From the Freezer: Dressing Up the CPK BBQ Chicken Pizza

Frozen Pizza

Reviews of frozen pizza.


[Photographs: Meredith Smith]

The last From the Freezer post dealt with the California Pizza Kitchen Margherita. The BBQ Chicken variety got a vote or two in the comments section, so with the Margherita still fresh in my mind, I decided to see how the CPK "best recipe yet"claim fared under close Slice inspection.


Just to be up front about everything, my biases were not stacked in favor of the "bbq chicken recipe". For one, I'm in the chicken-doesn't-belong-on-pizza camp. Also, I don't think barbecue sauce has any business gettin' all cozy between the cheese and crust. And speaking of cheese, this frozen pie has my least favorite one: smoked gouda. (To me, the smoke usually tastes overwrought and the dairy leans metallic.) The remaining components of the pie are red onions and cilantro, neither of which I take issue with in general. However, since making crazy California pizza combos is the Pizza Kitchen's thing, and they proved they could actually make an edible product with the Margherita, I endeavored to approach this variety with an open mind and a really empty belly.

Despite all the strikes against this pizza, it wasn't actually as bad as I feared. The barbecue sauce—that sticky sweet version that fills the dunking cup served alongside a box of chicken nuggets—was the dominating flavor. And despite my misgivings, the cubes of "grilled" white meat chicken weren't dried out or bland (thanks to an enhanced solution, as evidenced by the ingredient list). The familiarity of fast food barbecue sauce paired with pumped up chicken meat turned what I anticipated to be a loathsome pie, into something more akin to a McDonald's-esque guilty pleasure frozen pizza experience.


Now that's not to say that this is the best frozen pizza ever. The "crispy thin crust" is like a stack of compressed flour tortillas until you reach the satisfying crunch of the pizza's lip. Though flawed as crust, it's not an offender in terms of taste, serving instead as a palette for combining more flavorful things than itself upon. But beyond the crust, over which I had no control, I saw room for improvement.

Take the cilantro, for starters. The tiny little specks of the dried herb didn't have a prayer of imparting any real cilantro flavor. But it was easy enough to chop up some fresh cilantro and sprinkle it on top.


A marked improvement. Lucky for me the smoked gouda on this pizza didn't have that smoked cheese flavor I had dreaded. It was actually indistinguishable from mozzarella. But a little smokiness, just not the kind that's in gouda, didn't sound like a terrible idea. I realized that with some help from the spice cabinet, I could add smokiness and a little heat as well. Enter the aleppo and smoked paprika:


This is when things really started looking up. For those not reading My Pie Monday every week (um, why not?!), Aleppo pepper is a thing (introduced to Slice by dhorst) and it's getting more and more converts every week. Get into it! The smoked paprika added a smokiness that isn't fake-y or off-putting, and added the flavor dimension this pizza was missing.


Because I like it spicy (and because I have more serrano peppers in the pizza garden than I know what to do with), I tossed some sliced chilis on as well. Now, I'm not claiming to have made a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but the dressed up version of the CPK BBQ Chicken was a huge improvement.

Here's a before and after slice shot:


To be honest, this had somewhat of a surprise ending. I started off not even liking the idea of this frozen pizza. But in the end, through enhancing the intended elements, I wound up making a better version and thereby convincing myself that it wasn't such a terrible pizza after all. So, maybe if this Slice thing doesn't work out I could land a job at the California Pizza Kitchen food labs?!