Betsy and I have been in a many month debate over whether or not it’s possible for me to produce really awesome queso (cheese dip) without using the super-processed cheese that rhymes with Smellveeta. While the queso recipe on the back of the Rotel can is a favorite of mine I figured there was queso before their was processed cheese, so there must be a way!
I think I finally found that way!
Betsy and I love going out for Tex-Mex and it’s a guarantee that we will get the largest queso they serve as a appetizer. We were recently in Austin, TX (home of Tex-Mex) and went out to eat at this joint called Magnolias. They had this awesome version of queso called “Mag mud.” It was a silky smooth cheese dip plus avocados, fresh salsa and black beans. The idea is that you mix everything together to form a “mud” and then devour it.
Yield: Serves 4.
Basic Pico de Gallo
4 medium tomatoes, quartered, de-seeded, and diced
1 medium red onion, diced
1-2 jalapenos, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
2 limes, juice only
2-4 Tablespoons of cilantro, diced (optional)
Salt to taste
2 Tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Cups heavy cream (You could use Half and Half or whole milk if you want to be all... healthy.)
8 ounces Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded
6-8 ounces cheddar, shredded
1 5 ounce can diced green chiles (optional)
Black Beans (opt.)
Salt to taste
1) Make the pico de gallo by chopping and adding ingredients together in a bowl. Leave out the tomato seeds from the mix!
2) Melt butter in saucepan and get it bubbling over medium heat.
3) Whisk in flour and make sure it is mixed well with the butter.
4) Keep whisking it for a few minutes and it will eventually start to turn a light brown color.
5) Turn the heat down to low and slowly add about a quarter cup of cream at a time and whisk furiously while you’re adding it.
6) Add two kinds of cheeses a few handfuls at a time and combine them well.
7) Quickly heat up a can of drained beans with a few Tablespoons of butter.
8) Pour the queso in a big bowl and pile in the toppings!
I immediately proclaimed that there was NO WAY this place used processed cheese for their queso. I had absolutely no evidence to support this and, in fact, they may be the #1 purchaser of Velveeta in the country. I really have no idea. The point is that the dip was awesome and it reinvigorated my quest to master the non-processed queso dip.
Have you ever been so set on something that you try 4 or 5 different failed methods only to later realize that the simplest method is, of course, the best? That happened to me with this.
I tried a few different methods and tricks and gimmicks to get normal cheese to that creamy smooth silky texture that I know and love. Of course, the easiest answer was to just make a really thick béchamel sauce. Blinded by obsession, I didn’t think about this as an answer until I researched it (via the Google).
Back up the train
Ok, but before you get to the queso dip, you need to make the pico de gallo for this dish. That’s because the pico will actually improve the longer it sits… not the case with the queso.
Making the Pico
This is a really basic fresh salsa. Feel free to add other things to it to fit your fancy. Basically just dice up all the ingredients.
For the tomatoes, I like to wash out the seeds for this purpose. Then just dice them up. No need to peel them even.
This will be some good chopping practice, but you’ll end up with a really solid pico de gallo.
There are lots of advantages, in my opinion, to learning how to make queso this way if you’re a fan of queso. For one, you can customize it with different cheeses and spices once you get the method down. Secondly, once the queso is made, it’s a lot sturdier than the processed variety which always forms that gross film and gets solid pretty fast.
This dip is sturdy and will maintain its dip viscosity (SCIENCE!) even at basically room temperature.
If I were just making this queso and not planning on topping with other things, I would maybe add some cayenne or hot sauce, some tomato, and maybe even a dash of Worcestershire.
Making the Queso
Ok. All you really need to make fantastic queso is a medium saucepan, a whisk, and a roux. A roux is just a mixture of flour and fat (normally equal parts) that will thicken up our liquid. The important part about a roux is you need to cook it before you add any liquid to it to cook out the flour taste and grainy texture.
Remember, a little roux goes a long way.
To start, melt your butter in your sauce and and get it bubbling over medium heat. Then whisk in your flour and make sure it is mixed well with your butter. Keep whisking it for a few minutes and it will eventually start to turn a light brown color.
Now you could let this continue to cook and form a really dark roux (which has a very nutty flavor), but we want a lighter product for this sauce. Just whisk it until your roux is a light tan color.
Important step. The most important step is to slowly add your cream to this roux. If you add it all at once, you’ll form little flour dumplings and you’ll never ever be able to un-dumpling them. Slowly add about a quarter cup of cream at a time and whisk furiously while your adding it.
Once you add about half your cream, you should have a very thick creamy sauce and then you can pour in your last cup of cream without worry. Keep whisking though! Turn your heat down to low at this point or your cream will scorch.
You should have a pretty thick sauce at that point, but if not, just let it cook for a few minutes and it will continue to thicken.
Now that you have your base, add your two kinds of cheeses a few handfuls at a time and combine them well. They should melt right into your mixture.
You should end up with a beautiful, silky sauce.
What about the beans?!
I wanted to make some black beans for my Macheesmo Mud to mimic the version I had in Austin. I just quickly heated up a can of drained beans with a few Tablespoons of butter to take the place of the lard that is usually used with refried beans.
When they were warm, they were ready and delicious.
Next just pour your queso in a big bowl and pile in your toppings! If you need help with the avocado, check out my avocado instructional.
Of course, you’ll want to just mix it all together eventually.
Ok. So I’ll admit that the version I made for these photos was a tad bit runny. I don’t think I used enough roux to start the dish (I only used 1 Tablespoon of flour and butter instead of the 2 I suggest above).
But the point is that I think I finally won the debate and created an awesome queso without relying on the microwave and mysterious substances that come in cardboard containers and foil wrap.
PS. I still do love Velveeta. Don’t tell Betsy though.