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Barbecue Chicken Pizza

A recipe for the Southern California creation courtesy of Wolfgang Puck, in whose kitchen this legendary pizza was born.

If you came of high-school age in Southern California in or after the nineties and spent any time in shopping malls, chances are you celebrated a birthday or driver’s license over barbecue-chicken pizza from California Pizza Kitchen (CPK). That now-universal pizza began with one guy: Ed LaDou. LaDou was Wolfgang Puck’s first pizza chef in the vaunted kitchen of Spago when it opened in January 1982. In 1985, when attorneys Larry Flax and Rick Rosenfield co-founded California Pizza Kitchen, Ed created the menu.

In 1987, Ed left CPK to open his own pizza place, Caioti (pronounced like the animal). He died of cancer in 2007, at the age of fifty-two. In an interview in 2006, Ed told the trade magazine Nation’s Restaurant News, “Chains have made our food too safe, too predictable. Diners don’t risk anything when they go to chains; they just go and eat. Food, to me, is an adventure, but I know most people don’t look at it that way.”

I met Carrie LaDou, Ed’s widow, at Caioti Pizza Café in Studio City, about twenty minutes north of Spago, which is in Beverly Hills. It was the day after Christmas—the day before the anniversary of Ed’s death—and business was good. Though Carrie wouldn’t disclose the dough recipe—that’s a well-guarded secret—the sauce, she said, started out as a collaboration between Ed and Gayle of the eponymous Gayle’s Sweet ’N’ Sassy barbecue sauce. Here’s what she had to say about her late husband:

I’m sure at the time Ed wasn’t writing down the first time he put barbecue sauce on a pizza. But it would have to be mid- to late-’80s, somewhere in there. This was what I call BC—“Before Carrie,” before my time.

We met at a barbecue. He was making papaya salsa. Have you ever had that? Salsa that—instead of tomato as the main ingredient—had tomato, avocado, papaya. Oh my God. He was making that, and he was grilling prawns, and he put the prawns and this salsa together. That was when I first noticed him. I would never make that combination of food; he just knew.

We could be having a conversation about changing our cable company, and while we were talking, he’d be talking to me, and he’d pick up a napkin off the bar, and take a pen out of his pocket, and he would write down, Hoisin, duck, green onions, something else, and then he would just take it and put it back in his pocket. His creative process was second nature; it happened in tandem with whatever he was doing and that’s why I literally have matchbooks, napkins, scraps of paper that I just can’t throw away: sometimes it’s whole recipes, sometimes it’s just three things you’d never think of putting together. That was his gift.

This recipe comes from Wolfgang Puck, not Caioti, but we still recommend seeking out Gayle’s Sweet ’N’ Sassy sauce for the authentic LaDou experience. –Rachel Khong

This story comes from Lucky Peach #3: The Cooks & Chefs Issue. For more great stuff like this, subscribe to the magazine! 

Ingredients

Makes four 8–10" pizzas
  • 1 recipe Pizza Dough
  • 3/4 lb cooked, shredded chicken (Caioti bakes their chicken)
  • 1/4 C store-bought barbecue sauce, preferably Gayle’s
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 C grated mozzarella cheese
  • 2 C grated fontina cheese
  • 1/4 C grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 bunch cilantro leaves, washed
  • + kosher salt
  • + fresh-ground pepper
  • + olive oil

Pizza Dough

  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 C warm water (105–115°F.)
  • 1 T honey
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for brushing the pizza
  • 3–4 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 t kosher salt

Preparation

Make the pizza dough

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the honey and stir. Let sit 2 or 3 minutes, until the water is cloudy. Stir in the olive oil.

  2. Combine 3 C of flour with the salt and add it to the yeast mixture all at once. Mix it together using the paddle attachment, then change to the dough hook once the mixture comes together. Knead at low speed for 2 minutes, then turn up to medium speed and knead until the dough comes cleanly away from the sides of the bowl and clusters around the dough hook, about 5–7 minutes.

  3. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead by hand for 2 or 3 minutes longer. Add flour as necessary until the dough is smooth and elastic. When you press it with your finger it should slowly spring back, and it should not feel very tacky.

  4. Transfer the dough to a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and leave it in a warm spot to rise for 30 minutes, or up to an hour. When it is ready the dough will stretch without tearing as it is gently pulled.

  5. Divide the dough into 4 equal balls. Shape each ball by gently pulling the sides of the ball and tucking them under the bottom, working around the ball 4 or 5 times. Then, on a smooth, unfloured surface, roll the ball around under your palm until the ball feels smooth and firm, about 1 minute. Put the balls on a tray or platter, cover with oiled plastic wrap or a damp towel, and leave them to rest for at least 30 minutes. At this point, the dough balls can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for 1 to 2 days. You will need to punch them down again when you are ready to roll out the pizzas.

  6. Place a ball of dough on a lightly floured surface. Turn the dough as you press down on the center with the heel of your hand, gradually spreading it out to a circle 8″ to 10″ inches in diameter. Alternatively, use a rolling pin to get an even circle. Form a slightly thicker raised rim around edge of the circle. You can transfer the pizza to a lightly oiled pizza pan if you like, or bake it directly on the stone.

Assemble the pizza

  1. Salt and pepper the chicken, then toss it with the barbecue sauce and set aside.

  2. In a medium skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté with a little salt and pepper until translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

  3. Shape each pizza as directed in the pizza dough recipe. Brush the pizzas with olive oil. (For a Caioti-style pizza, spread a layer of barbecue sauce on the pie.) Sprinkle the cheeses evenly over each one and top with the onions and chicken.

  4. Using a lightly floured baker’s peel or a rimless flat baking tray, slide the pizza onto the baking stone and bake until the crust is nicely browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Carefully transfer the pizza to a cutting board.

  5. Garnish each pizza with cilantro, and cut it into slices with a pizza cutter or very sharp knife. Serve immediately.