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    Tuesday, March 05, 2024

    Professor Swanson dissects the Big Mac: Big Mac Pizza

    You deserve a break today. So make this pizza.
    Big Mac Pizza Perfection: baked just until the lettuce gets a little wilty and the cheese sags. Just like the real thing.
    Just a simple can of prefab dough and some sesame seeds. No futzing required.

    A couple weekends ago, I stopped on the way home from a movie with my roomie to pick up a pizza. We had tried a few different pies from this particular pizzeria in recent months, and they were very good. This time, we opted to try the Little Big Mac pizza. We got home and tore into it like, well, a couple of people under the spell of a fresh, hot pizza.

    Now, there was nothing wrong with that pizza. But, all things considered, it wasn’t quite right. Most of the components of a Big Mac were in it along with some plum tomatoes on their pizza crust. But it landed a little wide of the mark. If you’re going to invoke the sacred cow of burgers, you gotta meet high expectations. And truth be told, even McDonald’s doesn’t meet my standards when it comes to the Big Mac anymore. I eat there once every couple of months, and if I’m ordering a Big Mac, I have them substitute quarter pound burgers for the regular patties. This feels right to me; it’s a lot closer to the Big Mac as God (Ray Kroc) intended.

    I’m old. How old am I? I’m old enough to remember that stretch of land overlooking 95 South somewhere between Mystic and Groton that was a massive town dump. It stunk in the heat of summer, and there were always hundreds of seagulls swarming overhead. Old enough? Which means I was around back in the Golden Age of the Golden Arches: those unforgettable fries deep fried in beef tallow, the deep fried apple pies filled with molten Macintosh magma and, of course, at the top of this glistening, crispy heap: the Big Mac. Two all beef patties, Special Sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun. To folks of my generation, you cannot hear those ingredients listed without reverting to the sing-songy jingle that drilled them into the head every American within earshot of a radio or television. It’s like asking a kid to recite the alphabet. You know you’re gonna get the ELEMENOPEE version.

    Now back to that pizza. I decided to try to improve on it at home without enrolling in Hamburger University or Clown College. Which means, this isn’t so much of a recipe as it is an engineering exercise. We know what the ingredients are, so how do we build it?

    Two all beef patties?

    My biggest problem with the pizzeria version was the paltry amount of beef. It was sparsely dotted with crumbled burger. You could take individual bites and not get any beef in your chomping chamber. And while I was at it, I decided to increase the density of the beef by using cube steak: 3/4 lb cube steak, well salted and seared in a frying pan and then cut into 1“ pieces. The steak has been store tenderized to make it more tearable like a burger, but it still has enough structure to give it some heft. 3/4 lb provided enough beef coverage for a 10x13 crust in a quarter sheet pan.

    Special Sauce?

    Once in while, McDonald’s offers a limited run of jarred Special Sauce in supermarkets. I made a pretty close knockoff by combining:

    1/2 cup Hellman’s Mayo

    2 Tbsp sweet relish

    2 tsp finely minced onion

    1 Tbsp sugar

    1 Tbsp ketchup

    1 Tbsp yellow mustard

    pinch paprika & turmeric


    Iceberg lettuce, 1/2 inch strips, about 1.5 cups.


    6 slices Kraft American singles. The orange ones, not the white ones. And please take the plastic wrapper off. You might be one of those people who thinks everything at McDonald’s tastes synthetic anyway, but it might be a fire hazard.


    Vlasic Hamburger Dill Chips. I swear these are the same pickles that McDonald’s uses in their burgers.


    2 Tbsp dried onion flakes, reconstituted with a couple Tbsp of hot water. Let the flakes soak up the water for about 10 minutes and you have about a qtr cup of Big Mac onions.

    Sesame seed bun?

    1 can Pillsbury Classic Pizza Crust + 2 Tbsp sesame seeds. When I was busy reinventing the wheel for this column, I kept going back to the McDonald’s website for ingredient clues to figure out what to do about the crust. I thought of testing out a recipe for a simple sandwich bread dough, spread out over a baking sheet. But then I thought, “What Would Ray Kroc Do?” Well, he certainly wouldn’t be futzing around in the kitchen waiting for dough to rise. So I tested out a Pillsbury Classic Pizza Crust, and it worked great. I already knew this stuff had the consistency of a decent white bread. All I had to do was line the baking pan with a scattering of sesame seeds.

    Some assembly required

    Preheat oven to 400°F and spray a cookie sheet with a light coating of cooking spray. Scatter a couple tablespoons of sesame seeds evenly across the pan. Roll out the can of dough to a rectangle approximately 10“ x 13”. Don’t try to stretch it to the edges of the pan; it’ll make it too thin. Take 1/4 cup of the Special Sauce and spread a thin layer evenly over the surface of the dough, all the way to the edges. Evenly place your pieces of browned cube steak over the dough, followed by the 1/4 cup of rehydrated onions. I mentally divided the pizza dough into six squares (see photos) and placed three pickles into each ”square.“ Place the pan into the oven for 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven and place a small pile of lettuce into each ”square,“ top the lettuce with a bloop of special sauce and top each square with a slice of cheese. Put the pan back into the oven for another 2-4 minutes, just until the cheese starts to sag from the heat. Remove pan from oven and cut into six squares and serve. Enjoy!

    Class clown

    All this talk about McDonald’s reminded me of my favorite joke from second grade.

    Q: What do you get when you cross Ronald McDonald with the Jolly Green Giant?

    A: Canned hamburgers from the land of the Jolly Green Clown.

    Like I said, I’m old.

    Rich Swanson is a local cook who has had numerous wins in nationally sponsored recipe contests. He is also the layout specialist here at The Day.

    Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Rich Swanson can be reached at TheSurlyTable@gmail.com.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.