Once again, there shall be no cake.
|It's monsoon season. source|
But today I have something equally succulent and inviting, something just as rich, if not more.
This, my friends, is the pinnacle of ‘Murican food. This is pizza. With French fries. And bacon. And ranch dressing.
|TASTE MY FREEDOM source|
I remember the first time my family ordered this miraculous creation from the local pizzeria, about two years ago. It was an epiphany. Never before in my life had I considered that pizza could be so fucking addicting and delicious. I went to bed that night with an oversized food baby, considering calling 911 to get my stomach pumped—but with not a shred of regret. This stuff is amazing. Enough to inspire patriotism in the most skeptical of citizens.
Not only was I determined to replicate this super-powered pie myself, but I also became curious about American cuisine. What kind of culinary history could possibly produce something as gaudy and over-the-top as this? What is our national cuisine, anyway?
That’s a question probably best left to doctoral dissertations (or at least one of those trendy pop science books), but that doesn’t mean one can’t attempt to learn about it. So I did a little brainstorming—we gave the world pizza in its many glorious forms, and we gave them hot dogs and hamburgers, and chocolate chip cookies and banana pudding. Not bad. Not too fancy, I’d say, but not bad at all. It’s all pretty damn good.
But compared to other culinary powerhouses, like France and Japan, the USA—one of the most influential countries in the world—lacks something. You could blame it on our age, given that we’re only 238 years old. That’s nothing compared to many of the countries in Europe and Asia, which have been around for thousands of years (if not in their modern forms). Sushi alone can be traced back nearly a thousand years. During that time, many Native American tribes and chiefdoms dominated what is now the USA, developing their own cuisines—but of course a few boatloads of Europeans with guns and superiority complexes had to invade their land and destroy any hint of culture that had previously existed, thus forcing these lovely colonists to start from scratch.
|Japan: eating out of bento boxes before it was cool. source|
But there is another aspect to our culinary identity that I have noticed. In the past, before our country’s agricultural system really got into gear, colonists had to improvise, creating things like blueberry crisps—a play on the European dish using a fruit native to the New World—and often importing foodstuff from the Old World, as described in this Wikipedia entry. Because who the hell likes blueberries? The southern colonies, of course, were smart and ate noticeably spicier food (because that stuff is waaaay tastier than what the shit other colonies came up with), and ended up inventing epiphany-inducing dishes like jambalaya and fried chicken and the like.
Today, however, anyone who doesn’t live under a rock knows that our cuisine has shifted away from home-cooked traditions and towards mass-produced food products, often lacking flavor and personality. We have American cheese and Wonder Bread to our name, and France has croissants and soufflés to theirs. Well fuck. How do you feel about that?
To put it simply, it seems we have drifted away from our roots.
Just like those colonists importing familiar foods from the Old World, we ignore our indigenous species and instead turn to the richest, most palate-pleasing food that exists. Just like how Britain took the principles of Indian cuisine to create the richest curries imaginable, we have taken Italian foods and made thick, cheese-laden pizzas; we have taken ancient Mexican traditions and made rich enchiladas the size of one’s arm; and we have taken Chinese cuisine and created sweet, deep-fried General Tso’s chicken and so many other dishes unfamiliar to the country they claim to be from. It’s quite interesting, actually—America, being the great melting pot, has transformed every cuisine that arrives in its borders and wrung out only the richest and most extravagant of dishes for the masses. And by masses I mean boring white people like me. I have no “culture”, if you will. The most food-related nostalgia I experience is when I go to Friendly’s, for fuck’s sake.
And when you consider how the rise of our country aligns with the rise of globalization, it makes sense. When the USA went through its most trying, character-developing times, factories were beginning to produce cake mixes and faux cheese and cereals and even goddamn sliced bread, all of which would take over our pantries and refrigerators soon enough.
|OMG TEH GREATEST source|
Some cultures take pride in passes down recipes for roasts, for elaborate pastries, for tenderly cooked pasta dishes and elegant sauces. I will probably pass down this recipe for French fry pizza.
I’m not sure how to feel about it.
But I’ll pass it down anyway.
To make this pizza, I bought several imported and factory-produced items. I bought frozen French fries, which were probably grown in a potato field hundreds of acres in area and processed in a faraway factory. I got me some coconut, which sure as hell doesn’t grow in New England. I used liquid smoke, that lovely processed additive, and agar flakes, a “sea vegetable” product. I don’t even know what’s in that vegan mayonnaise.
Truly, this is American food.
French fry pizza
Vegan cheddar cheese (adapted from Sweet Roots)
774 grams • full fat coconut milk • 2 cans
4.5 grams • agar flakes • 3 tablespoons
5 grams • white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar • 1 teaspoon
16 grams • cornstarch • 2 tablespoons
2 grams • smoked paprika • 1 teaspoon
1 gram • liquid smoke • ¼ teaspoon
12 grams • salt • 2 teaspoons
15 to 20 grams • nutritional yeast • 3 to 4 tablespoons
Pour coconut milk into a large saucepan and boil until no longer separated. Stir in white wine vinegar, agar flakes, and salt, then boil gently for about 15 minutes.
