Thai Chicken Pizza alla Shandi is a protein-heavy, vaguely Asian, sweet and sticky weeknight pizza. The recipe comes to my by way of Recipes from the Heart, a 2006 community cookbook from the church congregation my family attended. The recipe was submitted by a woman who has since moved and with whom our family was never particularly close. I haven’t got the faintest idea who Shandi is.
I’ve never been particularly adept at making my own pizza at home. When the children were small I tried my hand at homemade pizza, once a year at Christmas. It was a dark time for our family, filled with watery sauces and dough that tasted like elementary school paste. After three or four years of soggy pizza I threw in the towel and switched to tamales. In the intervening years I’ve learned to make a decent pizza sauce but I’ve never been able to make a decent yeast-based dough. This is particularly frustrating given my training in chemistry, but aligns overall with my inability to bake much of anything properly. Perhaps in retirement I’ll find time to make my peace with yeast breads, but for now I just avoid them whenever possible.
Which is why this recipe appeals to me. The key ingredient in Thai Chicken Pizza alla Shandi is pre-baked pizza crust. The original recipe explicitly calls out Boboli, a name that may trigger homicidal thoughts in proper home cooks, but hear me out. They’re not going to have the sweet boozy flavor of a properly fermented crust, but its still a man-sized step up from frozen. And if you’re incapable of making a decent pizza crust like me, they make for a quick and worthy alternative. If Boboli’s not your jam any flatbread will do – my personal favorite is Trader Joe’s rectangular crusts, if for no other reason than two of them fit neatly on my oven racks.
Now obviously a dish called “Thai Chicken Pizza” isn’t proper, traditional pizza, and I’m with you. I have some fairly strong opinions about proper pizza myself, but there’s a time and place for that sort of snobbery and it ain’t Tuesday night dinner. The genius of pizza is that it’s a delivery vehicle for delicious toppings. Delicious is not limited to traditional Italian flavor profiles. One of my favorite local pizzas comes from a gyro joint, where the Jordanian owners serve flatbread topped with fragrant ground lamb and tomatoes and call it pizza. I’m open to a dessert pizza now and again. Thai Chicken Pizza alla Shandi opts for an Asian-inspired flavor profile, with peanut-flavored roasted chicken and peppers layered over plum sauce and topped with jack cheese. No Asian country on earth will claim this as their own, but we’ll reserve judgement for our tastebuds.
The original recipe was missing a few ingredients for the marinade, so I had to make guesses on proportions. And apparently I guessed well, because the marinated chicken is far and away the best part of this recipe. It comes together quickly with only a few ingredients but lends a lot of flavor to boring run-of-the-mill chicken breasts. I made a couple of extra for a post-workout protein snack and found them utterly delicious hot or cold. The remaining pizza toppings are primarily window dressing.
Monterey Jack cheese replaces the traditional mozzarella cheese. The milder Jack cheese still provides the requisite melty cheesiness but lets the chicken and sauce stand out. Peppers and green onions provide a little bit of aromatic crunch. And all of it rests on top of a sticky sweet plum sauce base, which complements the salty, nutty chicken without overwhelming it. Let’s not pretend that this is high art, but it’s a more complex flavor profile than the ingredient list deserves.
It feels patronizing to offer “tips” on a flatbread pizza, but bear with me. First of all, under no circumstances should you attempt this recipe on raw pizza dough unless you like sweaty pizza. If you’ve got a favorite pizza dough make sure to par-bake the crust for a few minutes first. Then add the sauce and toppings. I also recommend using a light hand with the plum sauce, erring on too little rather than too much. The occasional bare spot is preferable to a thick glaze. You might also consider making extra marinade for the pizza sauce. For food safety reasons you shouldn’t use the actual marinade from the chicken, but consider making a little extra. It’s got the right consistency and just enough sweet to work in place of plum sauce.
For what it is, this recipe’s a winner: an upgrade from frozen pizza that mixes up the flavor profile. The original recipe recommends serving with cucumber slices and carrot sticks, which I heartily recommend. A simple salad with a sweet vinaigrette would also be a worthy compliment. Every meal need not be a work of art, and the effort-to-deliciousness ratio here is in the busy home cook’s favor. Enjoy!
For the chicken:
For the marinade:
- 2 tbsp neutral cooking oil
- 1 tbsp hot sauce
- ¼ cup honey
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ½ cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky)
For assembling the pizza:
- 2 pre-cooked pizza rounds (such as Boboli brand)
- 1 8 oz jar plum sauce
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 4 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
- 1 mild red bell pepper (seeded and thinly sliced)
- 1 bunch scallions (thinly sliced)
- Slice the chicken breasts in half lengthwise to make thin cutlets. Season liberally with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
- Mix the marinade ingredients. Coat the chicken cutlets one at a time and leave in the marinade for 10 minutes (or up to 30 minutes) at room temperature.
- While the chicken is marinating, preheat the oven to 425º F
- Cook chicken cutlets in a cast iron skillet or over a medium-hot grill for 4-5 minutes per side, until chicken is cooked through and coating is nicely charred. Let rest for 5 minutes, then slice into thin strips.
- Spoon plum sauce over pizza crust and spread to form a thin layer. Don't overdo it - expect to use about three-quarters of the jar. Sprinkle crushed red pepper over top, followed by most of the jack cheese.
- Arrange the bell pepper and chicken strip in a clock pattern, fanning out from the center of the pizza. Top with green onions and a sprinkle of the remaining cheese.
- Bake until cheese is browned and bubbly, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and garnish with cilantro and chopped peanuts.