Nachos, the championship party food
The Washington Post
As far as we’re concerned, the most egregious fouls committed during Sunday’s Super Bowl will involve tortilla chips and melted cheese.
Nachos are championship party food, to be sure: cheap, easy and sociable. But once the best bites come off the top and the cheese congeals, things get ugly. We agreed that a better game plan was in order.
In previous years, Joe has played positions of Texan, traditionalist and purist in our smackdowns over chili, guacamole and meat snacks. This year, he chose to run an anti-nacho pattern. He called chef-restaurateur Rick Bayless, who coached him through a recipe for tostadas built like tlayudas, the famous street food of Oaxaca, Mexico. The huge corn tortillas are grilled on both sides, brushed with lard, then topped and cut into pizzalike wedges.
Bayless’ version calls for six-inch tortillas, a thinned guacamole sauce, crumbled cooked chorizo and judiciously applied queso fresco. Simple. Guests can grab one and go. And while the tostadas may overlap slightly on a platter, no ref would throw a flag for piling on. The tostadas pack a spicy punch and will remain crisp through four quarters plus a halftime show with the Who. The same technique can be applied to all manner of combinations: grilled shrimp with black beans (or a smooth bean puree), or perhaps carnitas and pickled onions drizzled with a smoky salsa.
David Suarez, culinary director of Rosa Mexicano, offered up the X’s and O’s of a recipe created for the restaurant chain’s current Real Men Cook Mexican festival. The nachos start with thick-cut potato slices fried golden brown and crisp. Transferred to the largest platter you’ve got, they form a wide playing field for layers of flavor: a garlicky herbed oil, chopped braised boneless short ribs deepened by a tinga (cooked vegetable base), scattered hits of Mexican blue cheese, a crunchy jalapeno slaw, cooling crema, chopped scallions and – wait for it – julienne strips of pickled morita chili peppers.
Not simple. And at some point, utensils need to be called in. But these nachos welcome substitutions, depending on the strength of your culinary bench: Use kettle chips or wedges of baked corn tortillas instead of frying your own potatoes. Skip the garlicky oil and reduce the calorie count. Add cooked beans, roasted red peppers and marinated artichoke hearts to the tinga instead of beef. Choose a milder cheese such as a dry Jack instead of a salty Cabrales or Valdeon.
Nachos might have sprung from a Hail Mary attempt long ago by a desperate restaurateur just across the Rio Grande, but Americans continue to top nachos in winning ways. Except for the goopy ones sold at stadiums, which should be banned from all sports.
Tostadas With Chorizo, Tangy Guacamole and Fresh Cheese
12 snack-size servings
For the guacamole
5 to 6 medium (about 8 ounces) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1 medium clove garlic
2 or 3 serrano chili peppers, stemmed but not seeded, then coarsely chopped
Leaves from 10 stems cilantro (about 1⁄2 cup packed)
1⁄2 cup water, plus more as needed
Flesh from 1 large ripe avocado
Kosher or sea salt
For the tostadas
About 1 pound fresh Mexican chorizo sausage, casings removed
About 2 dozen 6-inch corn tortillas, preferably somewhat dry and leathery
About 6 ounces queso fresco or other mild cheese, crumbled
For the guacamole: Combine the tomatillos, garlic, serrano peppers (to taste), cilantro and 1⁄2 cup water in a blender or food processor. Process to a coarse puree. Add the avocado and pulse until nearly smooth. Transfer to a bowl and, if necessary, add 1 to 2 tablespoons water to thin to a consistency that will let you drizzle the sauce. Taste, and season with salt (up to 1 teaspoon).
For the tostadas: Cook the chorizo in a medium skillet over medium heat for about 12 minutes or until well browned, breaking up any clumps. If you wish to use the rendered chorizo fat to brush on the tostadas, scrape the contents of the skillet into a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl to catch as much of the chorizo fat as possible, pressing with the back of a spoon if needed. Reserve 1⁄4 cup of the fat and discard the rest or reserve for another use. Transfer the cooked chorizo to a bowl.
