A couple of years ago I developed a recipe for a nacho cheese sauce that I now use as a template for many an extrapolation on a theme, subbing in different spices and add-ins for variation. It is so, so good.
But first, you have to understand that great nachos begin with an even better cheese sauce. This one starts with a bechamel and combines two cheeses, plus spices, fresh tomatoes, and beer. Herein, find not only the recipe, but numerous options to customize this ultimate nacho topper to your taste.
To appropriately lay the groundwork for this recipe, it may be necessary to geek out for just a moment. To clarify: a great nacho plate should be layered with sauce rather than solely grated cheese. The biggest issue with cheese-only nachos is the coverage factor. By nature, a dusting of gratings is infinitely less smotherable than a liquid sauce that oozes and spreads. With a cheese sauce, you can virtually ensure the disappearance of that inevitable pocket of naked, cheese-less chips in the middle of your nacho mound. Clearly this is a deeply serious issue.
Especially if you're entertaining (presumably this Super Bowl weekend), a sauce is the way to go, since straight-up melted cheese on chips, if left to sit out, seizes and congeals. Cold melted cheese should just not ever be, while a cheese sauce has greater holding power once plated, and is actually as palatable when at room temp as when hot. So if people go for some wings before your nachos, they won't be disappointed by chips with a rubbery, solidified coating of cheese.
This nacho cheese sauce recipe, which I developed for my other, less all-cheese-oriented job, has truly been met with only the greatest of accolades. The adaptation below can be used in conjunction with the following Martha Stewart nachos recipe.
See suggestions for variations in parentheses, italicized
The Ultimate Nacho Cheese Sauce
Serves 8 to 12
1/4 cup vegetable oil 2 large red onions, minced (Try any combination of shallots, scallions, leeks, or yellow onions) 3 to 5 jalapeños (to taste), minced (Try charring poblano or anaheim peppers for a more smokey flavor) 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1 teaspoon chili powder 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (Other great spices to include: chipotle powder, paprika, pimenton, or a hefty dose of black pepper) 1/3 cup all-purpose flour 2 cups heavy cream (Half-and-half or milk can be used in place of heavy cream) One 12-ounce bottle lager-style beer (Try white wine, but bourbon, cognac, or brandy would be excellent, too. For a non-alcoholic version, use apple cider) 4 cups grated cheddar cheese, from about 1 pound 4 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese, from about 1 pound (Other cheeses to include: Pepper Jack, Gruyere, Comte, Provolone, Mozzarella, Fontina, or Havarti) 3 tomatoes, chopped (Try these add-ins in addition to the tomatoes: Pickled giardiniera mix with carrots and pepperoncini, peppadews, olives, corn, or bacon.) Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Over medium-low heat, warm vegetable oil. Add onion, jalapeños, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne pepper; cook, stirring, until onion is very soft, about 6 minutes. Add flour and cook until absorbed.
Gradually add beer and whisk to combine. Simmer until slightly reduced and beer is cooked down by one-third. Add cream, whisking, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add cheeses. Cook, stirring, until completely melted.
Remove from heat and fold in tomatoes and any additional add-ins. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm until ready to serve with nachos.
Serve the nachos with the suggested toppings: guacamole, sour cream, thinly sliced jalepenos, radishes, and cilantro, plus a salsa of black beans and cherry tomatoes and another made from charred tomatillos. And may you score the highest of marks among your fans.
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show.