Nacho heaven
November 30, 2011 11:28 AM   Subscribe

On the quest for the Ultimate Nachos!

Wanted: Your recipes, secrets and tips for creating the perfect nacho dish experience. What to include and exclude, things on the side, drinks to drink etc. Thanks!
posted by veryape to Food & Drink (34 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
warning: addictive...also, trashy: Doritos (nacho cheese flavor) + sour cream (plain). that's all. you have been warned.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:36 AM on November 30, 2011 [6 favorites]

I make mine with tortilla chips, ground beef, black beans, corn and cheese. Bake in the oven until melted. Then I pull them out, and smother with fresh guacamole, sour cream, and sliced green onions.
posted by Zophi at 11:40 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Kidney beans (canned), cheese, chopped onion, salsa. Multiple (2-3) layers of everything, make sure the cheese is on every chip. Nuke in the microwave, long enough to make the onions less harsh and melt all the cheese.

I suppose cooked meat could be substituted for the beans. But the beans are delicious.
posted by Hactar at 11:41 AM on November 30, 2011

Make sure you have elements of crunchy, chewy, creamy, cheesy, salty, umami, sweet, spicy, bitter.

One of the things I really like to do is take leftover pulled pork (with a spicy bark), tostitos with lime, grated Colby jack, corn kernels, and a spicy vinegar-ketchup BBQ sauce.
posted by Night_owl at 11:41 AM on November 30, 2011

Ground beef or pork fried with homemade taco seasoning, green and red peppers, tomatoes, jalapenos, black olives, all of the cheese. All of it. Really though, it's the guac that makes the nachos. Avocado with lime juice, cumin, and whatever else you want to put in there (salsa? chopped tomatoes? a bit of sour cream?)
posted by arcticwoman at 11:43 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not a recipe, but a tip: Although I hardly ever have the patience to do it, the best nachos are built one at a time. A single layer of tortilla chips with each topping applied to each chip neatly and a slice of pickled jalapeno on top, instead of just blobbing everything on. It means each bit is a perfect bit, and no chips are plain or with just one thing. Nacho heaven.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:50 AM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

The secret to good nachos, moreso than some other dishes, is good ingredients. It's one thing to say, "Use salsa." Yes, but which salsa, exactly? It sure isn't Pace Picante, that's for sure.

Fresh, fresh, everything fresh!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:52 AM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

Aside from personal flavor preferences, you've got one major consideration: texture. Some stuff can ooze over the chips; other stuff needs to be scooped. I love the places where textures collide in different ways. Cold sour cream and a warm saucey queso are wonderful, especially when they mix with a nice corn-based salsa. (The corn salsa is also a good alternative to the inevitable tomato-ness of most "regular" salsas.)

To that end, you need to decide which way you're going to go with the cheese. You've got melted shredded on one hand and saucey Velveeta-y queso on the other. Choose one or both, but recognize the differences. Personally, I like both, and it might be good to have both so you can eat the saucey one right away while you wait for the shredded stuff to melt in the oven.

Re: quality ingredients, this gets a little tricky. Your favorite block cheeses (especially Cheddar) may be crap for melting, and good old Velveeta or similar is popular for a reason. The bags of shredded "Mexican" cheese at the store are typically shredded pretty fine and have a good mix of smooth-melting stuff, so that might be a place to start.

You might consider adding a little chorizo to the ground beef or pork mixture.

Also, on a slightly different note, Frito Pie is the most glorious thing ever. Rip open a bag (small or large, but keep the bag!), dump your chili of choice on there with some nacho cheese sauce, sour cream and salsa (especially something with corn) and you'll be in heaven. In addition to being fabulously fatty, Fritos are nice and sturdy. Fritos Scoops are one of the world's great inventions.

God, you're awful for posting this when I haven't had lunch yet.
posted by Madamina at 12:07 PM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: How not to make nachos:

* use "nacho cheese" (if it comes in a jar or starts with a V, it's not cheese!) or cheddar (wrong flavor entirely)
* use heavily-salted chips (this is maybe just me; I think most chips are too salty)
* put all the chips in the bowl, then all the toppings on top (so most of the chips have no topping and the rest can't be picked up)
* include lots of wet / soggy ingredients -- too many tomatoes, refried beans, salsa, etc
* add sour cream or guacamole before heating (ewwww)
* use a microwave (it ends up steaming and softening the chips, and can do icky things to the cheese)


* Cheese: Nothing but shredded jack or colby will do. In fact, forget colby. Colby sucks. Screw colby. Jack cheese.
* toppings: any or all of: fine-chopped onions and red pepper; diced fresh tomato, seeded or at least drained of excess liquid; black beans (rinsed and drained); jalapeños or other spicier peppers; diced chorizo
* lightly- or un-salted chips

Build it like a lasagna. Layer of chips, layer of toppings, layer of cheese, layer of chips, layer of toppings, layer of cheese. Use enough cheese for each chip to be tasty, not so much that it all glops together into a mass. Bake it in the oven (350° for 10 minutes or so). If you're feeling fancy, finish it under the broiler to brown the top of the cheese (this will also toast any exposed chips, so keep a close eye on it.)

