Nachos are a frequent occurrence in our house. They tend to be pretty quick to make and are a great way to use leftovers. You can put almost anything on nachos and it’ll be good.
Also, I happen to be married to a Tex-mex fanatic.
So yea… we know our way around a chip.
My problem with nachos, mainly restaurant nachos, is that sometimes they are made in a careless way. Throw some crappy chips on a sheet pan, pile on a metric ton of random toppings, and coat everything with a two inch layer of cheese. Once you sit down to eat it, it’s like a scavenger hunt: searching through a mound trying to find that one perfect chip. The chip that is crispy, has just enough of each topping, and some melted cheese.
Sometimes it’s hopeless.
So while nachos are a quick weeknight meal for us a lot of times, sometimes I like to really spend time on my nachos to make them something special. I call these Sunday night nachos because while you could make them on a weeknight, they are better if you can spend some time with them.
The time you invest will pay pretty awesome Tex-mex dividends.
1) For the chips, cut the tortillas into sixths. Add a cup or two of oil to a large sturdy pan and add chips in small batches over medium-high heat. Cook the chips, turning occasionally, until they are lightly browned and not bubbling. Then remove them to a paper towel to drain. Salt lightly.
2) For bean mash, drain beans and lightly mash together with other ingredients. It doesn't have to be smooth.
3) Use any meat or veggie mixed with onions, peppers, salsa, and spices as a second topping for the chips.
4) For cheese sauce, start butter and flour over medium-high heat and cook, whisking frequently, for about 4 minutes. Roux should turn lightly brown. Then slowly whisk in milk until smooth. Once mixture thickens, whisk in cheese. If mixture is too thick, add more milk a few tablespoons at a time. Keep on low heat until needed.
5) Take each chip and top with a small amount of bean mash and meat mixture. Add finished chips to baking sheets.
6) Bake chips for 5-6 minutes at 350 degrees to meld flavors.
7) Stack chips on plates, pour cheese sauce over chips, add a second layer, more cheese sauce, top with guacamole.
Making the Chips
Betsy and I burn through a lot of tortilla chips. We snack on chips and salsa a lot or make quick nacho dishes pretty regularly.
But, when I’m looking to make a serious nacho dish, I spend the time to make my own chips. For some reason store bought chips are pretty flimsy. It’s almost like they start with corn tortillas that are 1/2 the thickness as corn tortillas that you buy in the store. While taste and texture is the main motivator for me, making your own chips is also about 75% cheaper than buying the chips.
To make the chips, you don’t need to really deep fry them as some might think. I usually just add a cup or two of oil to a large heavy skillet and get it going over medium-high heat. Then I add my chips in a single layer and cook them, flipping occasionally.
You’ll know they are done when they stop bubbling and are golden brown (that means most of the water is out of them).
When they come out of the pan, let them drain on a paper towel and season them with a pinch of salt. These guys will be crispy and sturdy: important for nachos.
For me, the toppings on nachos are almost secondary to the chips and the cheese. This is because I’ve learned that almost anything is good on nachos. Any leftover veggie or meat that you have can easily be mixed with some spices and used as a topping.
For this version though, I made a few mixtures that I used for my toppings. The first was a quick bean mash. I just drained a few cans of kidney beans and mashed them up with some red onion, cilantro, and salt and pepper.
It’s almost like refried beans, but there’s no need to cook it really because we’ll bake the nachos later.
For my meat topping, I cooked my onion and a few diced peppers in a bit of olive oil over medium-high heat until they were soft. Then I added some spices (cumin, chili powder, paprika, salt and pepper) and finally my ground beef.
Once the beef was completely cooked, I stirred in a tiny amount of salsa just to round out the flavors a bit.
Meanwhile, I mixed up a quick guacamole. This isn’t my full-fledged guacamole which normally includes serrano peppers, shallots, and maybe some tomatoes. This is a quicker version that mainly just has a lot of lime juice which will go great with the nachos.
The Cheese Sauce
A lot of times nachos get in trouble in the cheese department. Don’t get me wrong, I love cheese as much as the next guy, but sometimes people over-do it. Restaurants are particularly guilty of this. They’ll just add pounds of grated cheese to each nacho dish and that works for the first minute or so that you are eating them, but eventually all that cheese solidifies into this strange layer that’s almost impenetrable.
That’s why, when I have time, I like to make a cheese sauce. It’s easier to distribute over the nachos and will stay liquid and gooey even at room temperature. So even if the nachos cool down a bit (which they will do), your cheese will stay melty.
To make the sauce, you need to start with a basic roux, which is just butter and flour whisked together in a pot. I usually cook mine over medium heat for about 4 minutes. It’ll turn a light brown color and that’s when you know it’s done.
At this point, slowly whisk in the milk. If you whisk well and start slowly, you shouldn’t develop any lumps in your sauce. If you do have a few lumps, you can usually whisk them out as the sauce heats up.
Once your milk is whisked in and the sauce is thick, go ahead and add in your grated cheese.
Once the cheese is melted, keep the sauce on low and stir it occasionally. If it gets too thick, add a bit more milk to thin it out. Keep it warm until you need it.
Baking the Nachos
The next step for these nachos might be considered a bit overkill by some, but I like it. When I have the time, I like to literally top each chip individually.
This might sound crazy, but what you have to remember is that these chips are way sturdier than normal chips. They are way more filling. When we are done, 15-20 of these nachos will be a very good meal.
And once you get the hang of it you can top them really quickly. It’s takes me under five minutes to do. I just pick up a chip, add a small amount of bean mash, followed by a small spoonful of the beef topping, and add it to a sheet pan. Repeat.
The benefit of this is that there isn’t any one perfect chip.
They are all perfect. Every single chip will have the perfect amount of every topping.
Once you get all your chips topped, I recommend sticking them in a 350 degree oven for about 5-6 minutes just to heat them up nicely and meld the flavors.
Plating the nachos
FINALLY! It’s time to eat.
Now that you have your cheese sauce done and your chips topped, you can stack them up!
Once you have one layer of chips and cheese on a plate, you can add a second right on top.
Again, the great part about this is that the toppings are perfectly distributed. Even when you get down to the bottom layer, the chips are just as crispy and just as good as the top layer.
Top the second layer with more cheese sauce and a good dollop of guacamole.
These are ready to eat!
I get that these might be too much work for some people. Nachos are supposed to be easy right?
But seriously, you’ll be well-rewarded if you can find the time to make these happen. Make them on a weekend when you can pop open a cerveza and take your time with them.
What do you think? Worth it or crazy talk?