Can your na­chos top this?

The Hamilton Spectator - - FOOD - BON­NIE S. BENWICK

Salty, creamy, crunchy and bright: those are the tastes a good pile of na­chos should bring to the party.

“Buenos Na­chos” au­thor Gina Ha­madey says this Su­per Bowl snack favourite is all about the cheese, but those of us who have ex­pe­ri­enced con­gealed ched­dars and soggy-gloppy, stuck-to­gether chips re­al­ize it’s also about the good dis­tri­bu­tion and har­mony of the com­po­nents.

Where to start? Right here. With a lit­tle fi­nesse ap­plied to each part, you can present a win­ning plat­ter on Game Day.

Chips

Sturdy corn tor­tilla chips will stand up to melted cheese and moist top­pings. (Note: “Restau­rant-style” on the pack­age does not mean sturdy.) It takes about 10 min­utes to make your own.

Cut 6-inch fresh corn tor­tillas into quar­ters (wedges), and fry batches in a few inches of veg­etable oil un­til golden brown. Drain on a rack set over pa­per tow­els, and salt right away. Or spread the wedges on a bak­ing sheet, spray with cook­ing oil spray and toast till golden in a 400-de­gree oven. For a quick al­ter­na­tive, use store-bought fried tostadas, bro­ken into big pieces.

Cheese

Shred blocks of Mon­terey Jack and Colby cheeses; it’s best not to use preshred­ded cheese, be­cause it’s typ­i­cally coated with starch or cel­lu­lose pow­der.

Amer­i­can cheese melts evenly. Fresh, crumbly queso fresco-type cheese should be sprin­kled on top just be­fore serv­ing, or served along­side.

A thin cheese sauce that clings to chips, doesn’t con­geal and can be flavoured with pep­per purées works well for in­di­vid­ual help­ings; you can keep the sauce warm in a slow cooker.

Top­pings

Fresh sal­sas need to be added at the last minute, as they will dampen a na­chos pile. Use a slot­ted spoon, or drain the liq­uid from the salsa be­fore us­ing.

Fresh jalapeño slices can bring un­even amounts of heat; use pick­led jalapeño slices, which pro­vide a nice acidic touch.

Leave sour cream and gua­camole on the side, for serv­ing. Or in­stead of us­ing gua­camole, try grilling chunks or slices of lightly salted av­o­cado just long enough for them to pick up a lit­tle char.

Roasted, salted pepi­tas add crunch and colour.

For folks who don’t like cilantro, try coarsely chopped curly pars­ley (which won’t wilt like flat-leaf pars­ley).

For an acidic DIY al­ter­na­tive, use sliv­ers of pick­led onion or a squeeze of fresh lime juice over each layer of cheese.

Lay­er­ing

At home, na­chos are of­ten con­structed over the ex­panse of a rimmed bak­ing sheet. (Line the pan with parch­ment pa­per, for easy na­chos trans­fer to a plat­ter.) For bet­ter cov­er­age, spread a sin­gle layer of tor­tilla chips, then scat­ter a min­i­mal layer of your melt­ing cheese of choice, mak­ing sure to coat the chips on the edges. Bake in a 300-de­gree oven un­til the cheese has melted, then scat­ter your beans or meats and veg­etable top­pings over the cheese. Let it sit for five to eight min­utes, then re­peat with one or two sub­se­quent lay­ers, bak­ing again each time.

When you’re us­ing a pourable cheese sauce, lay­er­ing is less im­por­tant than build­ing the pile strate­gi­cally so that at least half of each chip is coated. Dis­trib­ute top­pings over the top layer.

El Rey Na­chos

MAKE AHEAD: The poblano pep­pers can be roasted, peeled and re­frig­er­ated a day or two in ad­vance. The sauce can be re­frig­er­ated for up to three days; re­heat over medium-low heat or, for a party, in a slow cooker on the warm set­ting.

Based on a recipe from Car­men Nuñez, the chef at El Rey Ta­que­ria and Mex­i­can Beer Gar­den in D.C.

MAKES 8 TO 10 SERVINGS

For the sauce 1½ pounds poblano pep­pers, roasted (see NOTES; may sub­sti­tute 4 jarred, roasted red pep­pers) 1 cup wa­ter 1½ cups heavy cream 1 pound Amer­i­can cheese Kosher salt (op­tional) For the na­chos One 25-ounce pack­age 6-inch fresh corn tor­tillas, cut into quar­ters and fried (may sub­sti­tute 1 pound lightly salted corn tor­tilla chips; see NOTES) 1 bunch scal­lions, chopped (white and light-green parts) 2½ cups cooked black beans and/or cooked, chopped chicken or roasted pork Pick­led onion sliv­ers and/or pick­led jalapeño slices (see NOTES)

For the sauce: Com­bine the roasted pep­pers and wa­ter in a blender (not a food pro­ces­sor) on high speed, mak­ing sure not to in­clude any seeds; purée un­til smooth. The yield is just un­der 2 cups.

Heat the heavy cream in a non-stick sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the cheese and cook for about 10 min­utes, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally, un­til the cheese has melted and the mix­ture is creamy. Re­duce the heat to low to keep it warm.

Stir in the poblano purée; taste, and add salt as needed. (If the chips you’re us­ing are salted, you may want to skip adding salt to the sauce.) The yield is about 4 cups.

To as­sem­ble the na­chos, line in­di­vid­ual wide, shal­low bowls or bas­kets with wax pa­per or coated pa­per lin­ers. Place two or three hand­fuls of chips in each one. La­dle the sauce over each por­tion of chips, then scat­ter equal amounts of the scal­lions, beans or cooked meat and the pick­led onion on top. Serve right away.

NOTES: Roast the pep­pers on a bak­ing sheet in a 425-de­gree oven for about 20 min­utes, un­til they be­gin to de­flate and the skin looks loos­ened. Trans­fer to a zip­top bag and seal to steam for about 10 min­utes, then dis­card the skins, stems and seeds.

To make your own corn tor­tilla chips, fry the quar­tered fresh corn tor­tillas in batches in 350-de­gree canola or veg­etable oil just un­til golden. Drain on a rack over pa­per tow­els; if you wish to salt them, do so right away. To bake them in­stead, spread in a sin­gle layer on a rimmed bak­ing sheet and spray with cook­ing oil spray, sea­son­ing lightly with salt, if you’d like; toast in a 375-de­gree oven till lightly browned and crisped.

To quick-pickle the onion, toss to­gether one red or white onion cut into thin half­moon slices, 2 ta­ble­spoons of sugar and a gen­er­ous sprin­kling of salt in a medium bowl; let it sit for five to eight min­utes, so the onion wilts a bit. Stir in ½ cup of red wine vine­gar; let it sit for about 15 min­utes, so the vine­gar in­fuses the onions and the sugar and salt dis­solve.

Per serv­ing (us­ing store-bought un­salted chips, no-salt-added black beans and ¼ cup pick­led jalapeño slices): 720 calo­ries, 22 grams pro­tein, 60 g car­bo­hy­drates, 44 g fat, 20 g sat­u­rated fat, 95 mil­ligrams choles­terol, 680 mg sodium, 9 g di­etary fi­bre, 2 g sugar

GO­RAN KOSANOVIC, FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

El Rey Na­chos: The poblano pep­pers can be roasted, peeled and re­frig­er­ated a day or two in ad­vance.

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