Andrew Knowlton, photo by Christina Holmes
Nachos may flourish in sports bars alongside jalapeño poppers and chicken tenders, but I give them the consideration of a four-star meal. You can’t just dump chips and cheese together and expect crunchy-melty-salty-spicy excellence. After years of experimenting for my annual nacho party (held during one very big football game), I’ve landed on a few rules for each component.
The Five Keys To Reaching Nacho Nirvana
THE CHIP: The ideal specimen is medium-thick. Greasy, thin versions–like the ones some restaurants fry in-house–won’t hold up here. I’m into Tostitos Simply Natural chips.
THE CHEESE: Liquid cheese, the kind that comes in a side compartment at the concession stand, tastes like candle wax. Gruyere? Save it for grilled cheese. I go for a blend of sharp yellow cheddar and Monterey Jack; they melt well and aren’t overpowering.
THE MEAT: You want shredded or pulled meat for easy building and eating. Pork is my gold standard–it crisps up nicely but remains juicy under blasts of cheese-melting heat. Try our carnitas, or buy pulled pork from a barbecue joint. Omitting the meat is fine, too; just don’t anger the nacho gods with tofu.
THE FIXINGS: As with any dish, balance is paramount. Meat and cheese beg for heat, freshness, and acidity. So I finish with radishes and cilantro and set out jalapeños, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream for garnishing.
THE STRATEGY: Nachos leave room for personal preferences (switch up the fixings, use a different chip), but proper assembly is nonnegotiable. Start with a baking sheet: You need surface area, plus it makes a statement to present a tray of nachos that generous. Spread out a layer of chips, followed by an even distribution of meat and beans, then lots–I mean lots–of cheese. Complete coverage guarantees you don’t commit the cardinal sin of nacho making: the sad chip with no topping. Repeat until you have an impressive tray a few layers high, then bake. Pour yourself a Margarita, let guests yank out a cheesy chipful, and watch them go nuts.
NACHOS WITH ALL THE FIXINS’
- Nonstick vegetable oil spray
- 3 9-ounce bags tortilla chips
- Beer-Braised Carnitas
- 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed
- 1 large white onion, chopped
- 3 pounds shredded cheese (such as sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack)
- 8 ounces Cotija cheese or feta, crumbled
- 1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced
- 1 fresh cilantro leaves
- Charred Tomatillo Salsa
- Dried Chile Salsa
- Pickled jalapeños
- Pico de gallo
- 2 cups sour cream, thinned with 1/3 cup water
- Hot pepper sauce
Preheat oven to 350°. Coat 2 large rimmed baking sheets with nonstick spray. Dividing evenly between baking sheets, layer chips, carnitas, beans, onion, and shredded cheese, mounding in the center. DO AHEAD: Nachos can be assembled up to 1 hour before baking.
Working with 1 sheet at a time, bake until cheese is melted, 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle with Cotija cheese, radishes, and cilantro. Serve with desired toppings.