Jesters of the Food Court
I decided to try the Food Network’s recipe for Chicago-style pizza. This was brave of me, or just stupid, given my bad experiences with FN recipes. I tried Emeril’s Bearnaise sauce recipe, and it was utterly heinous. The first time I made prime rib, I tried Bobby Flay’s recipe, which suggested an insane temperature of 325°, and I ended up with several pounds of something resembling rubber.
Here’s something you really have to get through your head. I haven’t been able to do it, but maybe you’ll succeed where I failed: CREDENTIALS DON’T MEAN SQUAT IN THE KITCHEN. I don’t care where Emeril cooked. I don’t care where a given chef went to school. You can develop great credentials while cooking really bad food. Look at Mario Batali.
I can’t help being impressed when I meet someone who has a cooking resume, but that only proves I’m dense, because their food generally fails to live up to the curriculum vitae. I should know better than to trust the Food Network. Just the other day, I watched Alton Brown choose and ruin a badly cut rib eye, after telling the audience the wrong way to season a pan. And he’s supposed to be the king of culinary hype-destroyers.
Truthfully, I’m being too hard on myself (for once). I knew the pizza recipe was probably going to be disappointing. I didn’t try it because I thought it would work. I tried it because editing is easier than starting from scratch. I knew that once I had made a pie, I would be able to come up with improvements and end up with a great product.
The recipe comes from a place called Malnati’s. I have never been there. I have never had Chicago-style pizza, unless Uno counts. I’ve been to Uno once, and I can’t understand how they stay in business.
I want to be fair. I changed the recipe somewhat. I made it smaller, and I altered the proportions of sauce, dough, cheese, and toppings. But I know I didn’t cause any new problems. I think that will be clear as I describe what I did.
The recipe calls for “sauce.” That’s all the info you get. I decided to use my usual recipe, but since Chicago-style contains chunks of tomato, I opted for Cento Italian tomatoes instead of commercial sauce (paste) made by Stanislaus. The Cento tomatoes make wonderful sauce, but it’s a little more orange than Stanislaus, and it’s not as fruity. Also, the tomatoes are watery. So I boiled the sauce down a little.
I have read that you shouldn’t cook Chicago-style sauce once it’s mixed, but I didn’t know that when I made the pizza. The result was really delicious, but next time, I’ll boil the tomatoes first and add the other stuff later. You can’t use the tomatoes without removing some water, because you’ll get a tomato soup in a big bowl made from watery bread.
The recipe says to use a very basic dough recipe. Flour, oil, water, salt, yeast, sugar…I think. Something like that. I forget. I did some Googling and decided to change that a little. I made my usual oil-free sauce, and I substituted 1/4 cup of semolina for some of the flour. I had read various claims about corn meal and semolina figuring heavily in the crust, so I decided to see what semolina would do. Generally, in pizza, corn meal is a cheap, crappy substitute for semolina, and I had semolina on hand, so I used the best ingredient I had.
Here’s what you do. You dust the bottom of a deep pan with semolina or corn meal, to prevent sticking. I could live without the added grit, but I complied, using semolina. You stretch the dough out and line the pan. You pile in a layer of mozzarella, and you add a fair amount of Romano and Parmesan, which is a little silly, since you’re never going to be able to tell the difference between the two cheeses in this recipe. Next time I’ll use a single hard cheese. Once the cheese is in, you dump in your sauce and toppings. I chose to put the sauce in and then add the grated cheese and the toppings, in that order.
Once that’s done, you bake the whole mess for 30 to 40 minutes at 425°. That’s what I did.
Here are photos.
This was really delicious, but I still think the recipe is a loser. I’ve been consulting and Googling, and it’s my understanding that the crust is supposed to be flaky and buttery. It gets that way because they butter the dough and fold it, sort of like croissant dough. Naturally, the Food Network didn’t mention this. And the only reason the sauce was good was that I already knew how to make it.
I’m not really that interested in making perfect Chicago-style pizza. I can’t really hope to do it until I’ve tried the real thing, and I don’t think that’s possible without a plane ride. But I would like to make something really good, BASED ON THE CONCEPT. That’s a reasonable goal.
I found a link to a site which supposedly has the real, gold-standard method for making the crust. Here is the link: LINK. It seems to confirm that the Food Network has failed again, with no plausible excuse.
If you look at the above link, and then you Google Malnati’s recipe over at the Food Network, I think you’ll see that the changes I made aren’t the reason the crust isn’t the canonical Chicago crust. The Malnati recipe isn’t anything like the one I linked to above, so if I had followed the Malnati recipe faithfully, I would still have a homogeneous crust instead of layers.
I’m going to try something similar to the method I linked to. I plan to make some dough, roll it out, cool it, butter it, and fold it a few times. Then I’ll roll it out and stick it in the pan. It ought to work pretty well. I should get layers, plus some butter flavor.
This pizza seems to call for a lot more sauce and cheese than plain old Sicilian, so I think I’ll jack up the quantities. And I am tempted to shove some ricotta in there.
I would be truly amazed if I ended up with Chicago-style pizza, but I think I can produce something incredibly good. I don’t think I’ll make it often. Who wants to do all that work? I make the best Sicilian pizza I’ve ever seen, and it takes about ten minutes of work, plus eight minutes in the oven. I don’t see myself fooling with this new stuff very often, but I think it’s well worth trying.
I am tempted to use plain old croissant dough, but I might as well try my idea first.
Here is the latest. I made my usual dough, adding butter to the recipe. Then I rolled it out very thin, buttered it, folded it, buttered it, and so on, until I had several layers. Then I stretched it out and put it in a Teflon pan, over semolina.
The bottom layer is around four ounces of provolone. Then another five ounces of Costco mozzarella. Then ten ounces of sauce. Then half a cup of Parmesan. Then seasoned ricotta, spinach, and pepperoni.
I know it will taste good. But will it be anything like the real thing?
The pizza came out very well, but it convinced me to quit putting semolina in the crust. It makes the crust smell like Graham crackers, and it makes it too much like a Stella d’Oro breakfast treat. I think my own Sicilian crust would work a lot better. And I need to add fat to the outside of the dough.
The inside of the pizza was fine, but too deep. It should have been hotter inside, and the depth kept it from getting where it needed to be.
I think I’ll layer the crust again next time, but no semolina, and I’ll put oil in the pan, the way I usually do. Maybe I’ll add some butter with the oil.Stumble it! Save This Page