The Strangest Pizza

I remember when Wolfgang Puck was cooking at Spago, the original one above Tower Records on the Sunset Strip. I went there a few times as a kid, always glancing about for a Warren Beatty or Jack Nicholson sighting. Years later, I would find myself sandwiched between Priscilla Presley and Paul Prudhomme at a private Chinese New Year dinner at his second restaurant, Chinois on Main. But that’s another story. Back to Spago… it was here that in addition to star spotting, you could sample such radical and then unimaginable pizzas as goat cheese and sun-dried tomato (wow!), smoked salmon with caviar and Thai chicken.

John Huston's table, Spago Oscars party, 1986

John Huston’s table, Spago Oscars party, 1986

I’ve made a few strange pizzas in my day. Never one to extol novelty for novelty’s sake, I mostly hew near to the Neopolitan standard, sometimes getting a little creative with my toppings — fresh eggs and caramelized fennel, for example, or Kurobata pork belly and pickled red onion — or exploring different cheeses. Occasionally I’ll build a pizza around a single unique ingredient — a particular wild mushroom I’ve found highlighted in a cream reduction. But every so often, I throw convention out completely to the whim of inspiration.

One evening recently, friends Jon and Priscilla were coming to dinner, and I told them it was going to be experimental pizza night. “Remember that one pizza you made that time with some kind of fermented seafood on it?” Jon reminisced. I wracked the recipe files of my brain and came up with nothing. What could it have been? I wondered — I’m not an extreme cook, so it’s unlikely it was Japanese fermented squid guts or Iceland’s infamous hákarl fermented shark. “That wasn’t my favorite,” Jon completed his thought with a frown.

This particular evening’s pizza would be experimental, but not extreme. A few days before, after shopping at the 99 Ranch Asian market, I’d carved up and cooked a Pekin duck. The breasts I’d frozen, then rendered the fat from the skin resulting in an ample supply of cracklings, long-boiled the carcass for demi glaze, and cured the legs and thighs to make confit.

My children, who used to consume duck cracklings with wild abandon, now suddenly eyed them with suspicion. So short of eating the 40 or 50 cracklings all myself — something akin to sitting down to consume 20 strips of bacon — I would need to figure out a destination for them. Our former neighbor, chef Suzanne Tracht of the L.A. chop house, The Jar, one brought over a platter of duck crackling BLTs — the cracklings taking the place of the bacon — and they were delicious. I’d replicated that preparation a few times, but felt like doing something a little different. What if I put them on a pizza? Thus was the inspiration for what would seem an unlikely pie — duck confit, cracklings, shitake mushrooms and plum sauce.

Duck cracklings, confit and plum sauce pizza

Duck cracklings, confit and plum sauce pizza

Riffing on the classic Peking duck flavor confluence of yeasty dough, sweet five-spicey plum sauce, pungent scallions and fatty, savory duck, the pizza was a smashing success — so good, in fact, that I repeated it the following evening for our friends Ernie and Debra.

I like to imagine this pizza the star of an eclectic dinner — beginning perhaps with Szechuan dumplings in a Sauternes butter, followed by tempura-fried skate wing with fennel risotto and saffron cream? (A recent successful experiment from our own kitchen!) I realize not everyone has duck cracklings or confit on hand at any given time. But I’m quite sure the pizza would be equally good using pork belly instead. And who doesn’t have pork belly!?

*   *   *

Duck cracklings, confit, shiitake and plum sauce pizza
serves 4 as a first course

1 pizza dough
20-30 small strips of duck cracklings (or pig skin cracklings)
4 oz. duck confit, shredded from the bone (or sliced pork belly)
1/4 cup Chinese plum sauce
4 oz. fresh mozzarella
4 large shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 scallions, cut into thin slivers
flaky sea salt
semolina flour or corn meal

30 minutes before: Preheat oven to 500 degrees or higher. If you have a pizza stone, place it in the oven to get hot.

Dust a large cutting board heavily with flour. Dust the dough with flour, and begin lightly stretching it until it’s a large, thin circle 12″x16″ in diameter.

Sprinkle semolina flour or corn meal on a pizza peel. Place the stretched dough on the pizza peel.

Spoon the plum sauce onto the dough and gently spread around until it is evenly distributed. Tear mozzarella into strips and distribute evenly about the pizza. Then top with the duck confit, the scallions, the mushrooms and finally the duck cracklings. Sprinkle lightly with salt to taste.

Slide pizza carefully off of peel and onto the hot pizza stone (or a baking sheet, if you’ve got no stone). Cook for 7 – 10 minutes, until crust is beginning to brown and pizza is bubbly. Slide the peel under the pizza and remove from oven. (Or, in the case it is on a baking sheet, simply remove the baking sheet.)

Let cool for 5 minutes, then slice and serve.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michelle
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 01:49:20

    We had fennel, onion and duck pizza tonight. Quite good. Duck cracklings with plum sauce on pizza, though? That sounds deliciously strange. I think you’ve outdone Wolfie. (In a good way.)


    • scolgin
      Mar 23, 2013 @ 01:53:25

      That sounds great Michelle. I did fennel sausage, caramelized fennel & onion and eggs on a pizza last night, which was quite good. Jim Lahey of Sullivan St. Bakery in Brooklyn (he of famous no-knead dough) has a new no-knead pizza dough that is fantastic. That’s become my new go-to dough.


      • Michelle
        Mar 23, 2013 @ 01:56:21

        Yeah, we’ve made the bread a number of times (quite good and I’ve got a scar from touching the ever so hot Le Creuset pot to prove it!), but haven’t yet tried his pizza dough. Will definitely have to give it a try.

  2. glennis
    Mar 23, 2013 @ 19:46:43

    I remember the duck cracklins B(D)LT we had at Patty’s when you brought it a few Christmases ago! Mmmm!


  3. Priscilla
    Mar 25, 2013 @ 16:41:57

    This one was definitely a winner – Jon even stole the rest of my slice! Good work Sean!


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