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Styles Spotlight: Deep Dish

Some of the culinary world’s most pressing mysteries might never be solved. 

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll pop? 

Who invented Chicago’s famed deep dish pizza?  

The world may never know.

“It’s an enigma, wrapped in a pie crust,” Chicago-based food writer Jeff Ruby once told the Chicago Tribune. “Every day, it feels a little more lost to history.”

Some say the deep dish pizza was invented by Ike Sewell, the founder of Pizzeria Uno. According to this version of events, Sewell created deep dish so that he could serve pies that were more filling than your average New York-style pizza.  

Or, perhaps, the pie was invented by Rudy Malnati, a longtime employee of Sewell’s who concocted the legendary pie but wasn’t the type to seek credit for himself. 

Pizzeria Uno went on to become a global chain with locations everywhere from the Midwest to the Middle East. The Malnati family, meanwhile, launched Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, which is still regarded as one of Chicagoland’s best with more than 50 outposts in the area, plus a few in Arizona.

Will we ever get to the bottom of the deep dish mystery? Even if we never get a definitive answer on the pizza’s true inventor, dreams of deep dish’s endless cheese and abundance of toppings fillings will forever keep us up at night.

What makes this pizza so special? We’re here to give you the full dish with our Styles Spotlight:  

The Crust

deep dish pizza crust

You might expect the scale-tipping deep dish to be held together by a heavy, hefty, and crunchy crust. That’s not the case – the deep dish’s crust is much lighter than it appears. 

Buttery and rich in flavor, the crust gives just enough support the pizza’s piles of cheese and the rest of the goodness within. For fortitude and texture, some dough recipes call for the use of yellow cornmeal. And, to achieve that blissful buttery flavor, some deep dish chefs will laminate the dough with butter, which is a notable departure from most of the world’s prevalent pizza styles. Butter isn’t an automatic, however – some lean on oil, while others opt for an oil/butter blend.

Dough recipes may vary, but the style’s titular pan is the constant. The deep dish pan creates a perfectly browned and evenly baked crust every time, keeping the whole shabang in tact.

Meanwhile, the dough gets much of its flavor from the drippings of rendered fat. That brings us to..

The Toppings Fillings  

deep dish pepperoni

You don’t see marvelous rivers of mozzarella like that on most pies, because it’s not the mozzarella you’re used to seeing with pizza. Deep dish pizza is usually crammed full of whole milk mozz, which yields rich and creamy torrents of the good stuff and blesses the entire pie with its marvelous grease. 

Want your deep dish pizza to be blessed with even more of that heavenly rendered fat? You can get your deep dish loaded with enough meat to feed the Bears’ entire starting offensive line. Pepperoni and Italian sausage (hot or sweet) are among the most popular picks – here, they’re carefully layered to ensure that they’re fully cooked amidst all that cheese. 

The deep dish’s heavily seasoned sausage, usually, comes in the shape of thin, rectangular slabs. It’s not a shape that you’ll find at your local supermarket – instead, these raw patties are hand-formed by the pizzaiolos and flattened until they’re ultra-thin, to ensure that they’re completely cooked when the pizza is pulled from the oven.

Not a meat-lover? Fear not – there are veggie-heavy choices abound for deep dish, ranging from standard issue produce like mushrooms, bell peppers, and spinach to options that you might never expect, like giardiniera.

Giardiniera is a pickled blend of veggies that features heavily on Chicago’s prized Italian beef sandwiches. Made with slightly spicy sport peppers, sweet peppers, celery, carrots, cauliflower, gherkins (pickling cucumbers), herbs, oil, and vinegar, it offers the sort of crunch and acidity that you never knew you wanted on your pizza.   

Want to impress your Chicagoland friends next time you go to dinner? Put giardiniera on whatever you order, then run down the Bulls’ complete 95-96 roster, from top to bottom. Anyone could rattle off MJ, Pippen, Rodman, and Kukoc, but you’ll be the only out-of-towner naming Jud Buechler and snacking on the city’s essential pickled product. Pretty cool.

The Sauce

Yes, the sauce is placed atop the cheese, and there’s a reason for that. While other pizza styles are fired at temperatures of 525 degrees all the way up to 1,000, deep dish is cooked low and slow in the range of 350-425°F for 30 minutes or more. In that span, the cheese and toppings would burn if they were placed on top. Instead, that’s where the sauce goes, serving as a protective blanket for everything below. 

The sauce, more often than not, is thick and comprised of chunky tomatoes, bursting with flavor with every bite. The aromatics feature heavily here – oregano, red pepper flakes, garlic cloves, and a dash of sugar bring balance to the underappreciated sauce as it insulates everything else.

The uniqueness of the deep dish pizza places an increased importance on the order of operations. With a grandma pie, the question of sauce-over-cheese or cheese-over-sauce often boils down to a matter of preference. But, with deep dish, sauce-over-cheese is a must.   

Is deep dish just a Chicago thing? 

Hardly! In fact, many Chicagoans view Chicago-style thin crust as the city’s No. 1 pizza. In a sense, deep dish is more of a not-Chicago thing…if that makes any sense.  

Over time, it jumped out of the box like Sammy Sosa. These days, you can find incredible deep dish pizza just about anywhere by using the Slice app.

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