Guacamole, sour cream, and/or roasted tomatillo sauce (ok, now I am hungry) get dotted on the top after the heating. Sprinkle a little chopped cilantro on there too, if you're into that sort of thing. Tomato salsa is redundant -- it's made of the toppings you already added.

Refried beans, spiced ground or shredded meat, etc go on the side to be scooped up while eating. (I used to mix these in, but it's too tedious to break them up into small enough bits that they won't sog up the chips.)

Quality margaritas or cheap beer are the only acceptable beverages for nachos.
posted by ook at 12:16 PM on November 30, 2011 [13 favorites]

Queso sauce, black beans, ground beef (or shredded chicken or pork), corn, maybe pico de gallo, salsa verde for sure, a little shredded cheese and sour cream. Chips on the bottom in a bowl, toppings plopped on top in the above order. Or, you can make a bowl of the toppings and dip your chip if you are feeling dainty. DO NOT add lettuce. Gross.

This is what I order at Qdoba and then shovel into my mouth until it is all gone.

Sides: good beer. That is all.
posted by rachums at 12:19 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

According to Achewood, one of the secrets of good nachos ("Galaxy Nachos") is to bake the chips, plain, for... I think ten minutes? before you put anything on them. Apparently helps to keep the chips firm.
posted by the dief at 12:25 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cheese, roasted cayenne peppers, chives. Blitz in food processor.
Scoop cheese and refried beans onto each chip. Bake spread out on trays, serve with whatever.
posted by zamboni at 12:27 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Microwave will work in a pinch, but for excellent nachos go to the oven. The dry heat of the oven offers enhanced browning and helps keep the chips crisper. I put a cooling rack on a rimmed baking sheet, lay down a layer of chips, light cheese, toppings, then heavy cheese. I prefer a higher temperature, say 425, or even a broil, because I love it when the cheese gets all browned and bubbly.

Also, have you ever made your own chips? It is super easy! Buy corn tortillas at the market, cut them into quarters. You can then fry them in oil until crisp, just a few minutes. Salt them immediately. Or you can spray them with non-stick spray (I do this before cutting), spread them out on the rimmed baking sheet from above, salt them, and bake for 10 minutes or so, flipping half way. These chips will stay much crisper than the store bought ones.
posted by I am the Walrus at 12:44 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Shred your own (jack) cheese. The pre-shredded stuff is inferior in taste and meltyness, and it costs more.
posted by argonauta at 12:51 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

2nd shredding your own cheese, since pre-shredded cheeses come with anti-clumping agents that inhibit flavor and texture.

Also, pickled jalapenos are awesome for quick nachos, when you don't want to dice an onion or anything. Some brands are hotter than others, so try a few different ones to see which you like.
posted by I am the Walrus at 12:56 PM on November 30, 2011

Argonauta, I am the Walrus, ook, and madamina all express sentiments I agree with.

The "perfect nacho dish experience" depends considerably on you and your personal preferences. Perhaps even on your mood. Sometimes you want high-brow, sometimes you want trashy. While nachos is not really a traditional Mexican dish, it's a composite of things that are. Don't forget this.

I prefer using real melted cheese, because once baked, the cheese forms a structure so that the whole mass of nachos can be transferred from the baking tray to the serving dish easily.

However, if you prefer the cheese sauce method, prepare it thusly:

melt half a cup of cream cheese in a small pot over the stove (on medium low).
dissolve 1 teaspoon cornstarch in 2 tablespoons water, and mix this into the cheese.
Add 1/2 can of beer and drink the other half. Mix thoroughly.
Add 1 cup freshly grated jack cheese, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, and some juice from the can of pickled jalapenos you bought.
Stir until everything is smooth and creamy. Don't turn up the heat.

