Pizza Lab #14: Gluten-Free Jerk Chicken Pizza
Pizza Lab is a fun theoretical column in which Meg A. and Erik S. explore their innermost passion for baking and eating pizzas. It exists purely for the sake of experimenting in the kitchen. It may not necessarily be cost-effective everytime, so don’t try this at home kids.
Okay everyone I’m gonna go out on a limb and here and (sarcastically) make a bold statement here… I think the two of us maaay enjoy pizza. Just maaaybe we like pizza a lot. You could pooossibly make the claim we are pizza lovers. Yooou get the idea. Whyyy am I talking like this? Iiiiii don’t know.
Yeah so joking aside, pizza is a God-Tier food. You love it, they love it, we’re obsessed with it. But just imagine, if you will, for a moment that you couldn’t eat pizza. You wanted to, but just weren’t allowed. Misery! But yes there are some people who don’t eat pizza or whom cannot eat pizza for medical reasons. Such a meaningless existence seems empty and futile, and yes you’re right a diet without pizza is like breathing without oxygen. What’s the point? But as you know, there are many people with Celiac disease, possessing an allergic reaction to wheat products. Allergies are annoying, but could they be enough to keep you from your favorite foods? Well considering the reactions for Celiac sufferers range anywhere from stomach cramps to skin rashes to hysterical diarrhea, yeah, they probably are enough to keep you from eating pizza. Fortunately in recent years, gluten-free awareness has risen and more and more food providers cater to those with Celiac.
Erik S. So Pizza Lab is officially one year old now! How exciting!
Meg A. Yup! I feel so proud. I imagine this is what it’s like when your child turns a year old. Except Pizza Lab is way better than children.
Erik S. Yeah, pizzas are inexpensive and you can eat them when you’re done with them. Children feature neither of those perks.
Meg A. Exactly. Pizzas also don’t cry. Which is good, because it’d be incredibly uncomfortable to eat something that’s crying.
Erik S. Uncomfortable, or hysterical?
Meg A. Nonetheless, our pizza this time was a bit different than usual, and for good reason.
While we don’t usually do requests for Pizza Labs, we recently were asked for one by my sister, who has Celiac. Considering she has to eat GF, you can imagine the removal of pizza from the diet of someone born and raised on Long Island wasn’t fantastic. So while you can purchase GF pizza slices at a few select pizzerias in the area, they’re hard to come by and usually require paying a premium. As such, my sister asked us to do a Pizza Lab using GF pizza dough, to demonstrate that it can be done at home. Considering that it was for family, and for a good cause, Meg A. and I decided to take up the challenge and give it a shot.
Meg A. With this pizza we’re helping out all of those with Celiac, by proving you can have tasty pizza without wheat.
Erik S. Exactly. My sister has Celiac disease, and requested we do a gluten-free Pizza Lab. As food scientists and pizzologists, we knew this was a good way to both help out a relative and do some experimenting.
Meg A. Right. This was indeed an experiment for us, since it meant making our own dough. The only other time we’ve made the dough ourselves was for the pretzel pizza. And that turned out to be… what’s the phrase I’m looking for? Oh right, an enormous pain in the ass.
Erik S. Yes, it was quite hemorrhoid-esque.
Meg A. This was a lot easier though. It helps that all the ingredients for the dough (minus the water) were put together by some nice people at the Bob’s Red Mill Factory.
Erik S. Yeah, in fairness we did sort of cheat a little in the sense we used a gluten free dough mix, but in fairness, most gluten free products require strange exotic substitutes like rice or coconut flour. Either way, Red Mill makes a wide variety of diet-specific/healthy mixes and grains, so we highly recommend them.
Meg A. Yeah, they’re good people. And the gluten free dough mix was only about a dollar or so more than the dough we usually buy from the pizza place.
As you saw, we decided to use a pre-made mix for this pizza, since cooking gluten-free often involves complicated ingredients that aren’t readily available, or if they are, are expensive. While normally we’re pro-from-scratch, these are extenuating circumstances and we recommend all those GF eaters out there stick to pre-made dough mixes. In this experiment, we used Bob’s Red Mill Factory, which is fairly easy to find in grocery stores nationwide. It’s affordable, easy to find, and works well. The mix comes with its own yeast packet even, for added convenience. After about 30 minutes of work, a dough was formed and risen:
And soon after, it was pressed into a pan much the same way you would with a normal pizza dough.
The next order of business involved what to actually put on top of this GF pizza dough. Sautéd and breaded chicken is out, since they involve wheat products. In the very least, meat and individual seasonings/spices are safe for people with Celiac, so grilling or pan-frying the meat is still an option. Conveniently this synced up nicely with the fact I’ve been tossing around the idea for a jerk chicken pizza in my head recently. For those not familiar with the term, jerk seasoning is a part of Caribbean cuisine which involves lots of unique spice combinations like brown sugar, nutmeg, and chili pepper made into a dry rub for grilled/barbecued meats. It results in a very blackened, spicy, but sweet and tangy flavor on the meat, which stays moist and tender inside. As a grilled meat, it remains gluten-free, and the strong flavor lends itself well to a pizza with limited ingredients.
Meg A. Of course we needed more than dough… we had to decide what to put on top of it.
