When it comes to pizza, crust is a mark of origin. Naples' lean and bendy Neapolitan style is arguably the most well known, and has seen many offshoots around the world, such as its hand-tossed New York counterpart. A freeform focaccia-like crust has all the hallmarks of a Pizza Romana, and thicker slices take us south to Sicily.
In Chicago, two Italian migrants teamed up in 1943 to create their hearty take on the prized slice of their childhood. Pizzeria Uno lays claim to being the first Chicago deep-dish pizza, churning out slices that are halfway between a pizza and a pie, with the layers of a lasagna.
“In Chicago, they have these really cold winters, you know, and they serve you these big deep dish pizzas ... people in New York get scared when they see them,” explains New York pizza man Frank Pinello, host of Viceland’s The Pizza Show (Tuesday nights 8.30pm on SBS Viceland and on SBS On Demand). “They wonder ‘what am I supposed to do with that’ but when you’re in Chicago and it’s cold and one of these big pies comes out, it’s amazing.”
Rather than the usual flat pan, Chicago deep-dish is cooked in a circular pan that’s up to seven (yes, seven!) centimetres deep. Traditionally, it’s built in reverse - thick slices of mozzarella go first onto the thin buttery crust, and are then topped with a heap of meat or vegetables and a garlicky tomato sauce.
“The ratio is a little crazy – there’s tone of pepperoni and tonnes of cheese, and just a little bit of crust,” Pinello tells SBS. “By my standards the ratios are a little out of whack, but it works for Chicago.”
Australians are no strangers to embracing a food trend but deep-dish, Chicago's culinary coat of arms, is rarely seen outside the US.
“If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because of the wait time involved,” says Sydney's Thomas Derricott. “The deep dish we prepare is not as deep as many you’d find in the States but even so, you’re still looking at a 25-minute wait, at least. You go to the States and you’re looking to wait an hour.”
Derricott is the founder and co-owner of Sydney’s Johnny Fontane’s a 'mafia cinema' inspired bar serving deep dish by the slice - with a side of Cuban cigars and Italian-inspired cocktails.
“I think the idea of going for pizza – something that’s classically been considered fast food – and needing to wait a good solid period of time, that’s something that we’re yet to swallow.”
Derricott calls the deep-dish dough-making process an art form, because the dough is more present than in a regular pizza. Like other doughs, it’s made a day ahead and left to ferment so that it can develop its final crispy, flakey texture.
“It’s difficult to create a dough that appeals to everyone – everyone has a different idea of what the ideal dough is.” Derricott, along with his Chicago-born executive chef Cy Gwynne, has been developing the dough at Johnny Fontane’s over the past six months to strike the right balance. They've formulated the perfect base for their house special, the Capone: pork and veal meatballs.
“I think Chicago was one of first places to romanticise mob cinema, with Al Capone being established as a folk figure. Johnny Fontane was a way to combine our love of mafia cinema with our love of Chicago deep-dish pizza – we’re hoping to spread the good word."
Love pizza? Don't miss The Pizza Show Tuesdays 8.30pm on SBS VICELAND. Here's the first episode - including a dive into deep dish - to get you started: