While nachos are a sure bet when it comes to the Super Bowl, turns out they also come in handy in the midst of an Arctic freeze. I mean, who knew that two sheet pans of cheese-and-chorizo laden chips, a bottle of tequila, and a pack of playing cards are all you really need?
Atlanta is slowly emerging from Snowpocalypse II and, boy, was it a doozy. Stories from our less-fortunate friends just keep rolling in — it took my husband's boss almost 13 hours to make his less-than-ten-mile drive home, and a woman en route to the hospital delivered her baby in the car amidst interstate grid-lock! I just feel so lucky that I was already safely inside.
Thanks to a few gentle warnings from my pilot father and his always-on-point weather radar, I was out of the grocery store and onto my couch before the first snowflake fell. Later that evening as I headed to the kitchen on a mission to achieve the ultimate nachos, a surprise knock on the door interrupted my focus. It seemed a few neighbors had come ready to hunker down and plenty willing to eat. (Word on the street must give my house is as a safe haven; an overflowing pantry and fully-stocked bar are pretty much guaranteed in my home.)
But back to the nachos. Considering that my college cooking repertoire consisted of store-bought shredded cheese microwaved over stale Tostitos, I'd say this version has come a very long way. I entertained a number of ideas at the drafting board, some too complex and others too gourmet. The beauty of nachos, I decided, is that the best ones don't have to be costly or even complicated. In fact they shouldn't be. When it comes to big taste with zero effort, there are only two simple ingredients you even need to know.
Mexican chorizo is an absolute given. (Seriously, it's so delicious I think it would even make dirt taste good.) Sure, beer-braised carnitas or tequila-soaked skirt steak wouldn't hurt, but why mess with porky perfection? And while chorizo on chips is already an upgrade, everyone knows that a worthy plate of nachos is only as good as its cheese.
I'm not talking about melting a heap of cheddar, either. I'm talking about a silky smooth sauce that oozes its way into each and every bite. Which eliminates all other options. My cheese had to be queso blanco, that Tex-Mex favorite beloved north of the Border and South of the Mason-Dixon line. Sure you can buy it in plenty of grocery stores these days, but where's the fun in that? So I tweaked and tasted until I came up with this sauce, and it's a pretty fine replica if I must say so myself.
With the chorizo and cheese factors out of the way, the hardest part was over. I laid out any and all toppings I could think of and let the eaters take it from there. Two trays later they were deemed a grand success, worthy of any Super Bowl party. And as we sipped on frozen margaritas and enjoyed a few rounds of cards, even the Snowpocalypse wasn't looking that bad.
Chorizo Nachos with White Queso Sauce
Serves 8 to 12
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
2 (12-ounce) packages bulk Mexican-style chorizo
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced (more to taste)
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and minced
1 (4-ounce) can fire-roasted green chiles
1 cup (8 ounces) evaporated milk
1 teaspoon cornstarch
12 ounces white American cheese, torn into pieces (See Recipe Notes)
4 ounces sharp white cheddar, grated
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
Kosher salt, white pepper, and cayenne, to taste
Hot sauce, to taste
Chicken stock or water, for thinning
1 family-size bag excellent quality corn tortilla chips (or homemade)
Diced avocados and/or guacamole
Sliced green and/or red onions
Sour cream or Mexican crema
Refried or black beans
Queso fresco or cotija cheese, crumbled
Heat 1/2 tablespoon canola oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chorizo and cook until completely browned and cooked through, 7 to 9 minutes. Break the meat into crumbles as it cooks. Transfer to a clean plate and wipe the skillet clean. (Chorizo can be cooked and refrigerated for a few days before using.)
Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil in the skillet over medium. Add the jalapeño and onion, and cook until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the green chiles and evaporated milk and continue cooking until warmed through. Combine cornstarch with 1 tablespoon cold water and whisk into the milk mixture, followed by the cheeses, garlic, onion, and cumin powders. Continue whisking until the cheese is completely melted. Taste and season with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Thin as needed with stock or water. (The queso sauce can be prepared up to an hour before making the nachos; see Recipe Note.)
Preheat oven to 450°F and coat two rimmed sheet pans with nonstick spray. Spread the chips evenly on the baking sheets and top with cooked chorizo. Bake until chips are warm, about 5 minutes. Drizzle the nachos with warm queso and serve immediately alongside various toppings. (Alternately, heat individual nacho servings on small oven-safe dishes arranged on a large baking sheet.)
White American cheese is what delivers the silk-like texture similar to that of queso dip served in restaurants and can be purchased in block form in the grocery's deli section or in pre-wrapped slices in the cheese aisle. Swiss, provolone, and pepper Jack are possible alternatives if you prefer to use a less processed cheese, although the results won't be as smooth.
I actually prefer to make the queso sauce about an hour before serving in order for the flavors to marry. Hold the sauce on low heat, whisking occasionally to prevent a "cheese skin," and thin with additional stock or water as needed.