Nachos
Photo by Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock.com

Time to throw dietary caution to the wind and make the perfect plate of nachos

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The temperature is getting cooler and the days are getting shorter, which can only mean one thing: it’s comfort food season. And our favourite comfort food? Crunchy, melty, delicious nachos.

In their most elemental form, nachos are really just chips covered in melted cheese—but they can be so much more than that. There are lots of variations on nacho flavours, toppings and methods of cooking (we even found a recipe for slow cooker nachos), but there are a few key things you can do to make sure your plates of chips ‘n’ cheese come out perfectly, no matter what you pile on top of them.

Step one: Pick the right chip

They’re going to get piled with cheese, chili, pulled pork, smoked duck, kimchi, or whatever other topping you decide to add—so your chips need to form a sturdy foundation for all the deliciousness on top. Thick, ready-made tortilla chips are a classic choice, but if you’re feeling ambitious, cut up a corn tortilla and fry it. For those who are sensitive to corn or wheat flour, we hear that Beanitos bean chips are a pretty good stand-in (plus they have fibre and protein, so they’re…healthy?) And hey, if you’re going low-carb, try substituting pork rinds.

Step two: Choose your cheese

First things first—no matter how much you want to save time and scraped-up fingers, do not use pre-shredded cheese. Just don’t. It tends to be dry and doesn’t melt as well as a standard brick of cheese. But don’t go totally upmarket, either. That expensive, super-old cheddar is probably too crumbly and strongly-flavoured for nachos. Of course, feel free to experiment with different types of cheese (traditional Mexican queso, a fresh cheese, is a good addition), but nachos are one dish where pricey cheese is definitely not necessary.

Instead, get standard cheddar, Monterey Jack, or a combination of the two (pepper jack can add a little zing), grate it yourself, then pile it on. If you have a fondness for that oozy “cheeze” sauce that comes with baseball park nachos, fine—but make it yourself. One fun hint? Try layering cheese sauce with shredded cheese for a seriously cheesy nacho experience.

Step three: Pick your hot toppings

The classic toppings for nachos are refried beans, ground beef, or chili—but you can go bananas with just about anything. For a little variation on the classic try Cuban-style black beans and chorizo sausage—but also experiment with pulled pork, Korean barbecued beef, or tempeh. Make sure that whatever you choose doesn’t entirely overpower the other elements of your nachos—the flavour of the cheese and the fresh toppings should still come through. One tip—keep everything bite-sized. No one wants to be cutting pieces of steak with a knife and fork when they’re enjoying what should be finger food.

Step four: Prep your fresh toppings

Don’t run your cold toppings through the oven, because then you’ll lose all their snappy freshness—and this contrast between hot and cold is a key element of really good nachos. In terms of what you put on your nachos, the possibilities are endless—although there are so many strongly held preferences that it might be best to serve everything on the side and let people dress their own nachos. Classic choices include lettuce, sour cream, salsa or pico de gallo, olives, green onions, guacamole, and jalapeños, but your choices are really only limited by your imagination. Make sure that at least some of your toppings have an acidic note (think lime juice in pico de gallo, vinegar in salsa, or pickled jalapeños), as that will help cut through the richness of the hot meat and cheese. Also, don’t dump any saucy toppings—salsa, guac, or sour cream—on top of the hot nachos. They’ll melt and make your chips soggy. Serve those elements separately.

Step five: Layer well

There’s nothing more tragic than getting through all the toppings before the chips are finished. To get the best chance of every bite having a little bit of everything on it, consider a double layer of chips—kind of like a nacho lasagna. Layer chips across the bottom of your baking sheet, layer on your hot topping (beans, chili, or whatever is providing your “meatiness”), then add another layer of chips, another layer of meat/beans, then cover with cheese. If everyone can agree on fresh toppings, scatter those liberally once the nachos come out of the oven. Give everyone a side plate and, to be really nice, individual bowls of salsa, sour cream, and guac.

One quick note about clean-up—line your baking pan with tinfoil to make your eventual dishwashing easier. Melted cheese is delicious, but it’s a pain to scrub.

Got a favourite way to prep nachos? Leave your tips in the comments.

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