Monday, November 30, 2009

Chicago Style Pizza Traditions

Pizza is a culinary tradition of Chicago dating back to the 1940's, when trademarks of the famous Chicago-style were originally crafted at Pizzeria Uno. The Italian restaurant introduced the Midwest to a new breed of pizza: deep dish. The bold approach to crust caught on quick, and became the inspiration for other unique takes on the Italian original. Today, Chicago-style pizza is mimicked across America, but not many people outside of the city realize that there's more to Chicago-style pizza than just deep dish.

Deep Dish
Cooked in a pan deep enough to be a bowl, this original favorite allows toppings to be piled high on top of a thick, buttery crust. Chunky tomato sauce, layers of mozzarella and three inch tall crust make the deep dish style stand out. Most commonly this type of pizza is generously topped with an assortment of Italian meats and vegetables like bell peppers and onions. Heavy to hold and messy to eat, deep dish gives pizza eaters license to overindulge.

Pan Pizza
Similar to deep dish, pan pizza was created by using the same tools but requires different ingredients. Pan pizza uses thicker dough and lots of olive oil for coating the pan. Out of the oven, the crust is slightly firm and crispy fried on the edges. The quality of crust is the main focal point, so it's common for pan pizzas to not have tomato sauce. Mozzarella is sprinkled on the crust and toppings are sometimes minimal. Pan pizza is a tame version of deep dish, but its simpler ingredients don't overwhelm the soft and satisfying crust.

Stuffed Pizza
Although some people think Pizza Hut started the stuffed crust phenomenon, its roots are truly in Chicago. Deep dish pizza opened the door for endless crust possibilities; stuffed pizza takes it to another level. Like deep dish, the cooking process starts with a thin layer of dough inside and along the sides of a deep set pan. Traditional toppings are piled inside, and then another thin layer of dough is stretched on top. The end result is a dome-shaped, crust covered pizza. Stuffed pizza gives new meaning to the term “pizza pie”.

Thin Crust
Not many people outside of Chicago know that the city makes more than just thick and filling pizzas; thin crust Chicago-style pizza is also a favorite among natives. Challenging east coast versions that tend to be a little more "bready" or chewy, Chicago's thin crust is crispy and soft on top. Sauce is very important on this type of pizza -- it must have an Italian herb flavor and taste slightly tangy. Many restaurants attempt to make this kind of thin crust, but the ones who succeed in true Chicago style incorporate the perfect balance of dough and crunch.

A Chicago Tradition
The deep dish pan inspired a variety of other delicious kinds of pizza, all unique to Chicago. The pizza creations established over 60 years ago continue to guide the pizza makers of today. More than just a type of slice, Chicago-style pizza is a tribute to the past.

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