More Food Network FAIL

June 25th, 2012

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.

17 Responses to “More Food Network FAIL”

  1. Randy Rager Says:

    Bear in mind that when they say “Chicago Pie”, they really do mean a pie. They’re not kidding around about that part. The end result should strongly resemble a whole lot of pizza ingredients baked in a bigass pie crust.

    I’m not real thrilled with Chicago style, myself, and I’ve eaten it in Chicago. The poor inmates in that asylum of a city get a lot of things wrong, and this is one of them. Sure would be nice to see you fix their mistakes.

    I’ve given up on Food Network. My go-to source of food information these days is the Serious Eats website. They don’t get everything right, but they have a consistently higher hit rate than FN.

  2. Steve H. Says:

    That sounds a lot like what I baked, except the crust was like a big biscuit, sort of.

    I’m wondering if the mental picture I have of Chicago-style is better than the reality. That would be a good thing, since the picture, not the reality, is what I’m going to end up creating.

  3. og Says:

    Uno pizza in Chicago is not like Uno elsewhere, in my experience. It’s worth eating the real thing once. You may still not like it. the deepdish is a thinner crust with what amounts to a cheese pie, but as much as I like cheese a slice a year is about all I can take.

    I detest Lou Malnottis. might as well go to the hut. Fact is, I’m not a big fan of any pizza that I didn’t make anymore, once you showed how easy it was to do. I tend to make rather than buy.

  4. Steve H. Says:

    I appreciate you guys giving me tips.

    I should post my new method for thin crust pizza. It’s WAY better than the old one, and it doesn’t take as much skill.

  5. Ed B Says:

    Llike Og said. I gave your recipe to my wife and she’s been experimenting since. And well.

  6. Steve H. Says:

    I’m glad people are getting decent pizza out of my efforts. If you can’t get Stanislaus sauce, those Cento tomatoes are life-savers.

  7. Ruth H Says:

    You should just quit fooling around thinking you are going to find a recipe any better than what you already do. Now, granted I haven’t had any and probably never will, but I’ve seen the pictures and I think I can take your word for it. Frankly I avoided Chicago the only time I came anywhere near to it and have never had their pizza. I think you should avoid the whole thought.
    That think crust recipe would be good to run again.

  8. Ruth H Says:

    Well, that last sentence got screwed up pretty badly, I’m in a crusty old lady mood and can’t type either. But I did put up a post on my blog. Should we just throw out the constitution altogether or do you think there is still hope?

  9. Randy Rager Says:

    I’ve been using a slightly modified version of your pizza since I bought the book. Bonta Super Sweet with Basil is my preferred sauce, Costco mozzarella of course and I run the dough slightly yeastier.

    Also I gave up on the screen, just cannot seem to get the thing to work without tearing up the crust. The local butcher has some incredible sausage to use as topping.

    Speaking of, I believe the last time I was in Chicago there was some sausage in the pie. You might try grinding a batch of Italian, cooking it and adding it to the recipe.

  10. Steck Says:

    These folks will ship you a frozen Chicago pizza, if it helps for comparison purposes:

  11. lauraw Says:

    I’m wondering if the mental picture I have of Chicago-style is better than the reality.

    Most definitely. Chicago deep-dish pie is one of those regional specialties that end up being wildly overrated to those who didn’t grow up on it.

    It seems like such a good idea, but when you eat a slice of it, meh. And it sits like lead in the stomach. Thinner pies have better flavor. You can really enjoy your meat and basil leaves and tomato flavors when they aren’t in a dense pile all mortared together with cheese (and sometimes, an extra layer of pizza crust in the middle, for some unfathomable reason).

  12. Steve H. Says:

    Maybe I’m on a unicorn hunt, here. I do like the basic concept. Cheese under sauce sounded stupid, but it does work. I should probably go back to my tried-and-true Sicilian crust.

    I completely understand the remarks about Midwesterners having a warped impression of Chicago-style pizza. My mother made pretty bad spaghetti (with chili powder in the sauce), but because I grew up on it, I liked it anyway.

  13. Huck Says:

    I’m not a big fan of thick crust, but one time in Chicago I saw an inspired sausage pizza. It didn’t have some sausage slices or a couple of crumbles on top–there was one giant sausage patty that covered the entire foot and a half pie.

  14. Gerry From Valpo Says:

    After years of failing to make an acceptable deep dish at home, the following recipe is the closest you will come to the real thing.

    Give it a try, if you must. This one works.**ASCA00

  15. Gerry From Valpo Says:

    BTW, there is no recipe at that site, click on watch the video.

  16. Steve H. Says:

    I appreciate the link. The Cook’s Illustrated site has the recipe.

    I trust these people. They do their homework, unlike the Food Network crew. If they say this is IT, I believe it.

    That being said, it looks disappointing. In cross-section, that crust looks exactly like what I made. I am starting to think people are right when they tell me Chicago-style just isn’t that good.

    I am thinking the best move is to continue, using a real bread-flour pizza crust. True Sicilian pizza (at least the New York/New Jersey version) is a great deal like Chicago style. It’s a big bowl of crust with the cheese on the bottom. I don’t see why I can’t use my Sicilian crust and give up on semolina and corn meal, which seem hopeless.

  17. Alois Says:

    “I’ve been to Uno once, and I can’t understand how they stay in business.”

    They make a great New York Strip steak, and it costs about half of what you’ll pay in a good steakhouse. I suppose it’s a loss leader, but try one if you get the chance. I’ve had many of their steaks and have never been even slightly disappointed. Get it without their silly “wowza sauce,” that only gets in the way.