Whisk in the remaining ingredients one at a time and cook 5 to 10 more minutes.
Pour the mixture into a loaf pan lined with parchment paper (or any other pan) and let it set in the fridge for at least two hours. Preferably, you can do this the night before so the cheese is all set in the morning.
Whole wheat pizza crust (adapted from All Recipes)
4 grams • granulated sugar • 1 teaspoon
360 grams • warm water, about 110 degrees F • 1 ½ cups
12 grams • active dry yeast • 1 tablespoon
13 grams • olive oil • 1 tablespoon
6 grams • salt • 1 teaspoon
240 grams • whole wheat flour • 2 cups
187 grams • all-purpose flour • 1 ½ cups
In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in the warm water and sprinkle yeast over the top. Let stand for about ten minutes, until foamy.
Add the olive oil and salt to the yeast mixture, then add whole wheat flour and one cup of the all-purpose flour until a dough begins to form. Turn dough onto a surface floured with the remaining ½ cup of all-purpose flour and knead until all of the flour has been absorbed and the dough’s surface is smooth, about five to ten minutes.
Place the dough in a bowl coated with cooking spray and cover loosely with a towel. Let rise in a warm place for about an hour. I used the “bread proof” function on the oven.
When the dough has doubled in volume, turn it onto a lightly floured surface and divide the dough in half. Form each ball of dough into a tight ball. Place each in a separate bowl and let rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes, until doubled. Ideally this is when you should use the dough, but you can stick it in the refrigerator for a little bit until you need it.
Coconut bacon (adapted from Fettle Vegan)
210 grams • flaked coconut (the large chunks that look like chips) • 3 ½ cups
27 grams • liquid smoke • 2 tablespoons
16 grams • soy sauce • 1 tablespoon
20 grams • maple syrup • 1 tablespoon
15 grams • water • 1 tablespoon
2 grams • smoked paprika • 1 teaspoon
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Combine liquid smoke, soy sauce, maple syrup, water, and paprika in a large bowl. Toss gently with flaked coconut.
Spread coconut on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, tossing every five minutes. This will help prevent your facon from turning into a blackened mass of misery.
Vegan ranch dressing (adapted from Post Punk Kitchen)
165 grams • vegan mayonnaise • ¾ cup
7 grams • finely chopped parsley • 2 tablespoons
13 grams • finely chopped dill • 2 tablespoons
6 grams • finely chopped chives • 2 tablespoons
3 grams • onion powder • 1 ½ teaspoons
1 gram • garlic powder • ½ teaspoon
1 gram • ground black pepper • ½ teaspoon
1 gram • lemon juice • ¼ teaspoon
Mix all ingredients thoroughly in a small bowl. That’s it! Easy peasy!
Whole wheat pizza crust
Vegan ranch dressing
Potato French fries, either frozen (just make sure to pre-heat the French fries before adding to pizza) or homemade (using a recipe such as this)
Cornmeal, as needed
Ketchup and mustard
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Turn the pizza dough balls out onto a floured surface and re-shape each one into a ball. Pick one ball of dough up and hold it using your knuckles with thumbs around the edges of the dough. Gently stretch the dough outwards from the edge, emphasis on gentle. The dough will refuse to stretch anymore after a while—that means you should let it rest on the counter for about a minute to let the gluten relax so you can begin to stretch it again. That was probably really confusing—see this video from Peter Reinhart to get a better idea of what I am trying to explain here.
TL;DR just shape the dough any way you prefer.
Repeat with the other dough ball. You can roll the dough a bit with a rolling pin once you’re done shoving your knuckles in it, to get it all nice and smooth.
Slide the dough onto a baking sheet spread with cornmeal (or pizza stone, if you’re fancy). Bake for about ten minutes or until the crust begins to brown, then remove from the oven. Spread vegan mayonnaise over that bitch, then toss on a hefty helping of coconut bacon and French fries. Thinly slice the vegan cheese and layer on as much as you want.
Bake for another five to six minutes, until cheese is melted. Drizzle ketchup and mustard on top and dive in like a true ‘Murican.
So how did it come out? Not that anyone cares, just recording this for posterity.
|Looks like a bunch of French fries on bread. I guess you did your job.|
Well, um. It was a tad under-baked. Probably couldn’t stand the heat of my freedom.
|I'm not sure what that is.|
However, the cheese did melt wonderfully underneath all of those naked, succulent French fries. It has a nice smoky flavor (thank you Wright’s), and the nutritional yeast is almost too prominent for my tastes. I would recommend using only 15 grams / 3 tablespoons instead of 20 grams / 4 tablespoons as I did if you aren’t keen on eating tons of the stuff.
|I'm still not sure what it is.|
I would also recommend putting the French fries underneath the cheese instead of on top so it doesn’t look like, you know, an open-faced potato sandwich. Because no.
Also maybe brush the crust with olive oil before baking. You know, for that sexy brown color.
But no matter—perfect or not, this tastes like freedom.