A Series of Escalating Ranch Dares
Charting a course through the Most Hidden Valley
Commercial ranch dressing as we know it was introduced by a Nebraskan in the 1950s. Since then, cornfed pasteboys (i.e. me) have embraced it as a utility sauce for life’s disappointments. Doughy pizza? Splort some ranch on it. Church basement pasta salad? Bless it with buttermilk. Boneless hot wings? Forget the bleu cheese—pass me some of that FREEDOMMAYO, baby.
Ranch dressing’s core irony is that it’s great on just about everything BUT lettuce salads. To me, ranch is a dressing in the same way Thanksgiving stuffing is a dressing—which is to say, not at all. Ranch is an element, like helium or sulfur. If it had been around in prehistoric times, it would have been painted on the walls of the caves at Lascaux.
It’s also one of a handful of popular foods that’s always in vogue to ridicule, for reasons that have little to do with its ingredients list.
I’m not here to quibble with anyone who genuinely abhors the taste of ranch. Taste is subjective, and I’m sorry for your loss. My big beef with most ranch rancor is that so much of it feels performative, untethered from any serious accounting of the merits of buttermilk and garlic and MSG.
I’ve read plenty of anti-ranch invectives from food writers over the years, and few of them comment on the composition of ranch—they mostly just don’t like the concept. They don’t like ranch’s maximalism, its ubiquity, its crass commercial appeal. They don’t like that it overpowers other flavors and smothers subtlety. They can’t imagine Daniel Boulud glooping Cooler Ranch on his wet eggs.
(I suspect some of them also don’t like its association with the unfashionable, blunt-edge Midwest—but I’ve already said my piece about that.)
I get most of these objections, at least to a degree. But I’m also a spite-fueled mischief monster who spends most days sprinting down life’s hedonic treadmill like I can outrun God. So when my husband came home from the Sunfresh with a romantic gift the other day—an enormous plastic shaker of dry ranch powder—I decided to embark on a voyage of scientific discovery/childish excess.
Hypothesis #1: Bloody Mary Ranch Rim
Result: Unqualified success.
Okay, technically, I made a Bloody Caesar, not a Bloody Mary. Clamato Picante is better than any widely available Mary mix, and it took me way too long to discover this. But the principle is the same: tomato booze in a glass filled with snacks.
If you like ranch, this is a slam dunk. It’s an improvement on the original, honestly. The problem with most salt or sugar rims is that they only stick around for the first couple sips. Ranch powder adheres. You’ll be tasting that dehydrated nectar until the cows come home—to be milked, for more ranch.
Hypothesis #2: Ranch-a-roni and Cheese
Result: Needs hot sauce.
This is the kind of dish you would order at an Applebee’s, and true to form, it tastes like it was prepared in a microwave at an Applebee’s.
All I really did here is make a béchamel and hide it in a valley. Parm and white cheddar kept things cheesy without sacrificing that je ne sais blanc. Still, it was nice as twice with buffalo sauce, so I don’t really consider this a win for Big Ranch.
Hypothesis #3: Ranchsicles
Result: Frightening in most contexts; useful in one.
I knew I was going to have to do some kind of ranch dessert, and I thought a yogurt ranchsicle might be the least offputting. So I mixed up some plain Greek yogurt, ranch powder, milk, and sugar. Yes, sugar—sweet ranch. Going sugar-free would fudge up the ice crystallization and make the popsicles rock-hard, and then they’d be unpleasant to eat.
Look, I’m not going to oversell these: sweet ranch is not a taste I crave. The popsicles were cool, creamy, and nibbably (nibbleably?) soft, but there’s no way I could finish a whole one.
My friend Carrie, a woman of taste, bailed me out: she suggested revisiting them after I ate a plate of hot wings, which is the best possible application. I can think of few things that would ease a capsaicin burn better than a sweet, milky, ice-cold ranchpop.
Hypothesis #4: Drugs
Matt E, Longtime Friend of Haterade, upped the ante on Twitter with this recommendation:
Unfortunately, the closest dispensary that stocks this THC ranch powder is in Illinois.
I would never, ever tell anyone to mail me cannabis, which is of course a federal crime. Nor would I consume this product even were it sent me, as I do not believe in the Devil’s Lettuce and have never broken any laws or rules of any kind. *clears throat*
But if you live in Chicago and would like to send me a Christmas card this year, I’d be happy to share my address.
Hypothesis #5: Ranch Cinnamon Rolls
Results: Buy stock in Ranch-a-bon today.
“Cinnamon roll” is an obvious misnomer—there’s no cinnamon in these Big Beautiful Buns. I started with the dough from my favorite cinnamon roll recipe, so there’s a touch of sweetness to the yeast-ness. But the filling is where things veer off course. In lieu of cinnamon sugar, I whipped softened butter with a lot of dry ranch and a little dried chile for color (I blitzed a Crum’s Heirloom smoked chile in the spice grinder for this, and it was super smoky and potent).
For the “icing,” I whipped more ranch powder into some softened cream cheese and added a splash of milk to get the consistency right.
These were incredible—tender, garlicky, smoky, savory. The slightly sweet dough worked, just like a sugary McDonalds hamburger bun works. The cream cheese “dressing” added a sharp tang to the roll’s buttery richness. I ate four of them with a bowl of chili for dinner. It was a religious experience, in that it felt both spiritual and shameful at the same time. There were no leftovers/survivors.
In the immortal words of Coolio:
As I walk through the hidden valley of the shadow of ranch,
I take a look at my plate and realize there’s nothin’ left.
Look, it’s 2021 now. Forget the garlic bread chapstick. We’re moving on. We’re fRanchising bRanches of Ranch-a-bon for tRanches of cash.
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