You did buy pickled jalapenos, right? They are necessary. I also buy one fresh jalapeno and slice it really thin, to add to the top of the nachos when they're done baking along with the diced tomatoes and chopped cilantro.
posted by Jon_Evil at 1:05 PM on November 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

ook: "How not to make nachos:

* use "nacho cheese" (if it comes in a jar or starts with a V, it's not cheese!) or cheddar (wrong flavor entirely)

This is Yankee talk. Traditional tex-mex uses cheddar, and "nacho cheese" (aka chile con queso) is also authentic (at least as a dip, if not on nachos). If you don't want the quick Velveeta, then you can make queso without it.
posted by I am the Walrus at 1:13 PM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I follow the sacred teachings of these articles: Football and Nachos, The Texan Way and Nachos 101.

Just say no to burial mound nachos.
posted by Uncle Jimmy at 1:28 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I will grudgingly accept that a tasteful, authentic chile con queso is theoretically possible, though I've yet to encounter one in the wild. (I'm going to try out that béchamel method in your link, though; thanks.) Cheddar nachos, maaaaybe, for people who are not me. (When I've tried it it tastes like "I ran out of jack cheese but tried to make nachos anyway.")

At Velveeta, however, I draw the line. That stuff is clearly Not Food.
posted by ook at 1:33 PM on November 30, 2011

I love nachos but I really hate it when you get near the bottom of the heap and the nachos are soggy. Tragedy! So here's what I do:

Get a big cookie sheet, cover it with foil, and put a nice neat layer of Tostitos Scoops on it.

Get your toppings ready; chop them into itty bitty bits, grate them, open cans, etc. The nachos I make typically contain little chunks of slow-cooked pork or leftover roast beef, peppers, onions, olives, avocado, and Monterey Jack.

Once you've divvied out your toppings, turn the oven up to broil. Broil the nachos for just a few minutes. All you really need to do is melt the cheese, but it's delicious when the chips go golden brown at the edges.

If I'm feeling fancy I throw chopped lettuce or cilantro or sour cream on top of them after they cook. Plate 'em, spoon on preferred salsa and chow down.

The best accompaniment for your immaculately crispy nachos is the tequila cosmo:
one part tequila
one part triple sec
one part cranberry juice
one part lime juice

posted by heatvision at 1:37 PM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

I can vouch for the béchamel queso recipe linked as being delicious on nachos.
posted by Zophi at 1:38 PM on November 30, 2011

I like using J. Kenji Alt-Lopez' cheese sauce recipe from Serious Eats. It's a good saucy topping after pulling the nachos out of the oven.
posted by slogger at 2:09 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is no wrong way to do a nacho but here is my way:

take 3 cans of rotel tomatoes, 1 clove of garlic, 1 bunch of chopped scallions (green onions) set aside the green part for the top of the nachos, juice of a lemon or lime (I prefer lemon) salt, pepper and jalapenos (or your favorite pepper), pulse in the blender, set aside in the refridgerator

brown 1 lb of ground beef with onions be sure to make the meat and onions consistency are very tiny. set aside

take two cans of refried beans, a jar of your favorite salsa or if you prefer some homemade, grated cheddar cheese and cook until its hot and bubbly. set aside

put a layer of taco chips in the bottom of a pan (a lasagna pan) just enough to cover. Add ground beef, a layer of flour tortilla strips (cut yourself)

add a layer of beans, more flour tortilla strips a layer of ground beef

then add cheese (any kind you prefer) bake at 350 until the cheese is bubbly

take it out and add chopped tomatoes, chopped green onions, shredded lettuce, peppers, and the homemade salsa.

Then scoop sour cream and guacamole on the top cut it and serve it with extra chips and salsa.
posted by gypseefire at 2:29 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like to put the cheese on the chips first, and bake that (or microwave it) alone until the cheese is crispy and bubbly. THEN the other toppings (except the sour cream). Then reheat. Then a final layer of cheese if you are the sort of person who likes a lot of cheese. The sour cream goes on last.

(Can someone tell me what a close-tasting substitute for this "Jack" cheese is? In Australia, I have never seen or heard of it.)
posted by lollusc at 2:37 PM on November 30, 2011

mostlymartha nailed it. One chip at a time.

My approach: on EACH CHIP spoon refried beans, grated cheese (LOTS) and one slice of pickled jalapeño. Do a shitload these on a cookie sheet. Bake these puppies until the cheese melts. Take out of the oven and spoon a little sour cream and/or quac on each. Eat them all.

