TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains opinions about favorite styles of pizza that you may find objectionable. There is also a non-specific recipe that could make you cry.
Does chicken belong on pizza? That’s a big NO! Unless, of course, it’s a big YES! Either way, it’s a debate for the ages.
It might not be as intense and polarizing and likely to lead to fisticuffs as the interminable pineapple-pizza debate. And let’s face it, in this age of hair-trigger wuss-dome and “My rant is more righteous than your rant” life philosophy, nothing will ever match the fever pitch of the anti-pineapple punditry.
Nonetheless, the chicken-on-pizza debate rages in small corners of the my-pizza-loving/your-pizza-hating world. The struggle is real. And it’s a great way to avoid debating things that actually matter, like Voter ID laws or the designated hitter rule.
I was considering the various popular permutations of pizza on chicken. Specifically, there’s that glorious mistake known as barbecue chicken pizza. It’s a grand example of how chicken doesn’t belong. So many glorious culinary crimes brought to bear upon a little disc of dough. The over-sweet sauce spread across the crust with a bricklayer’s trowel, then heated just enough to release cloying vapors without actually caramelizing any of the sugars in the sauce, threatening to inspire diabetic ketoacidosis in anyone standing nearby.
Or Thai chicken pizza. This is a creation where the extraordinary and joyous, multi-layered flavors of Thai cuisine become an international incident when hurled against a slab of Italian-style flatbread to make a kind of open-faced Vietnamese bahn mi gone horribly wrong.
Don’t get me wrong. If these pizzas are your jam, this is not meant to be a buzzkill any more than my lack of interest in a so-called “real” Hawaiian pizza made with Kalua pork and poi should be taken as a stance on anything other than my own lack of susceptibility to the siren song of taro-root cuisine, which I’ve never tasted nor executed.
Me making some kind of unreasonable facsimile of a Hawaiian staple into starchy gringo glue for use as a pizza sauce is nothing anybody wants. It would be an insult to Polynesian cuisine, an affront to your tastebuds, and a mistake of epic proportions resulting in a likely insufferable pizza here on the mainland, possibly inspiring cries of secession from the 50th state.
So, as I was drilling down into a rabbit hole about chicken and mixing my metaphors while not drilling into any rabbits or chickens (thankfully), it suddenly occurred to me: What about a quintessential Italian chicken dish mashed up with pizza?
What about a Cacciatore Pizza? If you’ve never had cacciatore (which sounds vaguely like the surname of one of the long lost neighbors from an episode of I Love Lucy), it is a savory, multilayered and magnificent dish that is traditionally prepared with rabbit.
Of course, chickens are readily available and easier to catch than rabbits. (The meaning of the word “cacciatore” is now coming into play, meaning that this is a dinner that requires catching.) Therefore, cacciatore is often made with chicken. Traditionally, reluctant chicken eaters in Italy were often encouraged to try chicken with the traditional Italian encouragement, “Ti piacerà, sa di coniglio,” or, “You’ll love it, it tastes just like rabbit.”)
Cacciatore is a simple recipe. It requires onions, garlic, bell pepper, mushrooms, carrots, herbs and chicken (or a reluctant rabbit) cooked with wine in a rich tomato base.
Why using cacciatore on pizza had never occurred to me until just this week is beyond me. But the first thing I did was a) make pizza dough, b) retrieve some chicken thighs from the freezer and deliver them to the fridge, and c) make sure we had a plan to get some unwitting Cacciatore Pizza victims on the pizza schedule for Friday night.
The Fabulous Honey Parker (my long-suffering author wife, who you can find at HoneyParkerBooks.com) was excited to hear that we’d be having cacciatore on Thursday night. When I explained Friday pizza, I suspect she was resigned because she knows that around here, pizza happens. She’s been subjected to endless pizza experiments, not all of which go according to plan.
The good news is the Cacciatore dinner was a raging success. That’s due in part to the skinless, boneless thighs with which it was made. (Fear not—the bones and skin still cooked with the dish. They just did so in their own little bundle of cheesecloth for easy removal and disposal of the evidence in case my wife or the rabbit police were watching.)
