A lot of people are likely to think that this goal hardly merits being a “50 things by 50” item, and I can see their point. It’s not a “bucket list” type item like bungee jumping or something equally extreme, nor necessarily exotic like a trip to the Galapagos. But that isn’t what my 50by50 list is about — some of them are large, some are small, and some are Goldilocks items — just right for me.
A nacho recipe is one of those “just right” items for me. I have long-wanted a “definitive” recipe for nachos, one by which all other nachos that I encounter will be measured. I think part of my attraction to it is that it is not the type of food I grew up with, and the thought of my mom and a nachos recipe is laughable. The meat and potatoes regime that I grew up would have considered nachos like this to be something akin to “weird ethnic food”, the way even foodies might view eating insects dipped in chocolate or bull’s testicles. It was just not an option in our household. Chinese food? Never. Indian? Never. Heck, even Italian was limited to spaghetti with meat sauce.
And I know the history of nachos. It was “invented” in Mexico at a restaurant across the border by a waiter named Ignacio Anaya (with the nickname nacho) who threw some together on the spur of the moment for wives of American military personnel one afternoon when the chef was absent from the kitchen. So it was invented there, but it is not a Mexican food. It became popular in Texas at arenas, sometimes just with cheese offerings. And eventually it spread. But it’s not “Mexican” fare, even if people treat it as TexMex.
Plus there are thousands of variations. But I wanted to create my idea of a definitive nacho recipe, with multiple layers. And since I wanted to include it as a 50by50 item, I thought I would crowd-source it and get people talking, expressing their hopefully passionate views about guacamole or sour cream, or cheese blends. That didn’t quite go as I planned. Some friends wanted to know what time they should arrive for dinner hehehe, while others just turned it back to say “what did I want”. What I wanted was views! 🙂 However, like most things on Facebook, I’m not very good at being a catalyst for discussion or feedback. It was what it was though, and I’m grateful for all those who shared their thoughts.
The discussion for me starts with the base. I mentioned the thousands of variations of recipes out there, and some play with the base. Some use triscuits, or baguettes, or potato chips, or anything flat really. But for me, those aren’t nachos. I don’t know exactly what they are, but I am a purist for using tortilla chips. I pulled two brands for the test, PC Restaurant Style and Tostitos. The Tostitos ones are way better in our limited judging panel of three (Jacob, Andrea and I), with the PC ones being a bit bland. However, I find the Tostitos a bit saltier than I would prefer, so I’m still on the hunt for another brand, and we’ll see if we find something better in the future.
The second layer has to be cheese in my view. I know lots of people put the cheese on last, and I’ll come to that, but I want my chips to stay together in all their gooey goodness, and I want the various ingredients to stay put so that they are evenly spaced for the chips. I hate buying nachos where the bottom layer is basically plain chips where none of the other ingredients are left to even touch them. For this layer of cheese, I have a surprisingly-strong preference for shredded cheddar. Single, double or triple-strength, but definitely cheddar.
After that, we start into the real topping layers. Beef, chicken, shrimp, vegetable only, bacon, ham…they’re all available as toppings, and the views on FB were less than definitive. Preferences across the spectrum. However, for the definitive recipe, I think the flavour interactions between chicken and the other ingredients are too strong to ignore. Most of the others tend to “sit” there as toppings, and while they add flavouring, chicken seems to interact more with the other toppings, as well as the chips and cheese. I prefer beef for tacos and fajitas, but for nachos, it has to be chicken in the end.
I am, however, a heathen. A rebel. A traitor to the nacho revolution. We pre-cooked the chicken in the Epicure steamer to reduce cooking time for the nacho portion. Some of the nacho recipes range from 15 minutes up to 45, often to ensure full cooking of the meat. If we pre-cook them in the steamer, no chance of the meat not being cooked, and we don’t have to risk over-cooking the rest of the ingredients nor burning the nacho chips. For some connoisseurs in Texas, cooking it all together for the whole time is a requirement and anything else might be a hanging offense. Consider me an outlaw then. For added seasoning, and there has to be some, we used Epicure spices to tweak the chicken. One batch was the standard taco seasoning, and while we used Epicure, lots of stores have some form of taco seasoning of varying strengths (mild to medium is better than strong for this). The other batch, we used a Pico salsa seasoning, and I actually liked it a lot more. It just seemed like the chicken was infused with this one, rather than coated.
