Deep-dish Pizza


Chicago-style pizza refers to a deep-dish pizza, with a crust up to three inches tall at the edge, slightly higher than the ingredients, which include large amounts of cheese and chunky tomato sauce, acting as a large bowl. Besides deep-dish, the term also refers to stuffed pizza, another Chicago style. Both styles of pizza are usually eaten with a knife and fork. There is also a style of thin-crust pizza found in Chicago and throughout the rest of the Midwest.

The crust is thin and firm enough to have a noticeable crunch, unlike a New York-style pizza. Most Chicago pizzerias offer both thin-crust and deep-dish pizzas. The Chicago-style ‘deep-dish’ pizza was invented at Pizzeria Uno, in Chicago, in 1943, reportedly by Uno’s founder Ike Sewell, a former University of Texas football star. However, a 1956 article from the ‘Chicago Daily News’ asserts that Uno’s original pizza chef Rudy Malnati developed the recipe. Another deep-dish restaurant is Uno’s companion restaurant Due, opened down the block by Sewell in 1955.

The deep-dish pizza differs in a few key ways from what pizza is typically known as: the crust is thick and — as the name suggests — is deep, so as to resemble a pie more than a flatbread; the toppings are assembled in reverse, with the cheese being on the bottom layer, followed by any additional toppings, and then the sauce. The pizza dough, which often contains both flour and cornmeal, is typically pushed into a round, steel pan that is more similar to a cake pan than a typical pizza pan. The dough is and pushed up the sides, and parbaked before the toppings are added, to assure complete baking. The pan is oiled in order to allow for easy removal as well as to create a fried effect on the outside of the crust. The crust is then covered with cheese (generally sliced mozzarella) and often various meat options such as pepperoni or sausage, the latter of which is sometimes in a solid patty-like layer, just above the cheese. Other toppings such as onions, mushrooms and bell peppers are then also used. An uncooked sauce, typically made from crushed canned tomatoes is added as the finishing layer.

By the mid-1970s, two Chicago chains, Nancy’s Pizza, founded by Rocco Palese, and Giordano’s Pizzeria, operated by brothers Efren and Joseph Boglio, began experimenting with deep dish pizza and created the stuffed pizza. Palese based his creation on his mother’s recipe for scarciedda, an Italian Easter pie from his hometown of Potenza. Stuffed pizzas are often even deeper than deep-dish pizzas, but otherwise, it can be hard to see the difference until it is cut into. A stuffed pizza generally has much deeper topping density than any other type of pizza. As with deep-dish pizza, a deep layer of dough forms a bowl in a high-sided pan and the toppings and cheese are added. Then, an additional layer of dough goes on top and is pressed to the sides of the crust. At this stage, the thin dough top has a rounded, domed appearance. Pizza makers often poke a small hole in the top of the ‘lid’ to allow air and steam to escape while cooking, so that the pizza does not explode. Typically, but not always, tomato sauce is ladled over the top crust before the pizza is baked.

‘Pan pizza’ in Chicago is similar to the deep-dish style, and baked in a similar deep-sided pan, but its crust is quite thick—a cross between the buttery crisp crust and focaccia. Toppings and cheese frequently go on the top of a pan pizza, rather than under the sauce as is traditionally the case with deep-dish and stuffed pizza. The placement of the cheese and toppings on top make the pan pizza variety similar to a thin-crust pizza with a thicker and larger crust.

Chicago thin-crust pizza is topped with a liberal quantity of Italian style tomato sauce, which usually has quite a lot of herbs or is highly spiced, and typically contains no visible chunks of tomato. Next, a layer of toppings is added, and finally a layer of mozzarella cheese. This pizza is cut into squares, also known as party cut or tavern cut, as opposed to a pie cut into wedges. However, the consistency of the crust and the quantity and choice of the tomato sauce and cheese are what separate this style from East Coast- and Roman-style pizzas, and it makes the pizza from most neighborhood pizzerias immediately distinguishable from that offered by national chains.

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