Have you ever tried authentic Chicago pizza? There are three varieties, in case you were wondering. I spent my first three decades living within minutes (no more than a half-hour) of the very best pizza parlours in the Greater Metropolitan Chicagoland Area. I sampled all the top-rated pizza places. So I feel qualified to “splain” it all to you.
Chicago Pizza Categories
The first is a thin-crust pizza, which is often more chewy and thicker than the New York version (much more crisp and almost cracker-like in consistency); it is most similar to the original Neapolitan pizza crust but is really an American interpretation. In my youth, I do not remember any authentic wood-burning oven pizzas, comparable to their ancestors in Naples, but today there are many restaurants offering this kind of “real” pizza.
The second is the stuffed pizza. It has two crusts, akin to a double-crust pie, with all the filling in between. A thin layer of tomato sauce, however, usually adorns the top crust. This pizza is less common than the one for which Chicago is best known, the deep-dish. The stuffed pizza can be a delicacy, often made with spinach and mushrooms, or it can be leaden and off-putting disappointment, depending on its maker
I believe the stuffed pizza became popular in the 1970s, a decade not known for its restraint. After all, wretched excess was in vogue. Think disco! Think glittery body-clinging polyester fashion! Think ultra-rich high-fat desserts! It was the era of chocolate decadence cake and appetizer buffets showcasing nothing but cream-cheese dips. I remember sampling all the varieties at Arnie’s Restaurant in Chicago – chocolate-chip, cinnamon-raisin, honey-walnut, and some savoury counterparts – all cream-cheese extravaganzas. I assure you I am not hallucinating, due to other 1970s excesses.
In Chicago, the deep-dish pizza is a World-War-II-era invention of Ike Sewell. Mr. Sewell started Pizzeria Uno around 1943 at Rush and Ohio Streets, on the city’s near north side. The pizza was an immediate hit. He opened a second location, named strangely enough, Pizzeria Due, just a block away in 1955. Both are still vibrant pizzerias. (Mr. Sewell also introduced upscale Tex-Mex cuisine to the Midwest of the US, where it had been unknown, through his restaurant Su Casa in 1963).
For the deep-dish pizza profile and the recipe
The Defining Chicago Pizza
Deep-dish pizza is one of the great defining culinary traditions of Chicago (another being the great Italian beef sandwich, a specialty I recently made, far away from “Chi-town” on my little island – post to follow…). The crust is like a tycoon – rich and powerful. It has a chewy, buttery bread-like character of substance. It can require a knife-and-fork for eating, unlike than thin-crust pizzas, which are easy enough to eat with one’ hands. One or two slices generally will be a full meal, for most people.
The toppings can range from plain cheese-and-tomato to the excessive – by Italian standards – of pizzas with “everything” or “all-dressed”, as we say here in Canada.
I grew up eating the deep-dish of Pizzeria Uno and Due (and not the chain with the same name as the former – I have tried it and found it very different, that is, disappointing and not up to the standard of the original). During my vegetarian youth, I liked the spinach, mushroom, and garlic version.
While I had good stuffed pizza in May in Chicago, I had another “yen” – as my late grandmother Jessie would have said – for deep-dish pizza. I had tried one recipe from AllRecipes last year supposedly for Pizzeria Uno’s version. It was good but not quite up to the Sewell pizza. Thus, I turned to the stalwart Cook’s Illustrated, or America’s Test Kitchen, for their interpretation.
I really did not adapt much of the recipe, other than adding chili flakes to the sauce (I am sure this is the Pizzeria Uno approach, too) and brushing the crust with olive oil. My choice of toppings was not strictly Chicago traditional, chorizo on one and caramelized onions on the other. This recipe makes two pizzas, which is good for variety and experimentation.
The crust is very similar to Pizzeria Uno’s, with a buttery flavour, thick and chewy. It is substantial and satisfying with a decided crunch, thanks to the cornmeal– quite different from the original Neapolitan, of course. The Cook’s Illustrated recipe for the sauce is true to the Chicago original, though I felt it needed more heat and used the classic chili flakes – often served in shakers in Chicago pizzerias of various stripes as another seasoning besides salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese.
The only warning about the recipe is that the crust is more time-consuming and a bit finicky, compared to making a thin crust. However, it is worth following the explicit, if rather complicated, directions to produce a wonderful taste of Chicago – wherever you may be. It is a worthy pizza to enjoy in the midst of Xmas celebrations or any other time you would need a deep-dish experience.
Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza
Makes two 9-inch pizzas, serving 4 to 6. Published January 1, 2010. From Cook’s Illustrated (with my adaptations, following).
|31/4||cups (16 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour|
|1/2||cup (2 3/4 ounces) yellow cornmeal|
|1 1/2||teaspoons sea salt|
|2 1/4||teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast|
|1 1/4||cups water (10 ounces), room temperature|
|3||tablespoons unsalted butter , melted, plus 4 tablespoons, softened|
|1||teaspoon plus 4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil|
|2||tablespoons unsalted butter|
|1/4||cup grated onion , from 1 medium onion (see note)|
|1/4||teaspoon dried oregano|
|2||medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)|
|1||(28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes|
|2||tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves|
|1||tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil|
|Ground black pepper|
|1||Pound mozzarella cheese , shredded (about 4 cups) (see note)|
|1/2||Ounce grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/4 cup)|
- FOR THE DOUGH: Mix flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, and yeast in bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook on low-speed until incorporated, about 1 minute. Add water and melted butter and mix on low-speed until fully combined, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping sides and bottom of bowl occasionally. Increase speed to medium and knead until dough is glossy and smooth and pulls away from sides of bowl, 4 to 5 minutes. (Dough will only pull away from sides while mixer is on. When mixer is off, dough will fall back to sides.)
- Using fingers, coat large bowl with 1 teaspoon olive oil, rubbing excess oil from fingers onto blade of rubber spatula. Using oiled spatula, transfer dough to bowl, turning once to oil top; cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until nearly doubled in volume, 45 to 60 minutes.
- FOR THE SAUCE: While dough rises, heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add onion, oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated and onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and sugar, increase heat to high, and bring to simmer. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until reduced to 2 1/2 cups, 25 to 30 minutes. Off heat, stir in basil and oil, then season with salt and pepper.
- TO LAMINATE THE DOUGH: Adjust oven rack to lower position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Using rubber spatula, turn dough out onto dry work surface and roll into 15- by 12-inch rectangle. Using offset spatula, spread softened butter over surface of dough, leaving 1/2-inch border along edges. Starting at short end, roll dough into tight cylinder. With seam side down, flatten cylinder into 18- by 4-inch rectangle. Cut rectangle in half crosswise. Working with 1 half, fold into thirds like business letter; pinch seams together to form ball. Repeat with remaining half. Return balls to oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise in refrigerator until nearly doubled in volume, 40 to 50 minutes.
- Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with 2 tablespoons olive oil each. Transfer 1 dough ball to dry work surface and roll out into 13-inch disk about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer dough to pan by rolling dough loosely around the rolling pin and unrolling into pan. Lightly press dough into pan, working into corners and 1 inch up sides. If dough resists stretching, let it relax 5 minutes before trying again. Repeat with remaining dough ball.
- For each pizza, sprinkle 2 cups mozzarella evenly over surface of dough. Spread 1 1/4 cups tomato sauce over cheese and sprinkle 2 tablespoons Parmesan over sauce. Bake until crust is golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove pizza from oven and let rest 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
Notes on my adaptations:
- I added 1 tsp chili flakes to the sauce (and more for serving, optional).
- To make the edge of the crust, I brushed it with more olive oil.
- I added fresh hot chorizo sausage (which I had sautéed and crumbled once cooked through) to one pizza on top of everything before putting in the oven.
- The other pizza had caramelized onions (which I frozen, having made a huge batch months before in a slow-cooker – recipe I should post some day).