For the onion layer, and yes, there have to be onions if it is going to be called nachos, I can go either way on green onions or white onions. The green onions obviously have a different taste, and for me, I suspect that “kick” is enough. I’ll spoil the finale, but I like to taste my food without having one ingredient overwhelm the rest, so there are no black olives nor jalapenos in my recipe. I know, I know, another sacrilege. But my palate, my nachos, my recipe! 🙂 Plus neither Jacob or Andrea like them either. If we did have jalapeno peppers in it, I think I would go with the simpler white onions so the flavours wouldn’t clash.
The next layer has to be the regular bell peppers. Red, yellow, green, orange…any combination will likely do, but I find that the red peppers seem to blend better with the chips, chicken and cheese. I’d be fine with just red, as the others are a bit different levels of sweetness, but I’m flexible to include a smattering of all four. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations, the Vulcan approach to recipe creation.
I then feel like it is time to start wrapping things up on the layers. But not before another layer of chips to truly “bind” it all together (so that it is not like eating bruschetta!), and then topping it all off with another layer of cheese. While cheddar belonged on the bottom, I think this last layer can be “chef’s choice”. I prefer a mozzarella blend, but I could see adding some monterey jack or even some stronger cheddar flavours. No, you can’t use feta or gouda. Well, you can, but then it’s not nachos. I don’t know what it is, more like screwed-up nachos. 🙂
There is one other layer, and this one is a bit tricky for two reasons. First, you apply it AFTER everything is cooked so it goes on cold. The second part, the tricky part, is that while it is something tomato-ish, some people just use salsa. Which is good, and if you find a good salsa blend (not mango, or jalapeno, again avoiding them to avoid overwhelming the other flavours), it’s great. Except for one thing. Even the chunkiest of salsa is too wet and can completely destroy the texture of the chips and turn it all into a soggy mess. If you’re using salsa, I think it has to be drained. Perhaps even pressed/drained. Or, you can do what we did, which is spread fresh tomatoes on top.
There were some other options I considered in the attempt.
- Some recipes drizzled oil over the first layer of chips, but this seems gratuitous if you’re keeping the cooking time less than ten minutes as we did;
- Other recipes went for special spice blends (cilantro, basil, garlic, salt, black pepper, chili pepper) or atypical flavourings (Italian seasoning, ranch dressing, bbq sauce), but just as with the seasoning in the meat and avoiding jalapenos, I worry that these flavours are either superfluous or easy to overwhelm the recipe, preventing other more subtle fusions from creeping forth; and,
- Traditional recipes also wanted black beans, corn, maybe some kidney beans, and chunks of avocado, but again, it is just too many flavours or superfluous or don’t really add anything desirable.
Some people and recipes argued it is simply not nachos if there isn’t guacamole and sour cream, but since these too can overwhelm a base, I think they can best be handled through sides that people can adjust quantities as they see fit. I like the sour cream option, but feel it is too “wet” as well to be directly on the chips. And that’s it.
My new definitive recipe for eight-layer nachos is:
- Add Tostitos chips; shredded cheddar cheese; pre-cooked chicken in Epicure Pico salsa seasoning; green onions; bell peppers (red plus some combo of green/yellow/orange too); Tostitos chips; and shredded mozzarella cheese;
- Bake for ten minutes;
- Garnish with chopped tomatoes, uncooked; and,
- Serve with sides of guacamole, sour cream and salsa, as desired.
We made it last night, and I’ll do up the full recipe later with pics, but it was certainly the best nachos I’ve ever had at home, and probably in the top five ever.
And THAT is worthy of a 50by50 entry.