Season's eatings! The weather may be getting colder, but Dining Month on OnMilwaukee is just cooking up, dishing out your winning picks in this year's Best of Dining poll. Dining Month is brought to you by Fein Brothers, your premier food service equipment and supply dealer in Wisconsin since 1929. Congratulations to all of the winners, and happy eating for all those who voted!
Most people like to eat. Some prefer their nourishment healthy, handsome and high-class; others enjoy a diet less discriminating. This series is a celebration of the gastronomically grotesque, a repudiation of culinary conceit. It is a space to commune and connect for those perhaps poor in taste, poor in pocketbook and poor in cooking proficiency, but rich in spirit and self-reliance. Simply put, it’s a place to write about gross food.
Today, I will be singing the praises of a homemade pizza prepared with cheap frozen pizza that I covered with Doritos, ranch and sriracha. But first, as this is the initial installment of "In Poor Taste," a brief bit of background, the origin story of this series that I was asked to do and for which I apologize in advance.
I am a simple man with a simple palate, simple means and simple abilities. In high school, I took a Foods class, and for the final project, I made spaghetti and sauce (from a jar), but managed to screw up the meal by heating the (already-baked) bread at 500 degrees and melting a cutting board onto the oven rack. In college, my go-to food was Tina’s brand frozen burritos – in particular, Beef & Bean and Spicy Bean & Cheese – which were usually three for a dollar, and all three together made for a decent dinner. During my early newspaper days in Dallas, after once overdrawing my account at the grocery store, crackers with marinara sauce sufficed for a while.
Even now, no longer destitute, I still crave quantity over quality, value over virtue, and I have an internal obligation to finish all my food in one sitting, which I almost always indulge.
I’ve been told that I eat like I live in the Great Depression, and once got into a vigorous argument with a friend over whether a meal has to have meat to be considered a real meal (my position: yes). Last year, I wrote 1,700 words about why Aldi is better than Trader Joe’s. For my birthday in March, a friend gave me a 1-gallon container of "Heavy Duty Mayonnaise" – presumably as a joke – and I’ve been using it on sandwiches and more unspeakable concoctions ever since.
That picture probably suffices as explanation for this food series. Again, you will find no locally raised Wagyu braised tenderloin dressed in rustically foraged chanterelle puree here, nor any essence of market-price North Atlantic lobster remoulade with maple-glazed micro carrots. But you will get Doritos ranch sriracha pizza, and you will get it right now.
In 2014, in the wake of Taco Bell’s massively successful Doritos Locos Tacos, Pizza Hut Australia introduced a Doritos Crunchy Crust pizza, because Down Under does it right. With a self-serious/deprecating tone this series can appreciate, Pizza Hut announced the creation with an ad that contained the following amazing sentence: "This chip will change everything. We’ve embedded it into the outer casing so that you can intuitively enjoy two of your favorite things simultaneously."
Whew, that’s obnoxious even for us. Anyway, the pizza never made it to the United States – though props to Pizza Hut, the innovators of the hot dog stuffed crust and cheeseburger crust pizzas, for its continual risk-taking – but this still struck me as a deliciously great idea. So, recently, I tried to replicate it.
Given my limited culinary gifts and hungry impatience, I decided to cut a few cookery corners and use a DiGiorno frozen pizza instead of making my own. (The Vulgar Chef crafted a DIY Doritos crust pizza, and it didn’t exactly inspire me to attempt a recreation.) Normally, I would use a Jack's pizza, because the company was founded in Little Chute, Wisconsin, and claims to use 100 percent Dairy State cheese, so, hey, local! Also it’s good and cheap. Sometimes, when the time is right and the moon is just so, you can get three Jack’s pizzas from Pick ‘N Save for $11; some claim to have seen a four-for-$11 deal, though it may be only the stuff of legend. But this meal was for a professional story, so I upgraded.
