Chicago is a beautiful town. I’m proud to have lived there for 10 years, attended law school there, and started my career. There are a million things that make Chicago great, and for many, a pilgrimage would not be complete without a visit to one of the culinary temples known for the style of pizza that put Chicago on the map: deep dish.
Leave it to the “Windy City” — with its own apocryphal fables about goats, and Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, and the haunted tavern once owned by Capone — to let the origins of Chicago deep dish bake in its own mythology.
Following World War II, American soldiers returning from Europe brought home a taste for a few of the delicacies they tried on the Continent, not the least of which was nearly ubiquitous in Italy: pizza. In Chicago, being the city with “big shoulders” meant that pizza could be more than just a “snack”, but rather something enjoyed as a meal, with a knife and fork, and thus DEEP.
I trust my own opinion, and so I’ll share with you the hierarchy of “top” Chicago deep dish establishments. My ranking system accounts not just for the quality of the pizza itself, but also includes merit for location, atmosphere and history:
- Pizzeria “Uno” and “Due” (the Uno chain isn’t bad either, for a chain, but don’t stand up to the original locations);
- Lou Malnati’s (multiple locations throughout Chicagoland; famous for their “butter crust”);
- Gino’s East (this was the first deep dish I ever tried, at the original dive which has since closed and relocated. They too now have multiple locations).
Each of these could be considered “schools” of Chicago deep dish, with their own variations on the style. But despite differences, they each in their own way typify what makes deep dish “good”: a thick substantial crust that is crispy on the edges, and yet flaky and slightly chewy inside; a tremendous amount of melted mozzarella cheese; a wide array of toppings, added in considerable volume; crushed tomatoes — no marinara sauce — on top of the pie.
Of course, there are other good places throughout the city. However, one place that a lot of tourists fall into — due to its having multiple locations in touristy places — is Giordano’s, which I do not recommend for anything other than an example of Chicago deep dish gone wrong.
There is one other disclaimer that I must make: I do not like pizza. While I respect it as a culinary art form with many unique variations, it simply is not one of my favorite foods in the way that it is for so many people. So, when I am called to eat pizza, I try to hunt for the very best pizza available, so that I might actually enjoy it.
For the recipe found below, I relied upon a number of different sources, including:
- This recipe, which is purportedly furnished by Lou Malnati’s, and which irritated me so much that I was tempted to reduce Malnati’s ranking in my hierarchy. Working with this recipe made me feel like the time on Everybody Loves Raymond when Marie gave Debra one of her recipes, except she omitted oregano and replaced it with tarragon. The pie didn’t turn out, it seemed to omit steps and ingredients that I would have expected to have been included, and delivered the sort of product that might just lead one to conclude they should never try making deep dish again, and leave it to the “professionals”.
- The recipe found here, especially in terms of the thoughtfulness with the technique. Much more workable than the Malnati’s recipe, I didn’t find it as authentic. I disliked the inclusion of sliced, cooked sausage, the short rise from too much yeast, and overuse of oil.
Quartermaster “Chicago-Style Plus”
Sausage and Mushroom Deep Dish Pizza
Yields: one 14″ deep dish pizza (8 servings)
Ingredients – for the Dough
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semolina flour
1/3 cup polenta, or corn meal
2 tsp. salt
1/2 package dry Fleishman’s yeast
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp. melted butter
1 1/4 cup luke warm water
Ingredients – Toppings
1 lb. mild Italian sausage (pref. uncased, a chub is easiest)
2 lb. low moisture Mozzarella, sliced to 1/8″ (not grated)
8 oz. sliced button or crimini mushrooms, sautéed (if you don’t first sauté them, they will release excess moisture as they bake)
4 oz. grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan
1 28-oz. can crushed “San Marzano” style tomatoes (partially drained of at least half of the excess liquid in the can), to which you add:
- dry herbs, such as basil or “Italian seasoning”, to taste
- additional seasonings, including granulated onion and garlic, red pepper flake, to taste
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 tsp. granulated sugar (or less), as needed
- 1-2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Preparation – Dough
- Sprinkle the yeast over the water and allow it to “bloom” while preparing the dry ingredients.
