Sunday Recipe–The Art of Chicago Style Pizza #VDM30in30

The Windy City is well known for some of it’s culinary delights – Chicago-Style hot dogs, Maxwell Street polish sausage, Italian Beef sandwiches, and deep dish pizza.  It seems like you can get one these staples on practically any intersection, and there are very successful local chains that specialize in these foods.

When it comes to Chicago-Style Deep Dish pizza, there are fewer options.  The main purveyors of these foods are a few restaurants – Giordano’s, Gino’s, Pizzeria Uno, and Lou Malnati’s.  Lou’s is very well known, and they have restaurants all across the Chicago area.

I grew up in Schaumburg, IL, a Chicago suburb most commonly known for Woodfield Mall and having one of the first Ikea stores in the United States.  After high school, I moved to Wisconsin for college. 

Its not impossible to find a good pizza in Wisconsin, but it can be tough.  There are very few good local pizza places, and they rarely do any Chicago Style pizza.  Lou Malnati’s and Gino’s both ship frozen pre-cooked Deep Dish pizzas, but it’s just not that same as getting one fresh from the oven.

There are some Uno’s around…but let’s not get into that.

The only way to get a good taste of home fresh from the oven is to make it yourself.

What is Chicago Style Pizza?

Before we can talk about how to make Chicago Style pizza, we have to define exactly what it is.

If you think about pizza is usually layered, it goes crust – sauce – cheese+toppings. Chicago style pizza is fundamentally different – and it’s layered crust – cheese – toppings – sauce. 

Note: There are three kinds of Chicago Style Pizza.  Deep dish style, which is the kind mentioned above, a thin crust variety which has more of a cracker-like crust, and the Giordano’s stuffed pizza.  Stuffed pizza is similar to deep dish pizza, but it has an extra layer of crust between the cheese/toppings and the sauce.

Making Chicago Style Pizza

The pizza making community isn’t that different from the virtualization community.  The people who are active in it are very passionate about their craft and open to sharing dough formulas, sauce recipes, and other tips.  There is an entire community on the forums at pizzamaking.com dedicated to Chicago Style pizza with members who have spent considerable time attempting to replicate the formulas for the larger chain restaurants.

In order to make the dough, you will need a heavy stand mixer such as a KitchenAid and a scale.  All of the recipes are expressed in baker’s percentages, so the ingredients will need to be weighed.  Pizzamaking.com does include a page with dough calculators to convert the baker’s percentages to weights.

There are two dough recipes that I have had very good results with.  These recipes are:

Some people are very particular about the brand of flour, yeast, and oil that they use, but you don’t need to use the exact same brands as the recipe calls for.  You should, however, follow the directions closely as under or over-mixing can ruin the batch.

Once the dough has risen, I like to put it into a Ziplock bag and let it rest in the fridge for a couple of days.  This makes the dough easier to work with when I bake the pizza.  You don’t have to do this, though – you can use the dough right after it has been through the first rise.

When it comes time to bake the pizza, you will need to use a 2” deep round metal pizza pan such as this 14” non-stick pan.  A pizza stone is not required, but it can help during baking.  I usually put my pizza stone in before I preheat the oven, and I will place the pizza pan on it during baking.

If you prepared your dough in advance and refrigerated it, you will want to take it out of the fridge and place it in the pizza pan to warm up.  I usually let it do this for about an hour as it makes the dough easier to work with.  You will want to start preheating your oven at the same time.  I set the temperature to 450 and let it preheat for an hour, and I will turn the temperature down to 425 before I put the pizza in to bake.

Once the dough has warmed up, you will want to oil the bottom of the pan with a little corn or vegetable oil and then spread the dough out.  Don’t pinch the dough up the sides of the pan – just leave it a little thicker at the edges. 

Once the dough has been spread out, take a regular fork and dock the dough by pressing the fork all the way through.  This helps the dough bake up a little crispier.

Once you have the dough in the pan, it’s time to top the pizza.  The ingredients you will need for topping your pizza are:

  • 8 ounces of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 pound of bulk Italian Sausage
  • 1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes

The first layer is mozzarella cheese.  You will need to spread the cheese around on the crust, leaving about 1/2 to 1 inch on the edges.  Most recipes call for using mozzarella sliced from block of cheese, but I use pre-shredded cheese from the store.  I usually use about 8 ounces of shredded cheese.

The next layer is the toppings.  A traditional Chicago Style pizza is topped with Italian Sausage, but you can use any combination of meats and vegetables that you prefer.  If you’re using bulk Italian Sausage from a butcher, you’ll want to roughly shape them into little balls about .75 to 1.25 inches in diameter and place them on top of the cheese.

The last layer that goes on the pizza before being placed into the oven is the sauce.  The sauce consists of one 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes.  Any brand of crushed tomatoes will work.  If you have a fine-meshed strainer, you will want to drain out as much water as you can.  The texture of the tomatoes should look like a thick, chunky tomato paste after you drain the water off.

You will want to spread this mixture over the pizza as best as you can.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t look like you have enough tomato to cover the pizza – it will loosen up and spread out as the pizza cooks.  If you add another can, you will end up with pizza soup.  Trust me on this – I’ve made this mistake too many times.

After the sauce has been placed on top of the pizza, you will need to turn your oven down to 425 and place the pizza in for baking.  It takes about 30-35 minutes to cook the pizza, and you will want to rotate the pan 180 degrees after 15 minutes.

When your pizza is done, it should rest for a few minutes to cool down before cutting it into wedges.  You will need a spatula or a pie server to remove the pizza from the pan.

A finished pizza should look something like this:

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