Nachos run the gamut from simplistic ballpark versions with congealed cheese, salty chips and pickled jalapenos, to gourmet versions loaded with fresh ingredients, meat and freshly fried tortilla chips.
For me, the perfect nacho is a balance of the two preparations listed above. Because I don’t often fry at home, I try to find high quality unsalted tortilla chips at the grocery store. This allows me to either salt them myself or compensate by adding salt to the toppings if needed.
The cheese is also important. I like to make a simple queso of white American cheese, whole milk and freshly made pico de gallo or salsa. I also like to use a sharp grated cheddar cheese in addition to the queso. I melt the shredded cheese onto the chips which acts as a moisture barrier and helps the nachos from getting soggy too quickly from all the other toppings. It’s important to grate the cheese yourself. It melts better, tastes better and creates a higher quality nacho in the end.
For my family, meat is a must on nachos, but we keep it simple — lean ground beef seasoned with salt, freshly cracked pepper and chili powder. Diced chicken breast works well too.
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Beyond the staples of chips, cheese and meat, I’m known to deviate the remaining toppings based on seasonality and/or what we have on hand at home.
The recipe below features a tomatillo-avocado cream and some freshly prepared pico de gallo and is certain to up your nacho game.
Makes enough to feed four as an entrée or 6-10 as an appetizer
¾ bag of unsalted tortilla chips
1 lb. ground beef (80/20 works best)
1 Tbsp. chili powder
½ tsp. Kosher salt
To taste, freshly cracked pepper
Shredded cheese layer:
4 oz. sharp cheddar, freshly shredded
4 oz. Jack cheese, freshly shredded
12 oz. White American cheese
½ cup whole milk
¼ cup freshly prepared pico de gallo
Pico de gallo:
3 medium ripe tomatoes, diced
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
1 white onion, finely diced
Juice of ½ lime
Kosher salt & freshly cracked pepper to taste
1 ripe avocado
½ lb. tomatillos, husked
1 jalapeno, seeds removed
½ bunch cilantro
Juice of 1 ½ limes
¼ cup sour cream
Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F.
Prepare the beef topping by browning the ground beef in a skillet. Drain off excess fat before adding chili powder, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and cook an additional two minutes to hydrate the chili powder. Set beef topping aside.
For the queso, combine the white American cheese, milk and pico (procedure follows) together in either a microwavable container or a small sauce pot. Heat over very low heat (or in one minute increments in the microwave), stirring frequently, until the mixture is completely melted, smooth and heated through. Set aside.
To prepare the pico, combine the ripe tomatoes, cilantro, onion and lime juice. Adjust the seasoning as needed with salt & pepper. Feel free to throw some minced fresh jalapeno in if you like spicier food.
Finally for the avocado-tomatillo cream, place all ingredients into a large food processor or blender and process until smooth and creamy.
To assemble the nachos, evenly layer the chips on a large cookie sheet. Top the chips with the beef topping and shredded cheeses. Place in the preheated oven for approximately five minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
Next, layer the queso evenly over the top of the nachos, followed by the tomatillo-avocado cream and finally the pico de gallo.
Serve the nachos immediately by either dividing between plates, or if no kids are involved, have guests devour them right off of the hot cookie sheet.