Then came the pizza. It was Friday night. A pizza-pupil neighbor whom I’d been tutoring came over to make his first pizza. (We were doing New York-style crusts, and he had these adorable little dough balls for 10-inch beginner pizzas—which tasted great. “Better than I could ever imagine I’d make,” he admitted.) He brought a friend with him. And I prepared both of them for the worst of pizzas.
Yes, I do that. When a totally experimental pie is coming across the menu, I let our diners know that they could find themselves deeply disappointed. But there’s always more wine to drown their sorrows until the next proven pizza is upon the pan.
Taking the leftover cacciatore from the fridge, I removed the cooked chicken. I cut it into one-inch chunks and set it aside. Then, I ladled out enough of the tomato base and vegetables to sauce a 16-inch pie.
Saucing said pie, I made sure to not press the cooked vegetables deeply into the dough. That would potentially lead to some pizza handling mishaps that could result in the dreaded accidental calzone or, worse, pierce the dough for a leaky pizza.
Once sauced, I applied chicken chunks in a pleasing composition. This is an effort to make the pizza look desirable, as well as creating the potential for chicken in every bite.
Cheese was applied over the chicken in an effort to prevent it from becoming overdone. (The chicken was already done well enough from cooking in the cacciatore, so potential overcooking was a concern.)
Another concern was the sauce was a bit on the thin side. I was thinking that I should probably thicken it. But I was going to try it as it was to see how it handled.
It was a 6-minute bake on steel at 550 degrees using the broiler method. The cornicione was becoming nicely browned when the pie was retrieved from the oven. And (as feared) the sauce was a bit on the runny side. We had a wettish pizza.
Nonetheless, we all approached it with gusto. And the consensus was: Success! Chicken belongs on pizza!
Next time, we’ll try thickening the sauce a bit. Maybe cook the chicken a bit less, possibly removing some of it from the pot early. Maybe even try a deconstructed cacciatore just to see what happens.
If you’re disappointed that there isn’t a recipe for this pizza, I apologize. The problem with providing a recipe is that this process requires trial and error. And it will be another few iterations of this before a codified recipe for Cacciatore Pizza is available—and still, it's possible you'll not even find it useful.
This is the beauty of pizza in action: it is both a practice and an art. Once you have the basics (which are mapped out for you in Free The Pizza: A System For Making Great Pizza Whenever You Want With The Oven You Already Have), you have the latitude to experiment on your own pizzas.
Plus, I’ve also found that recipes are never a silver bullet. There’s no guarantee that one person’s pizza recipe is going to work in your own pizza kitchen. I’ve tried several recipes from accomplished pizzaioli that went south. The cacio e pepe pizza is one I’m still trying to master. It sounds like a great idea. The results, however, are less than stellar. Baking a pizza with ice cubes on it is a little weird.
In the final analysis, it’s necessary to know your own pizza machine, so to speak. In the meantime, if you want to try this, get a pizza dough ball, make some cacciatore, and try making a pizza. It’ll be an adventure.
Just make sure to have another dough ball and some more ingredients on hand. Maybe some pepperoni? That way, if you find the first effort is imperfect, you can follow it up with another tried and true example of your craft. It’s not about other people’s recipes. It’s about your recipe. Free the pizza!
If you’re interested in a guide to pizzamaking, my book is less a cookbook and more just a fun-to-read manual for how to make a pizza happen. It’s on Amazon. It’s called Free The Pizza: How to Make Great Pizza Whenever you Want With The Oven You Already Have. It shares the joy of making pizza for the kind of people who care about such things. Enjoy!
Blaine Parker is the award-winning author of the bestselling, unusual and amusing how-to pizza book, Free The Pizza. Also known as The Pizza Geek and "Hey, Pizza Man!", Blaine is fanatical about the idea that true, pro-quality pizza can be made at home. His home. Your home. Anyone's home. After 20 years of honing his craft and making pizza in standard consumer ovens across the nation, he's sharing what he's learned with home cooks like you. Are you ready to pizza?
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