Monday, February 7, 2011

Chicago. Deep-dish. Pizza (?)

This may very well be the most controversial post on this blog. At least, it's about what seems to be one of the most controversial foods I've come across. That's right, I'm talking about Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.

When you think about it theoretically -- and as a good UChicago grad, I do -- pizza is conceptually very simple. All it consists of is a flattened loaf of bread covered with tomato sauce, cheese, and anything else you care to throw on it. But there exist so many different methods of actually preparing one that bickering about the correct and proper nature of the dish pops up in every region (unless you eat solely from Dominoes, in which case, shame on you). Chicago has its own specific style: the dough is much puffier and is pressed into the bottom and sides of a 2-inch-deep (roughly) pan. This makes it more of a savory pie, in which you can stuff enourmous quantities of anything you can get your hands on. With the base "crust" of soft, warm bread with all the various toppings you care for, the end result is thick, cheesy, and versatile -- you can go anywhere with the dish when you can fit the kitchen sink into it.

Flattened bread? Check. Tomato sauce? Check. Cheese? Triple check.
Pizza? Evidently still up for debate.

The problem I have is that many of my friends are from the East Coast, where pizza is traditionally served with a thin crust. No, wait, let me revise that sentence: I have many friends from New York, where pizza crust is thinner than crackers. I don't mean to say that I dislike thin crust -- heaven forfend! I love pizza in all its forms. But I preach a culinary gospel of diversity, which doesn't always jive with the New Yorker view of the world.

Unfortunately, I have yet to find a universal argument against deep-dish. One person complains that it's like eating a lump of melted cheese. Having lived in Switzerland, I have no problem with this. Many others focus their arguments on the crust: about how that's simply not the way it should be made. I say, what's wrong with using a thick & hearty bread instead of something thin from time to time? Regardless of the specifics of the debate, there seems to be one common agreement: Chicago deep-dish is just not pizza.

Once we get to this point, both sides descend into sputtering disbelief, each appalled at the others' clear lack of reason. Sigh. Oh, my dearest New Yorkers. I love you all, and will try to accept all your quirks, as I'm afraid you will have to continue putting up with all of mine.

I decided to make a deep-dish a long time ago, mainly because I wanted to figure out the process: how does the preparation of something so thick differ from making a traditional pizza? I did my research online, but wasn't entirely satisfied with what I uncovered. Ultimately, I referred (as I always do) to Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything. The process ended up being very convoluted: for the dough, he uses a rosemary focaccia recipe, which itself is based on a different recipe for pizza dough. At that point, he sends you past several hundred pages to find how to make the sauce, and then backwards to a different section on topping suggestions. I've tried to straighten out all the jumping around below.

It's not the perfect deep-dish. The dough puffs up a little too much during the initial baking (before you add everything else), so I would recommend the use of pie weights or uncooked rice or beans to help tamp it down -- a larger pan might have helped as well. Also, don't be afraid of letting the tomato sauce dry out: even though baking helped, mine ended up just a little bit runny. I probably should have boiled off its liquids a little longer. Clearly, more experimentation is called for. I did like my selection of toppings, though: mushrooms, spinach, peppers, and Italian sausage -- a very Chicago combination.

Chicago Deep-Dish Pizza
for the dough:
  • 3 cups flour, plus more as needed
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 2 tsp salt, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 5 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary leavens, plus more to taste
for the sauce:
  • salt
  • 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil or butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1,1/2 to 2 lbs canned tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper
to finish:
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • toppings of choice

Make the dough
Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a food processor. Turn the machine on and add 1 cup water and the oil through a feed tube.

Process for about 30 seconds, adding more water, a little at a time, until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky to the touch. If it is still dry, add another tablespoon or two of water and process for another 10 seconds. (In the unlikely event that the mixture is too sticky, add flour a tablespoon at a time.)

Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for a few seconds to form a smooth, round dough ball. Put the dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let rise until the dough doubles in size, 1-2hrs. (You can cut this rising time short if you're in a hurry, or you can let the dough rise more slowly, in the refrigerator, for up to 6-8hrs.) The dough can be frozen, tightly wrapped, for up to a month.

Assemble the sauce
Put the olive oil or butter in a 10- or 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot or the butter is melted, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 2-3min. Add the tomatoes and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and the mixture comes together and thickens 10-15min. Taste, adjust the seasonings, and keep warm. (Or let cool, cover and refrigerate for up to several days; reheat gently before serving.)

Prepare the crust
Lightly knead the dough, form it into a ball, and put it on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle with a little more flour, cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and let it rest for 20min.

Use 1 Tbs of the oil to grease a large jelly roll pan. Press the dough into a small rectangle and put it in the pan; let it relax there for a few minutes. Press and stretch the dough to the edges of the pan. If it resists, let it rest for a few minutes, then stretch it some more. Sometimes this takes a while, because the dough is so elastic. Don't fight it; just stretch, rest, then stretch again. Try not to tear the dough. Cover the dough and let it rise for at least 30min or until somewhat puffy.

Make the pizza
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Uncover the dough and dimple the surface all over your fingertips. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with the rosemary and plenty of salt.

Put the dough in the oven, lower the temperature to 375 degrees, and bake for 10min. Remove, and place the mozzarella and parmesan in the partially-baked dough. Add any other toppings. Finally, smear with a layer of sauce. Bake the pizza for 20-25min more, until hot and bubbly and browned on the bottom. Let cool for a few minutes before cutting out the first slice.


Glee said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ben Sigrist said...

I too know a New Yorker who loves to hate on Chicago pizza. I like to think of Chicago-style pizza as a savory pie. It's too often unfairly relegated to the category of "gooey, hot mess." Like pie filling, you can certainly make it too melty (although I like that sometimes), but the just-right consistency is definitely possible.

Anonymous said...

I think I'll have to try this one! Although I am somewhat spoiled by New York pizza, I have yet to try the Real Chicago style (just some slightly migrated midwest versions of the same). Your blog is awesome! I love reading your dialogs on food and cooking :)

Spuds said...

Wow, thanks everybody! I confess I was expecting slightly more vitriol and less encouragement. It's good to be disappointed.

Oh, and also: GLeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Elizabeth said...

I love Chicago Deep Dish, but I think of it more like a cheese & tomato pie than a pizza. I think it's delicious, but I'm not convinced it's truly pizza (I'm from Minnesota).

Shaun said...

Neen ~ In New Zealand there does not appear to be a riven discussion on pizza crusts. My angelheart Eric - from the US west coast - has no regional affiliation to either Chicago or New York but claims to only like thin crusts. I think that if they are too thin, they are indeed like crackers, and I prefer more heft. Don't get me wrong - like you, I don't really care either way so long as the pizza crust is done well, but sometimes a deep dish is all that will suffice. Thank you for bringing the process to us out in the blogosphere - I had never thought to make it at home (though I do use a pizza stone to make my angelheart Eric's pizza New York style).