Cheddar & Barbecue Chicken Stuffed Pizza

What’s the deal with stuffed crust pizza anyway? Should you or shouldn’t you consider adding it to your list of pizza choices? If you are already offering stuffed crust, how is it selling? What about the added food cost with a stuffed crust pizza, considering all the extra cheese (or other ingredients) required? What about the added work necessary to put together a stuffed crust pizza that has some panache? Will your customers understand and enjoy the extras that go into a stuffed crust pizza? Ah, the devil is in the details.

There are a few negatives in the questions I just posed, but don’t let that sway your thoughts, because the possibility of putting out a fine-tasting stuffed crust pizza –– even if it becomes only a daily or weekly special –– has merit (your competition loves to revive stuffing a crust on a regular basis).

There are several ways to approach the stuffed crust idea, and it isn’t always about cheese. And it isn’t always about simply folding cheese into the crust around the raised edge of the pizza. The Italian name for the raised edge or border of a pizza is “il cornicione” — or “large frame.” Keep that in mind as we explore one aspect of stuffed crust pizza. Also, keep in mind that the crust is the crust. So we will look into not only using some kind of stuffing in the raised edge, but in the rest of the crust as well.

How do we do that? I could be glib here and say “very carefully.” But it really does have to do with using care and an understanding of your dough to make a stuffed crust pizza worth the trouble. Otherwise forget it.

The most basic and simplest way to make a stuffed crust pizza is to lay long pieces of string cheese (mozzarella string cheese or similar) just inside the edge of the crust all around, then fold the crust edge over the cheese and pinch the dough to seal. Or you can use any type of shredded cheese –– mozzarella, a blend of mozzarella and provolone –– and follow the same procedure. Once you have done that, the rest goes the same as any other pizza –– tomatoes, more cheese, selected toppings, etc.

That’s how you stuff a crust for a round, thin-crust pizza; however, that simple approach is, to me, well, kind of boring. So let’s push the edge of the dough (so to speak) just a bit. If you are going to introduce a stuffed crust pizza, why not change the shape? Instead of round, how about rectangular? In other words, a Sicilian Stuffed Crust Pizza: rectangular thick-crust pizza in which, say, the cheese is folded into the raised edge or border?

Another very important aspect is to consider the flavor combinations. Here are some to consider:

• If the pizza has chicken as a topping, we could blend crumbles of bleu cheese with shredded mozzarella and use that combination in stuffing the raised border.

• If the pizza has chicken as a topping, we can blend a prepared pesto sauce with, say, shredded mozzarella or provolone. How about brushing the string cheese with olive oil and rolling the “logs” into a blend of herbs (oregano, basil)?

• Consider a buffalo chicken stuffed crust pizza where we dip the cheese “logs” or sticks in buffalo chicken sauce?

• If you already have cheese sticks on your menu as an appetizer, use those to stuff the crust.

• Want to create a Mexican stuffed crust pizza? Use a combination of shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses to stuff the border. Top the rest of the crust with salsa, black beans, chorizo and more Monterey Jack and cheddar. Top the cheese with finely chopped cilantro.

• Consider combining ricotta cheese with shredded mozzarella (or a mozzarella and provolone blend) to stuff the crust.

• Instead of stuffing the border of a round pizza, stuff the whole pizza. Roll out two thin sheets of dough (any size you wish). Sprinkle shredded cheese over the bottom crust up to one-inch of the edge. Lay a second sheet of pizza dough over the cheese. Fold and roll the crust edge (like for a pie). Now add your sauce and other toppings. Presto! A whole stuffed pizza, not just stuffed crust pizza.

• Create a “Choke and Cheese” pizza (adapted from Digger’s Restaurant in Fish Creek, Wisconsin). Stuff the crust edge with artichoke hearts that have been tossed in olive oil and oregano. Spread a thin layer of ricotta cheese over the crust. Lay thin slices of fresh tomato over the ricotta. Sprinkle crumbles of feta cheese over the tomatoes.
Make it happen, jazz it up, or fugetaboutit!

Cheddar and BBQ Chicken Stuffed Crust Pizza

Yield: one 14-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion)

8 ounces cooked chunks of chicken
1 cup barbecue sauce
½ cup red onion strings (poach thinly sliced rounds of red onion in water for 2 minutes, drain, pat dry and separate into “strings”)
2 cups shredded cheddar or shredded smoked mozzarella
1 14-inch pizza shell

In a mixing bowl, toss the chicken with the barbecue sauce and onion strings.
Use half the shredded cheddar for the crust stuffing. Lay the cheese just inside the edge of the crust. Fold the crust over the cheese and pinch the edges to seal.

Spread the chicken mixture evenly over the crust up to the sealed edge. Sprinkle the remaining cheddar evenly over the chicken and barbecue sauce. Bake.

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