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Chi-town deep dish pizza tops Illinois food

By Michael Thompson, Contributing Writer
Published On: May 11 2011 04:00:35 PM CDT
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Illinois itself is not especially known for any particular cuisine, but Chicago is another story. Chicago-style pizza and hot dogs anyone?

Chicago-style pizza is deep dish and sometimes described as "stuffed." In Chicago's eternal "Second City" quest to overcome New York City, Chicago-style pizza is offered as a contrast to the wider but thinner-crusted Brooklyn pizza. A Chicago-style pizza stands tall and has broad shoulders.

The Chicago-style hot dog also aims to be original. It's supposed to be steamed or boiled, not roasted or broiled, and ketchup is strictly prohibited. Instead, the poppy seed bun is decked with yellow mustard, onion, pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, peppers and celery salt. There's meat in there somewhere.

You may also have to look for the meat in your Chicago-style pizza. The dish is so deep and there's so much stuff on top, the meat winds up in the middle.

A vendor can slop together a Chicago-style hot dog in a matter of a minute or so, but Chicago-style pizza is no fast food. The thickness requires about 40 minutes of oven baking; when it's done, you are at high risk of a pizza mess if you try to nibble on a piece in your hand. The basic eating method is to sit down with a knife and fork.

Post-War Pizza

Pizza really didn't take off in America until U.S. soldiers returned from Europe after World War II. In Italy, pizza was (and is) most often served as an appetizer. Today, pizza is far more popular in America than in Italy.

A 1956 report in the Chicago Daily News asserts that a chef at Pizzeria Uno, Rudy Malnoti, invented Chicago-style deep dish pizza in 1943. Uno's is now a national chain.

Malnoti's crust, unlike super-thick crusts nowadays that are labeled "deep dish," was not especially thick. The feature of a deep dish pizza is supposed to be a deep dish of toppings, not a regular quantity of toppings placed on a thicker crust. The Chicago-style crust has steep sides and is pre-baked in a deep round pan that is coated with oil for a fried effect, according to The Pizza Gourmet. Cornmeal is vital with the oil, not only for the crust's unique flavor, but also to provide strength.

A Chicago-style pizza chef has many options for toppings.

Malnoti preferred to put mozzarella or provolone on the bottom, in slices rather than shredded, followed by layers of meat with an emphasis on sweet Italian sausage. Next would come the veggies such as onions, mushrooms and bell peppers. After that, Malnoti would add primarily crushed or pureed tomatoes, as opposed to sauce or paste. Cheese would make a comeback for the top layer, with an emphasis on Parmesan, this time shredded so that the tomato mixture and the top cheese would bake together.

A Chicago-style pizza needs to sit for about 15 minutes before it is sliced, and is intended to be eaten warm as opposed to hot. Otherwise, the toppings won't hold firm when sliced and you'll have Chicago-style soup instead of Chicago-style deep dish pizza.