Super Bowl Sunday is Feb. 12, just around the corner, and we have the playbook for perfect loaded nachos. Whether you're prepping for a crowd or a lazy night in, this formula makes the most out of your favorite ingredients.
The original nachos were created in the early 1940s by Ignacio Anaya, maître d'hôtel of the Victory Club in Piedras, Mexico. A group of women had walked into the club after hours in search of a drink and a snack. With no cook in the kitchen, Anaya scattered some colby cheese and pickled jalapenos on top of some fried tortilla chips and threw them in the oven. The women, Americans who'd traveled across the border for a day of shopping, loved the dish so much they asked for seconds. Anaya, whose nickname was Nacho (short for Ignacio), put the dish on the club's regular menu and it eventually became a regional specialty.
The loaded Tex-Mex-style nachos popular on modern bar menus are almost unrecognizable from Anaya's original minimalist recipe, but they're no less delicious, especially when you follow a few key techniques.
Lay the groundwork
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. This temperature is hot enough to melt the cheese and heat all the layers through without burning the chips. Use a rimmed baking sheet to help keep it all together and line it with foil to make cleanup super easy. Finally, lightly coat your foil-lined baking sheet with cooking spray to help the cheesy goodness release from the pan.
Use a hearty chip
It's important to start with a sturdy chip that can stand up to layers of melty cheese, juicy tomatoes and chunky protein. Thin chips break down too easily and are likely to crumble halfway to your mouth. Look for chips that are lightly salted, to prevent the finished dish from being overly salty. My favorite are El Milagro chips, available locally at Aldi. Made in Chicago and seasoned with sea salt, these chips have the perfect combination of heft and fresh masa flavor.
Choose cheese carefully
This is not the time for fancy aged cheddar, which won't melt as well as a high-fat cheese like Monterey Jack or queso Chihuahua. Using a duo of melty jack cheese and tangy sharp cheddar yields the perfect balance of melty and tangy. Avoid using preshredded cheeses, which are coated with cellulose and stabilizers which impairs their ability to melt.
Layer with love
If you simply pile toppings on a mound of chips, then eventually the top layer of goodness gets eaten away and all you're left with is a sad pile of naked chips. This can be avoided by arranging a single layer of chips on the greased baking sheet, then layering each of the ingredients that should be warm or melted, like beans and meat, onions, tomatoes and cheese. Layering in that order also helps hold it all together as the cheese melts. Prevent your tasty toppings from rolling off the chips by dicing all the ingredients into small, bite-sized pieces and lightly mashing the beans. Once you've built your first layer, add another single layer of chips on top and repeat with another round of toppings before popping the whole mess in the oven for 7-10 minutes. After the nachos come out of the oven, you can add fresh, cool ingredients, like salsa, shredded cabbage, guacamole, sour cream, cilantro, radishes and jalapenos.
Play with global flavors
I love a classic Tex-Mex nacho platter, piled high with ground beef or pulled pork and cheese, but Priya Krishna's irrationally delicious recipe for 'Indianish-nachos' has become my go-to when I'm feeling noshy. A first-generation Indian-American, Krishna's second cookbook Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family, is a loving tribute to her "very cool and boundary-breaking mom's 'Indian-ish' cooking." Her version, built on layers of chips, black beans, red onion and cheese is drizzled with a trio of sauces: bright green cilantro chutney, tamarind sauce and chhonk (a transformative condiment made from infusing hot oil of ghee with spices). Krishna's original recipe is available on the New York Times food page. Kimchi nachos are another delicious fusion mash-up. Layer nachos with sautéed garlic and ginger-spiked ground pork, chopped spicy kimchi and shredded cheese, then top with cilantro and scallions, spicy sriracha mayo and toasted sesame seeds. Nachos are also easy to tailor to folks with dietary restrictions. Easily made vegetarian or even vegan (dairy-free cheese is pretty good these days), they're a good choice for folks who are avoiding gluten.
Chipotle Queso Sauce
Perfect for drizzling over a platter of baked nachos or serving as is alongside chips, this creamy queso dip also freezes well.
¼ cup butter or bacon fat
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup flour
8 ounces cream cheese
2 cups whole milk (or use half beer and half milk)
½ teaspoon each garlic powder, chili powder, oregano and black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon sauce from canned chipotles in adobo, to taste (add whole chipotles, finely chopped, for more heat)
8 ounces shredded Monterey Jack or pepper jack cheese
2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapenos, optional
Melt the butter or bacon fat in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook until just fragrant, then add the flour and stir to create a smooth paste. Add the cream cheese and stir until totally melted, then add the milk/beer and spices. Stir continually until the mixture is bubbly and thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the shredded cheese, adobo sauce and pickled jalapenos, if using. Season to taste with additional salt as needed.