I experienced my first chicken wing on a date in the late 1980s. My date was incredulous that hot wings were not part of my repertoire of experiences. That situation was easily remedied. One order, and fifteen minutes later, the waitress put before us a plastic tray lined with paper, piled high with glistening red chicken wings, blue cheese dressing and strips of celery placed haphazardly on the side. I had my doubts, but after one bite I was hooked. My favorites were (and still are) the pieces that looked like mini drumettes.
Back in the day, I could eat and drink just about anything I wanted without too much impact to my waistline. Ahhhh, the beauty of youth. Once I transitioned from dating life and my co-ed softball days were over, wings just kind of faded out of my life. Every once in awhile, say at a Super Bowl party, I would enjoy a few and think, wow, those are great. Still, even after a reminder, the angel on my right shoulder would silence the devil on my left. That is until one fateful evening at AZ/88 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
AZ/88 is one of those few restaurants that seems to stay perennially revelant. The owner, Karl Kopp found an ideal location in the Scottsdale Civic Center and opened March of 1988. The dining space is bright and seemingly open with two of the four walls being floor-to-ceiling glass. Outdoor dining is offered on a large patio overlooking the expansive park setting of the mall. The coolness quotient is upped by the interesting ever-changing art installations that are sometimes fun, sometimes thought provoking, and always unique.
My husband and I frequented AZ/88 reguarly in the late 80's and early 90's when we lived nearby. Then we moved to California and it was many years until we returned. Upon opening the menu, I discovered Buffalo chicken offered in multiple forms. No more getting my hands greasy and my mouth dirty, I could have my hot and spicy fix over a crisp salad or tucked in a bun. The celery was fresh or, in the case of a hot sandwich, sautéed. Similarly, the bleu cheese is offered blended into a dressing or fresh and crumbled.
Sometimes we think about things too literally. Deconstructing a classic gives us a new way to enjoy an old favorite and to shave some calories from the bill of fare. Well... sometimes. Not likely with pizza, but certainly with a salad and a low-fat dressing. However I choose to consume my spicy chicken with blue cheese and celery, the common denominator is always Frank's RedHot Wings Sauce. I've experimented with other brands, and Frank's the winner every time. The sauce has great flavor; it isn't too hot. Spicy is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, but I think it is safe to say that Frank's sauce is a one-size-fits-most kind of hot sauce.
The first time I ate Buffalo Chiken Pizza was at Juliette's house during one of her pizza party extravaganzas. It was my favorite that night with the Thai pizza a close second. What I like about Juliette's pizzas (besides the kick-ass crust) is that she combines elements of cooked and fresh ingredients on her pies. For this pizza, the crust is coated with Ranch dressing, then sprinkled with mozarella. Cooked chicken is tossed with Frank's sauce and placed liberally on top of the cheese. When the pie comes out of the oven, finely diced celery and crumbles of blue cheese are the finishing touches. Sometimes we also add a dusting of chives, or sprinkle finely sliced green and white scallion rings. Now that's Bellisimo! (Sorry, I couldn't resist the pun!)
Buffalo Chicken Pizza
This is a great way to use leftover chicken. Or, like Juliette, you can boil a whole chicken. After the chicken has cooled, remove the meat from bones and then toss with the wings sauce. Sometimes I marinate boneless chicken thighs in the sauce for an hour then grill. Cube the chicken and toss with more sauce before putting on the pizza. The measurements below are approximate. Add more or less of items according to your taste.
1 ball fresh pizza dough
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup Ranch dressing, preferably homemade
2 Tbsps Parmesan, finely grated
3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup cooked chicken, cut into bite-size chunks
Frank's RedHot Chicken Wings Sauce
1/3 cup celery, finely diced
1/3 cup green and white scallion rings, thinly sliced or minced chives
1/2 cup Bleu or Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
all-purpose flour, as needed
semolina, as needed
1. Prep toppings and reserve until ready to use.
2. Place a Pizza Que Grill Stone in a gas grill and with the lid closed preheat the grill for 15-20 minutes on high heat. Alternatively, place a bread baking stone, on the lowest rack in a cold oven, and preheat to 500°F, or highest setting, for 1 hour prior to baking.
3. While grill or oven is preheating, prepare a smooth work surface with a dusting of flour. Also dust a pizza peel with flour and a little semolina.
4. Remove dough ball from container and let the dough stretch out into a disc on the top of your hands. Begin moving the dough around, stretching and pulling into a circle, careful not to touch the rim. When it is thin in the center and about six or eight inches in diameter, place on floured work surface.
5. Continue pushing dough outwards with palms and fingers so it is thin on the bottom, and has a nice rim of crust around the circumference. Transfer to prepared pizza peel.
6. Brush dough with olive oil. Spoon Ranch dressing evenly over dough. Sprinkle with parmesan and then generously with grated mozzarella cheese. Evenly distribute the sauced chicken.
7. Transfer the pizza from the peel to the stone and bake for about 5 minutes. Bake for another couple of minutes, rotating once if necessary for even cooking, until crust is golden with some char and cheese is melted. Transfer the cooked pizza from stone to perforated metal pan. Garnish pizza with celery, crumbled bleu cheese and scallions or chives. Let sit for a minute or two before cutting into 8 pieces. Serve immediately. Yield: 1 pizza