Yes it takes a bit of patience but no more than any other cooking prep.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:59 PM on November 30, 2011

Fresh guacamole makes anything amazing:

1. Smash diced jalapeno or habenero peppers in a mortar and pestle. I like to add garlic too.
2. Add fresh avocado chunks to the mortar and continue smashing. It's okay if the avocados are still a bit firm.
3. Add a dash of salt and lime juice to taste. And about 1 tbs of finely diced onion for each cup of avocado.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 3:49 PM on November 30, 2011

If your'e feeling really ambitious, make your own tortilla chips. It's actually pretty simple, and well worth it! It also means you can salt them as little or as much as you choose.

Ingredient quality matters in general. Make your own salsa, or at least find some fresh salsa in the refrigerated section of your favorite fancy grocery store. The same goes for guacamole, if you like to use that, though for nachos I really just like fresh sliced avocado. Use good cheese, the kind you'd eat plain. If you prefer your jalapenos pickled rather than fresh, take some time every couple of years to pickle up a few jars. Quality sour cream or crema. Olives in nachos are verboten in my house, but if you like them on yours, forgoodnesssakes avoid those mushy flavorless things that come out of a can.

The key to really good nachos for me is a good mix of contrasting flavors, textures, and temperatures. Crispy warm chips. Hearty beans (or meat, but while I'm a carnivore my personal preference is for meatless nachos). A little melted cheese plus a lot of freshly-grated cheese. Diced tomatoes as well as tomatoey salsa. Spicy salsa, cooling sour cream. Sharp jalapenos, creamy avocado. A little diced onion to add a bit of bite and more crunch.

And this may be blasphemy to some, but if you can't quite commit to making individual nachos as described by several others above, the next best thing is layering your ingredients without the chips and then scooping them up with the chips. This way you still get lots of delicious flavor with each chip and you don't end up with any naked chips or soggy chips.
posted by rhiannonstone at 4:22 PM on November 30, 2011

Make this cheese recipe. Use twice the chipotle that the recipe asks. Drop small spoonfuls over tortilla chips, stick it in the oven or toaster oven until the cheese melts.
posted by ersatzkat at 4:59 PM on November 30, 2011

Lots of topping suggestions but not much love for the chip! Well ok, there's some love now that I look closer. So here's a tip. Next time you're at the grocery market, grab a stack of corn tortillas (usually come in stacks of 50 or more for a few dollars, very cheap!).

Preheat your deepfryer to 320-330F (this is my personal goldilocks temp, I do a 1 part olive oil to 3 parts canola oil mix, but regular vegitable oil is fine). Cut about 5 tortillas at a time into fourths and drop in the basket, submerge, and move around with a utensil while frying to make sure all the chips cook evenly. You'll know they're done when the bubbling slows down to almost none, the chips are slightly brown, and poking at the centers with a utensil feels solid. Transfer to a dish with a paper napkin to dry and salt lightly with sea salt.

Now you're ready to garnish, add cheeses, and bake until melty! (we normally just stop after frying though and dive in with some homemade salsa). Enjoy!
posted by samsara at 5:44 PM on November 30, 2011

I like to use one of them disposable aluminum pans you can pic up at grocery store for 50 cents to a dollar. Perfect to bake in oven and eat right out of when done.
posted by travis08 at 6:17 PM on November 30, 2011

So many interpretations of such a traditional dish here. For me, (S. Texas boy here) nachos mean refried pinto beans, yellow cheese, and either a salsa or a pickled jalapeno on top. Each is prepared individually, ie, smear on the beans, top with the cheese then put on your sheet pan. These toast until the cheese is melty and serve. Generally, I fry my own tortilla chips, though I've been known to cheat on that. I've also been known to cheat and use canned refried beans. Mrs. likes guacamole, but I usually keep it as simple as that.
posted by Gilbert at 7:03 PM on November 30, 2011

Being a fan of baked cooking experiments, I would like to add that the most delicious and unconventional topping that we have ever come up with is anchovies. So salty and savory and delicious!
posted by rosken at 10:32 PM on November 30, 2011

Diced Onion
Diced Red Pepper
Black Beans
Mock Crab, shredded
2/3rds Jack to 1/3 Colby

Spread a layer of chips on your baking sheet, spoon out ingredients individually on each chip then cover with just enough cheese that you can't see through to the chips anymore.
Put under the broiler (don't pre-heat) until the cheese is just a bit past the gooey stage and starting to bubble and burn slightly in places.
posted by Eddie Mars at 12:44 PM on December 1, 2011

(Can someone tell me what a close-tasting substitute for this "Jack" cheese is? In Australia, I have never seen or heard of it.)

Monterey Jack is a mild semihard cheese. Mild cheddar is probably closest.
posted by zamboni at 11:01 AM on December 2, 2011

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