respect for a sell-out – cpk’s bbq chicken pizza

Nothing makes me a bigger hypocrite than a wildly successful food enterprise. On the one hand, I can’t help but consider someone like Wolfgang Puck a “sell-out,” sacrificing the quality and integrity of food in his restaurants, and reducing himself to hawking canned soups and frozen pizzas out of the freezer case at ralph’s. On the other hand, I respect what he’s done as a fellow businessperson, taking a simple thing like pizza and transforming it, with genius marketing, into a veritable empire.

Cheesecake Factory and California Pizza Kitchen make me feel the same schizophrenic way. i cringe when we can’t think of anything else for dinner and must relegate ourselves to croutons they call bread and foil wrapped butter at cpk, or reading through the ad-plastered menu/magazine at cheesecake factory. then again, i appreciate what cheesecake factory and cpk have done. in an industry where scaling operations is extremely difficult, they have been able to write menus that are easily reproducible from city to city and standardize operations enough to guarantee service and food quality in each of their restaurants. and they grow their business by making the food the product, rather than the restaurant. now they sell their specialities in the market. i’ve tried cheesecake factory’s white chocolate raspberry truffle cheesecake out of ralph’s freezer, and it’s actually quite frightening how it tastes no different from one in the restaurant. as far as frozen california style frozen pizza, cpk owns it. they may not beat out freschetta or red baron, but they’re in different leagues.

CPK even has a cookbook – and that’s what she used to make dinner. it was a spinach salad with red onions, walnuts, and blue cheese, something that i could imagine on the cpk menu (though they don’t have a spinach salad). and the main was what made rick rosenfield and larry flax famous, the Barbecue Chicken Pizza. As a shortcut, she used one of those pre-baked pizza “shells,” but no matter, since the actual cpk crust made from scratch is no better. the recipe, for 2 9” pizzas, is on their website.

cpk’s famous barbecue chicken pizza
barbecue chicken:
10 ounces chicken breasts, boneless, skinless, cut into ¾-inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons sweet and spicy bbq sauce

basic pizza dough recipe (see below)
cornmeal, semolina or flour for handling
½ cup sweet and spicy bbq sauce
2 tablespoons smoked gouda cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons mozzarella cheese, shredded
¼ small red onion, sliced into 1/8-inch pieces
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

1. In a large frying pan, cook the chicken in olive oil over medium-high heat until just cooked, 5 to 6 minutes. Do not overcook. Set aside in the refrigerator until chilled through. Once chilled, coat the chicken with 2 tablespoons BBQ sauce; set aside in the refrigerator.
2. Place the pizza stone in the center of the oven and preheat to 500°F for one hour before cooking pizzas. (See below for directions for handling and forming the dough).
3. Use a large spoon to spread ¼ cup BBQ sauce evenly over the surface of the prepared dough within the rim. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon smoked Gouda cheese over the sauce. Cover with ¾ cup shredded mozzarella.
4. Distribute half the chicken pieces evenly over the cheese (approximately 18 pieces). Place approximately 18 to 20 pieces of red onion over the surface. Sprinkle and additional ¼ cup mozzarella over the top of the pizza.
5. Transfer the pizza to the oven; bake until the crust is crisp and golden and the cheese at the center is bubbly, 8 to 10 minutes. When the pizza is cooked, carefully remove it from the oven; sprinkle 1 tablespoon cilantro over the hot surface. Slice and serve.

cpk basic pizza dough (makes dough for two 9” pizzas)
1 teaspoon yeast
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon warm water (105-110 degrees F)
1 ½ cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Dissolve the yeast in the water and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes. Be sure that the water is not hot; temperatures of 120° F and above will kill the yeast and the dough will not rise.
2. If using an upright electric mixer, such as a KitchenAid, use the mixing paddle attachment because the batch size is too small for the dough hook to be effective. Combine all other ingredients (except one teaspoon of olive oil) and combine them with the dissolved yeast in the mixing bowl. (Do not pour the salt directly into the yeast water because this would kill some of the yeast.) Allow these 2 ingredients to mix gradually; use the lowest 2 speeds to mix the dough. Mix for 2 to 3 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Over mixing will produce tough, rubbery dough, and friction will cause dough to rise too fast.
3. If mixing by hand, place the dry ingredients in a 4 to 6-quart mixing bowl; make a well in the middle and pour the liquids (reserving a teaspoon of olive oil). Use a wooden spoon to combine the ingredients. Once initial mixing is done, you can lightly oil your hands and begin kneading the dough; knead for 5 minutes. When done, the dough should be slightly tacky (that is, it should be barely beyond sticking to your hands).
4. Lightly oil the dough ball and the interior of a 1 quart glass bowl. Place the dough ball in the bowl and seal the bowl with clear food wrap; seal air tight. Set aside at room temperature (70-80° F) to rise until double in size; about 1 ½ to 2 hours.
5. About 2 hours before you are ready to assemble your pizza, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Use a sharp knife to divide the dough into 2 equal portions (or 4 equal portions if making appetizer-sized pizza or if smaller 6-inch pizzas are desired).
6. Roll the smaller dough into round balls on a smooth, clean surface; be sure to seal any holes by pinching or rolling.
8. Place the newly formed dough balls in a glass casserole dish, spaced far apart for each to double in size. Seal the top of the dish air-tight with clear food wrap. Set aside at room temperature until the dough balls have doubled in size (about 2 hours). They should be smooth and puffy.

to stretch and form the dough for pizza:
1. Sprinkle a medium dusting of flour over a 12×12-inch clean, smooth surface. Use a metal spatula or dough scraper to carefully remove a dough ball from the glass casserole dish, being very careful to preserve its round shape. Flour the dough liberally. Place the floured dough on the floured smooth surface.
2. Use your hand or rolling pin to press the dough down forming a flat circle about 1/2-inch thick. Pinch the dough between your fingers all around the edge of the circle, forming a lip or rim that rises about 1/4-inch above the center surface of the dough. You may continue this outward stretching motion of the hands until you have reached a 9-inch diameter pizza dough.

to dress the pizza:
1. Lightly sprinkle cornmeal, semolina or flour over the surface of a wooden pizza peel. Arrange the stretched dough over the floured peel surface. Work quickly to dress the pizza so that the dough won’t become soggy or sticky from the sauces and toppings.
2. Wh
en you are ready to transfer the pizza to the pizza stone in the preheated oven, grasp the handle of the peel and execute a very small test jerk to verify that the pizza will come easily off the peel. If the dough doesn’t move freely, carefully lift the edges of the dough and try to rotate it by hand. Extreme cases may require that you toss more flour under the dough edges.
3. Once the dough is moving easily on the peel, open the oven and position the edge of the peel over the center of the stone about 2/3 from the front of the stone. Jiggle and tilt the peel to get the pizza to start sliding off. When the pizza begins to touch the stone, pull the peel quickly out
from under it. Don’t attempt to move the pizza until it has begun to set (about 3 minutes). The peel can be slid under the pizza to move it or remove it.

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