I went with a DiGiorno Rising Crust Supreme Pizza, topped with sausage, pepperoni, green and red bell peppers, olives and onions, and followed the oven cooking directions – preheat oven to 400 degrees, place pizza on oven rack in center, bake for 13-15 minutes. Abiding by the instructions is key when you are bad at making food.
While the pizza cooks, prepare the other ingredients. I started by removing the bottles of ranch and sriracha from my refrigerator and setting them on the counter. Next, I took out the bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos, opened it and poured, oh, maybe 20 of them onto a plate (you can use more or less, depending on your flavor sensitivities; it’s part of the creative freedom with this dish). Then I selected the dozen or so chips whose size and shape fit my vision.
This is where it gets complicated. You need to exercise awareness and have your head on a swivel here, because you’re going to be doing multiple things at once. Well, not really at once, but multiple things in a row. After the pizza has baked for about 10-12 minutes – so mostly cooked, but not all the way – take it out of the oven, temporarily.
Place the Doritos onto the pizza in a geometric, evenly distributed fashion, filling in gaps and organizing them attractively across the space, then gently press the chips into the soft, melty surface. Once satisfied with your arrangement, put the pizza back in the oven to cook for another few minutes.
When the pizza is golden brown and scrumptious-looking and/or you just can’t wait any longer, remove it and let it start to cool. Now, take the ranch bottle and artfully drop little globs of dressing sauce here and there about the creation, some atop the chips, others in open areas. Do the same thing, delicately, with the sriracha. Don’t forget to take a #foodporn picture to post to social media and be the envy/concern of all your friends!
I welcomed my beloved roommate @pugsundayz home from his cross-country travels by making my speciality, Dorito Ranch Frozen Pizza, al fresco, or something. Also I'll be writing about it on my gross food blog, In Poor Taste, for @onmilwaukee. #doritos #pizza #ranch #italian #grossfood #foodporn #nofilter #notsorry #milwaukeestyle
Make sure not to disturb the careful Dorito placement when cutting your pizza; my slices looked like little Republican-drawn congressional districts, adorably gerrymandered around orange chips to my edible advantage.
Finally, when the exhaustive groundwork had been completed, it was time to enjoy the fruits of my labor.
I bit in. It was still way too hot, burning the top of my mouth, but no matter. It was glorious. The Doritos crunched, the ranch titillated and the sriracha exhilarated, the pizza tasted really good because it was pizza. I ate the entire thing, relishing every bite, delighting in my roommate’s disgust. The experience was divine, but simultaneously very earthly and unpretentious. I felt like I suddenly understood the universe, and especially how Pizza Hut had become a multi-billion-dollar international restaurant company.
Afterward, cleanup was easy, as I had eaten the pizza right off the cutting board – which I also had not melted in the oven! – so I simply left it in the sink to soak for some number of days, along with the David Gruber Law Offices pizza cutter (that’s right, the ubiquitous personal injury firm has pizza cutters).
It’s hard to describe the feeling of accomplishment and pride in creating something so incredible – surely, Da Vinci, Mozart and Guy Fieri can relate – but the prize of consuming it all yourself is inexpressibly rewarding. For me, the appetizing appeal of this dish came down to a simple truth: If four things separate are good, combining them into one thing is even better.
Doritos ranch sriracha pizza (ratings 1-5)
Preparation difficulty: 1
Chef quote: "I mean, it’s not really gross … it’s just kind of basic and dumb."
Advanced evolution: Sure, you can use Cooler Ranch Doritos, which ostensibly combines two ingredients in an intuitive way, but I prefer the classic Nacho Cheese. If you want to get fancy, though, try this adaptation: Cook the pizza for about 10 minutes, long enough for it to become slightly pliable, then take it out and either fold it like a taco or roll it up like a burrito. Combine crushed Doritos and ranch with flour and eggs, then coat the crust of the pizza with the mixture. Sear the pizza taco/burrito on the stovetop until it’s golden brown, or whatever, for a cross-cultural meal that will electrify your taste buds and explode your mind. Let me know how it goes.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.