I won’t apologize. I Hate Pizza.
No, wait a minute… I Love Pizza! Huh?
Allow me to explain. In high school I delivered pizzas for a living which meant that my car smelled like pizza for 2 years, and dinner every night was… guess what? Yeah, pizza. Needless to say, after that I didn’t eat pizza for over a decade, and the mere scent of tomato sauce would send me running for the hills. But then came the ’80s… and along comes Wolfgang Puck.
Puck’s Los Angeles restaurant Spago became a national phenomenon on the strength of its innovative pizza creations that revolutionized the pizza world. Smoked salmon with creme fraiche (French sour cream) sauce and caviar took the world by storm.
But let’s give credit where credit is due. What Wolfgang Puck had was not the knowledge of innovative pizza styling, but the foresight to hire Ed LaDou as his first pizza chef. Ed had been experimenting with pizza creations that featured unusual toppings for years in the San Francisco area, and one night he sent out a pizza with red pepper, patè, ricotta and mustard to an unknown diner who turned out to be Puck. He was immediately offered a job at Spago.
In 1985, LaDou’s would leave Spago with the 250 recipes he developed to become part of a start-up restaurant chain called California Pizza Kitchen. LaDou designed CPK’s first menu, which included the poster child of California pizza, the BBQ chicken pizza.
Turning familiar tastes into pizza would become the hallmark of California pizza, teaching us that pizza didn’t have to be Italian any more. Feeling Tijuana? How about a Chicken Caesar pizza with fresh romaine and Caesar dressing on top. American? Try the classic BLT with chilled lettuce and mayo as a topping. Seafood? Shrimp Scampi fills the bill. Thai? Thai chicken pizza with peanut sauce will work. All these pizzas were hits with the customers at California Pizza Kitchen. And yes, fresh avocado is definitely an option.
For me, California pizza was a revelation where I learned that once you re-define your preconceptions, pizza becomes endlessly adaptable to whatever flavors you may crave. This post is a perfect example. I had planned to make my version of Hawaiian pizza with ham, pineapple and a dijon cream sauce. Then I thought my clam, bacon, garlic and white cheddar pizza would be a good idea. However, when it came time to cook up my pizza I had a vicious attack of cheeseburger cravings. So be it.
The Big Mac became famous because it’s sauce was unique among all the other burgers out there. Though Internet chefs may tell you to use 1000 Island dressing, that is not a Big Mac. It’s an In ‘n’ Out burger or any one of 100 other California style burgers out there.
For an authentic Big Mac taste, use this emergency sauce recipe given to McDonald’s managers in the late ’60s in case they ran out of “special” sauce.
Mix all ingredients thoroughly until no streaks remain. Microwave on high for 20 seconds, mix again. Chill for at least an hour before using.
Every cheeseburger pizza I’ve ever seen starts with crumbled ground beef, which in my opinion misses the mark completely. I don’t want a bland taco, I want a burger! So I ground up a nice well-marbled chuck roast, because it tastes a hell of a lot better than that plastic wrapped package of unknown origins in the meat case.
I then made up four ultra-thin burger patties (as close as I could get to MickeyD’s patties) and cooked them to medium. While my Baking Steel was heating, I chilled the burger patties so they wouldn’t crumble when I broke them up.
For the pizza dough, I used the food processor method from Serious Eats because it couldn’t be simpler.
Lazy Man’s Tip: If you seem daunted by making dough, go to your local mom and pop pizza shop. Most likely they will sell you a ball of raw pizza dough for a couple of bucks. It’s a really good solution for making your own homemade pizza.
Assembly is pretty straightforward – Big Mac sauce, a generous sprinkle of sesame seeds, with American cheese on the bottom. Don’t put the American cheese on top of the pizza, because it will burn really quickly after it melts. I wasn’t faithful to the Big Mac, I cheated with a bit of bacon. Broken up burger patties and chopped onions finished the job. Topped this mess with a mozzarella/cheddar combo and baked away.
Looks pretty good to me! There’s only one thing missing from my Big Mac-za: lettuce.
I borrowed a technique from California Pizza Kitchen and their BLT pizza, and finely shredded some iceberg lettuce. A small bit of mayonnaise is mixed in and the lettuce then goes into the freezer for about 10 minutes to get nice and crispy cold.
With great anticipation, I began to chomp away. What a Mistake!
I couldn’t believe how completely boring this pizza tasted. Then I realized my fundamental mistake here was the idea itself. A great burger stands out with its beefy taste and melted cheese, with the bun providing a simple vehicle to bring those tastes to your mouth. With a good pizza, the crust is one of the most important elements of balanced whole. The cheeseburger concept just doesn’t hold up in pizza form. I guess that’s why you don’t see these on a pizza menu too often.
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