A picture of a homemade Chicago deep dish pizza

Chicago Deep Dish Pizza – Characteristics, History, and General Preparation

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What is Chicago deep dish pizza, what are its defining characteristics and historical background, what can you expect when eating it, and how is it generally prepared? This post will provide you with all the details about Chicago deep dish pizza

General Background and Characteristics

The Chicago Deep Dish pizza originates from Chicago, Illinois, and is a unique style of pizza. While it is widely regarded as a cultural symbol of Chicago, there is often debate among those outside the city about whether it can be classified as a pizza or if it should be considered a type of pie (it is a pizza!).

The deep dish pizza is prepared in a round pan and is characterized by a thick, fat-rich dough (traditionally a combination of olive oil and corn oil). The dough itself is not extremely thick (contrary to common belief), and has a texture that resembles a biscuit – crumbly like a pie crust. The edges of the deep dish are raised and attached to the sides of the pan (the thickness of the edges may vary depending on the pizzeria). Additionally, it is likely the only type of pizza that does not require full gluten development, resulting in a shorter and minimal kneading process.

The deep dish pizza is generously topped with a thick layer of sauce and toppings, with the sauce always placed on top of the cheese and toppings. This gives it the appearance of a pie rather than a traditional pizza. It is traditionally eaten using a knife and fork, as it is considered a dish in its own right.

The assembly of a deep dish pizza involves placing the cheese directly on the dough, followed by additional toppings if desired. On top of the toppings, a chunky-textured sauce made from crushed tomatoes is added, and grated hard cheese such as Pecorino or Parmesan can be sprinkled on top of the sauce.Another variation of deep dish pizza is the stuffed pizza. What sets it apart from the ‘original’ deep dish is its two-layered dough: a thick bottom layer and a thin top layer. Sandwiched between these layers is a generous amount of cheese and toppings, topped with tomato sauce on the upper dough.

In my view, the stuffed pizza actually more of a pie than a pizza; and given the existing divided opinions about the original deep dish, I won’t delve into it further – just know that it exists.

Roots and History of Deep Dish Pizza

Like New York pizza, the history and exact origin of Chicago deep dish pizza vary depending on who you ask. The one detail agreed upon by all parties is that Pizzeria Uno, located at 29 East Ohio Street in Chicago (which still operates in the same location today), is the pizzeria that originally invented deep dish pizza. However, from this point, things start to get more complicated.

According to the original story, which has become a Chicago legend, it all began in 1943 with a man named Ike Sewell. Sewell, a liquor salesman originally from Texas, had a dream of opening a Mexican restaurant to honor the food he missed from his homeland. To pursue this dream, he formed a partnership with Rick Riccardo, an Italian immigrant who already owned a restaurant in Chicago.

While their goal was to open a Mexican restaurant, according to the story, after Riccardo tasted the Mexican dishes that were supposed to be served at the restaurant, he experienced severe stomach trouble, and as a result – the idea of Mexican food was abandoned.

So, since Mexican food was not an option, what could they offer in their restaurant? Pizza, of course. However, unlike other pizzerias in Chicago at that time that served thin crust pizza (more about that later), Sewell had a unique vision – he aimed to create a pizza that would be a full meal, rather than just a snack or appetizer. Allegedly, this is how the concept of deep dish pizza originated, all thanks to Sewell. In 1943, “Ricardo’s Pizzeria” opened, named to take advantage of the popularity of Ricardo’s original restaurant.

In 1956, Ricardo passed away at an early age, and the ownership of the pizzeria was fully transferred to Sewell. He subsequently rebranded it as “Pizzeria Uno,” which later became a tremendous success. In 1980, Sewell began franchising Pizzeria Uno (along with its “little sister,” Pizzeria Duo) across the US, and the rest is history.

During this time, another man named Alfonso Malnati was said to have worked with Sewell at Pizzeria Uno, also playing a significant role in the invention of the Deep Dish pizza. Alfonso’s son, Lou, also worked at Pizzeria Uno but left in 1971 to open his own establishment, Lou Malnati’s.

Lou Malnati’s has also achieved great success, with over 80 branches in the Chicago and Arizona areas today.

…but now the plot thickens.
In this case as well, thanks to the work of pizza historian Peter Regas, a “slightly” different truth was discovered. Regas refuted most of Sewell’s claims and stories, revealing that Sewell apparently took advantage of Ricardo’s early death to falsely take credit for inventing the deep dish pizza. Among other things, Regas discovered that Sewell had a limited understanding of pizzas, and that it was actually Ricardo who “invented” the pizza sold at the original Pizzeria Uno. Sewell only joined as a partner at a later stage, after the pizzeria had already been operating for several years.

And if the plot isn’t complicated enough, Regas examined photos from the original Pizzeria Uno between 1943-1957; He noticed that while the pizzas in the photos were thicker than others sold at that time, they still didn’t resemble today’s deep dish pizza. Regas speculates that a woman named Alice Mae Redmond is responsible for the deep dish as we know it today. It is claimed that she “renovated” the dough of Uno’s using a biscuit recipe from her home in order to make it stretch more easily. This would mark the turning point between the “original” deep dish and the deep dish we know today.

In conclusion, similar to the story of New York pizza, it is not entirely clear who is the true mastermind behind the deep dish recipe (according to Peter Regas, it is not Ike Sewell), but one thing is certain – Sewell deserves credit for successfully managing and marketing Pizzeria Uno and Duo, and for bringing the Chicago deep dish to the American and global consciousness.

Eating Characteristics of Deep Dish Pizza

Compared to most other styles of pizza, the Chicago deep dish is a meal in itself. The thick, crumbly dough is prominent and is combined with a generous amount of toppings, even in the plain tomato sauce and cheese version. This combination creates a unique blend of flavors and makes the deep dish a satisfying dish. Typically, it is enjoyed with a knife and fork, or at least on a plate, as the large slices can be challenging to eat with your hands.

In conclusion, if you plan to indulge in deep dish, be aware that it is not a pizza for eating “on the go”. Prepare yourself for a hearty meal.

Preparation of Deep Dish Pizza

The preparation of Chicago Deep Dish pizza is different from other pizza styles. The dough used has a dough absorption of about 50% and contains a high amount of oil (around 17%). The kneading of the dough is brief, lasting no more than two to three minutes if done by hand. Before baking, the dough is stretched and placed in a specialized deep pan, ensuring that the edges are tightly sealed around the pan, creating a thin or thick crust (the thickness is up to you).

When it comes to topping assembly, the mozzarella (preferably sliced whole milk low moisture) is directly placed on the dough, followed by the desired toppings, and finally the tomato sauce. It’s important to note that the tomato sauce should be made from canned tomatoes, drained of their liquid, and have a chunky texture. Baking is usually done at around 230C/450F for about 35 minutes.

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