run off into the reservoirs. 

Since you can’t carry on enough water on a domestic flight to make a 10” pizza, those who live outside the Big Apple need to find a way to emulate New York-style water at home. There are some commercial machines that can make New York-style water, but they likely aren’t economical for the home chef. Instead, let’s use a little science to reverse-engineer the magic. The secret is a combination of mineral water, distilled water and baking soda. This trio will be slightly alkaline (thanks to the baking soda), have some good minerals from the mineral water, yet be fairly pure due to the spike of distilled water. 

This Brooklyn-style pizza recipe is a perfect example of a dough that thrives with New York-style water. The long two-day rise is facilitated by the favorable qualities in the water, allowing for a near-perfect texture in the pizza.

Brooklyn-Style Pizza

Cook Time: 15 mins

Servings: 1 14-inch pizza

Ingredients:

For the dough

  • 2 cups bread flour (about 10 ounces), plus some for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for topping
  • 1/2 cup quality bottled mineral water
  • 1/4 cup distilled water
  • 1 pinch baking soda
  • Plastic wrap

For the sauce/toppings

  • ¾ cups tomato puree
  • ½ teaspoon dried Parsley 
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil 
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano 
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, freshly grated

Directions:

  1. In your stand mixer or large bowl, combine both waters, baking soda, yeast, sugar and one cup of flour. Gently combine and let stand for 3 minutes.
  2. Following the rest period, begin to mix (use the hook attachment on your stand mixer) on low. Gently pour in remaining flour, salt and oil. Let mix for 5 minutes on medium low speed (scraping the bowl as needed to keep the dough in the bowl).
  3. Once mixed, form into ball and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in the fridge for 2 days, punching down after the first day.
  4. Once risen, remove dough from fridge 2 hours before cooking. 
  5. Prepare sauce by combining the tomato puree, dried herbs, salt and sugar. 
  6. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and place a pizza stone in the middle of the oven. Place dough ball on floured surface and roll out into a 14” circle, forming a considerable lip around the edge. Transfer to the pizza stone, top with the sauce, then cheese. Cook for 12-15 minutes or until the crust is deeply golden.