- Place all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and run for a few seconds with the dough hook in a stand mixer.
- Add the oil, butter, and water with yeast.
- Mix on low-medium with the dough hook until the dough is no longer shaggy, and takes the shape of a ball, about 5 minutes.
- Lightly coat the dough ball with olive oil, and allow the dough to rest, covered with plastic wrap in the mixing bowl, for approximately 3 to 4 hours, or until the dough has more than doubled in size.
A Note Regarding Pizza Pans
Prevailing wisdom is that a “shiny” pan will not produce good pizza. Having not known this at first, and having tried to make pizza using a “shiny” pan, I’d agree. Get a good, anodized, non-stick pizza pan, such as this one. Or, season your own. But don’t expect that the cheap metal ones will work from the start.
Can we talk Sausage?
Italian sausage is perhaps the most prevalent of toppings in deep dish, after cheese. The most traditional recipes deal with sausage in a peculiar way relative to other types of pizza: raw.
That’s right, traditional deep dish with sausage is crust, cheese, and then a layer of raw sausage covering the entire pie, then any other toppings, and finally the tomatoes. The sausage is supposed to fully cook while the pizza bakes.
It’s delicious that way, and since it’s a complete layer rather than little balls or hunks of sausage, the pizza definitely seems more substantial and hearty. Very Chicago.
But the one thing that does not occur when you make your pizza this way, since the sausage is under the other toppings and tomatoes, is any browning of the meat. And browning is flavor too.
The question of where and how to cook sausage in deep dish is deeply divided. And, since I like the under layer and crumbled cooked sausage that browns on top, my sausage deep dish has the special distinction of appealing to both Cubs and White Sox fans. That’s right, for this pie, it’s sausage two ways.
Divide the sausage in half, crumble and cook on the stove (but do not brown) 8 ounces, and reserve.
Par-baking the Crust
This is not a vital step, and I also understand that it is not especially traditional, but having tried it both ways, I prefer par-baking. If you omit this step, I’d recommend adding at least 5-10 minutes to the total bake time, maybe even 15 minutes depending on toppings (see discussion of sausage below).
- Preheat oven to 425F.
- Place 3 tbsp. olive oil in the pan, and move around so that it evenly coats the entire bottom and sides.
- Turn out the dough into the oiled pan, and begin evenly spreading it with your fingers into a large disk, but not trying to reach the sides of the pan.
- Allow the dough to rest, covered, for 10-15 minutes. During this time, the dough will “relax”, and puff up just a bit.
- After the dough rests, it will be easier to bring it up to the edges of the pan, and press up the sides. Go ahead and form the crust all the way up to the top edges of the pan.
- Allow the crust to proof in the pan for 15 minutes.
- Bake for 10 minutes.
Assembling the Pie for Baking
- Arrange the sliced mozzarella in a concentric pattern (or whatever) atop the crust. Do not skimp on the cheese. Do not skimp on the cheese. Do not skimp on the cheese. Whatever you do, use plenty of cheese.
- Take the 8 ounces of raw Italian sausage, and press out little disks between your thumb and forefinger, and arrange over the cheese in a complete and uniform layer.
- Arrange the 8 ounces of sautéed mushrooms (discard any excess liquid first) over the sausage layer.
- Evenly place the seasoned tomatoes and remaining liquid. Be judicious about how much tomatoes you use, especially the liquid part. If you don’t use the entire can, that’s okay.
- Take the cooked crumbled sausage and arrange over the tomatoes in an even layer.
- Finally, top with the grated Pecorino or Parmesan.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes.
Your pizza is done, it should have pulled away from the edges a little bit. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool down slightly, maybe 5 minutes or so. Then, turn out the pizza onto a cutting board. If you leave it in the pan to cool, the crust will get soggy. This step should be fairly easy if you used a non-stick pan and the correct amount of oil, but be careful. Slice, serve, and enjoy.
Plain cheese is always a winner. I’d shorten the baking time by 5-10 minutes if omitting the sausage which has to cook. There’s no heresy at all in using the following toppings for deep dish: pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, peppers, onions, olives.