Erik S. Yup! Unfortunately for most gluten free eaters, your options are somewhat limited when it comes to meats. Grilled chicken is a longtime favorite for everyone, and happens to avoid any breadings that could contaminate the meat with wheat products. So it seemed like a good base to start with.
Meg A. Yup. And we decided to season it with a jerk rub. Which, now that I’ve said the phrase “jerk rub,” I realize sounds vaguely sexual…
Erik S. Psh, get your mind out of the gutter. Using a jerk-like rub on some tender meat isn’t the least bit sexual.
Meg A. Silly me, I don’t know how my mind went that direction.
Erik S. But yeah, innuendo aside one of the better ways to prepare grilled chicken in my opinion is with jerk seasoning, or Caribbean barbecue spice. I figured this was a good opportunity to try it out on a pizza.
Cheese-wise, we fortunately had a bit of a bye here, since cheese generally are naturally GF. So for this part of the formulation process, we got to worry less about picking something that works from a diet-standpoint, and got to return to our home territory of “Would these flavors go well together?” Considering we were going for a tropical, spicy theme, it made all the sense in the world to use pepper jack, everybody’s favorite jalapeno-infused Monterrey.
Meg A. We also decided to use chipotle mayo as the sauce on this pizza. It both contributed to the spice, but also offered a nice sweet balance.
Erik S. It helped out a lot. The chicken came out insanely spicy. I was worried no one would be able to enjoy it but myself, but fortunately the chipotle mayo and the dough mellowed it out.
Meg A. Yeah… when I ate a piece of the chicken on its own it was a bit much for me personally. But I’m also a bit of a wimp when it comes to spiciness. It worked well on the pizza though.
Erik S. In addition to the chicken and chipotle sauce, we selected pepper jack as our cheese of choice, to have it fit into the spice theme.
Meg A. Yup! We should use pepper jack on more of our pizzas, since it melts nicely and is tasty. Then again, most cheese is tasty.
Erik S. I can’t disagree.
Lastly came the decision on what type of sauce to use. This was more of a spur of the moment inspiration, since we had recently been snacking on onion rings. For anyone who’s visited a restaurant in the past five years, onions rings have suddenly been ubiquitous with chipotle mayo for some reason. Personally I don’t care for mayonnaise due to the fact it’s essentially a greasy concoction of egg and fat, but I make an exception for chipotle mayo since it at least features some spices to offset the oily flavor. That and I do like chipotle pepper. The hot, earthy flavor of the peppers would be delicious in tandem with the other flavors of the pizza, and we figured the fats/oils of it would neutralize some of the spiciness of the jerk chicken.
Erik S. The center of this experiment was the gluten free pizza dough, so I suppose we should point out that the crust here was pretty good!
Meg A. It was! It tasted good. It was as chewy as regular dough, but a different kind of chewy. It was a more dense chewy. But it wasn’t bad.
Erik S. Yeah the outer edges came out a little bit rougher and crustier than your average smooth pizza crust, but that’s not a bad thing. They were similar to the outside of drop biscuits.
Meg A. Yeah, besides if you really want it to look perfect and smooth I’m sure it’s possible to round it off more.
Erik S. Exactly. The thing to take away from this all was that gluten free pizza isn’t one of those things where people with Celiac need to “settle” for something. It’s pretty damn close to the real thing, differing only in its texture, meaning they don’t have to give up this sweet, sweet food of the gods.
Meg A. It was interesting working with this dough because it was a lot stickier than what I’m used to. I had to keep wetting my hands to keep it from sticking. Also important to note: don’t flour the pan with regular flour, since that would, you know, negate the entire premise of it being gluten free. We usually use corn meal anyway, so that wasn’t a problem.
Erik S. Haha yeah that would be impressively cruel irony.
Meg A. But yeah, if I somehow randomly came down with Celiac disease I’d be okay with using this dough to get my weekly pizza fix. If it gets our seal of pizza approval, you know it’s good!
All in all, the flavors all worked well together. It had a decidedly “south of the border” flavor to it, and was actually surprisingly sweet thanks to the jerk seasoning and chipotle mayo blending together. The spices offered a tang which cooled off the bite of the jerk spices. But really the biggest factor to focus on here was the crust. And hell, it actually turned out really well. We agree at first glance it seems a bit iffy based on the appearance, and especially in photos. It has a strange, crumbly texture on the outside almost like drop-biscuits. But don’t let that fool you, the crust as a whole is still a crust. It was made from dough and the inside is chewy and pleasant. Actually, building off the biscuit motiffe, the texture almost resembled one as well. Whereas regular wheat dough is light and airy to be chewy, this dough was denser and more compact, offering a different type of chewiness. It was different enough to make note, but not really enough to be counted as a negative or really consider this pizza a downgrade from “true” pizza. This comes as good news for anyone with Celiac out there, since we can inform you that yes, you can make delicious gluten-free pizza at home. It’ll only take you a little over an hour and all you really need to do in terms of preparation is buy some GF dough mix, and have an idea of what toppings you want on it. Considering if you have Celiac, I assume you shouldn’t have much of a problem determining what sort of GF foods you like, that second step shouldn’t be difficult at all. And the first step can be accomplished anytime you go to the supermarket. Make a pizza like this, and you get eight slices out of it. You’d probably spend double on buying that many GF slices at a pizzeria and I can guarantee your ass that you won’t be getting it with specialty toppings on it.