Position an oven rack about 4 inches from the broiler element; preheat the broiler. Working in batches, place as many tortillas as will fit (slightly overlapping is okay) in a single layer on a broiler pan. Broil for 2 to 4 minutes so the tortillas are spotty brown all over. Transfer the pan to the stovetop and use tongs to turn the tortillas over. If desired, brush some of the rendered chorizo fat all over the second side, then sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of the cooked chorizo on each tortilla. Return to the broiler and broil for 1 or 2 minutes.
Transfer to a platter. Drizzle with some of the guacamole, then garnish with the cheese. Serve the first round while you’re making the next.
NOTE: To grill the tortillas, prepare the grill for direct heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-low (350 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, light the briquettes. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 6 to 8 seconds. Lightly coat the grill rack with oil and place it on the grill.
When you’re ready to serve, lay several tortillas on the grill and turn them every 20 seconds or so until nearly crisp; depending on the heat of your fire, this should take a couple of minutes. Then brush with chorizo fat, if desired, and top with cooked crumbled chorizo, guacamole and cheese. Serve warm or at room temperature.
NUTRITION Per serving: 308 calories, 18 g protein, 29 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 375 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar
Adapted from Rick Bayless’ upcoming “Fiesta at Rick’s” (W.W. Norton, May 2010).
Potato Chip Nachos With Chipotle Beef
12 to 14 servings
These are for nacho lovers who are looking for something extra and are willing to resort to cutlery. Use freshly fried, thick slices of russet potatoes or thickly cut kettle potato chips. The topping starts with the tinga vegetable base (see accompanying recipe); cooked beef, chicken, shrimp or beans can be added (see VARIATIONS, below).
A quick toss in a garlic-epazote oil adds a layer of flavor, but it’s an extra step of prep. If you can’t locate fresh epazote, substitute cilantro leaves.
Serve with differently colored disposable forks, so your guests can eat their way through (communally) to the potatoes that are no longer crisp.
MAKE AHEAD: The potatoes can be fried an hour in advance and drained on layers of paper towels. The nachos should be assembled just before they are served. Adapted from David Suarez, chef and culinary director at Rosa Mexicano.
For the potatoes
1⁄2 cup vegetable or canola oil, plus about 21⁄2 quarts for frying
1⁄2 cup olive oil
Leaves from 1⁄2 bunch epazote (about 3 ounces), cut into thin strips (julienne; see headnote)
Cloves from 1 head garlic, minced
12 to 15 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed clean (see headnote)
3 to 4 cups braised boneless short ribs, defatted, then coarsely chopped (may substitute 3 to 4 cups cooked shredded boneless skinless chicken or 11⁄2 pounds cooked peeled and deveined shrimp, coarsely chopped; see VARIATIONS)
31⁄2 cups Tinga (see accompanying recipe)
4 to 6 ounces mild blue cheese or dry Jack cheese, crumbled (see headnote)
2 cups Cabbage Escabeche (see accompanying recipe)
Mexican crema, for garnish
2 bunches scallions, white and light-green parts, cut crosswise into 1⁄4-inch pieces, for garnish
Pickled Chili Peppers, for garnish (see accompanying recipe)
For the potatoes: Heat the 21⁄2 quarts of oil in a large saucepan over high heat, to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a few layers of paper towels, then place a wire rack on top. Have a medium heatproof bowl and a large platter at hand.
Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1⁄2 cup of vegetable or canola oil, the 1⁄2 cup of olive oil, the epazote julienne and the garlic in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until heated through and fragrant. The epazote will be a darker green. Remove from the heat and season with salt to taste.
Trim the end (peel) pieces from the potatoes. Cut the potatoes crosswise into thick slices (less than 1⁄4 inch). Add about a potato’s worth of slices at a time to the hot oil; fry for 6 to 8 minutes, turning them so they are lightly browned on both sides and tender. Use a slotted spoon or Chinese skimmer to transfer to the wire rack to drain for a minute, then transfer to the bowl and drizzle with a little of the garlic-epazote oil; toss to coat. Transfer to the platter, arranging the potatoes in a single layer (or place them back on the wire rack once the platter has been filled).
Repeat to use all of the potatoes and garlic-epazote oil.
For assembly: Combine the chopped braised beef and tinga vegetable base in a large, ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Stir well, then cook for several minutes until heated through and slightly darkened in color. Scatter the cheese (to taste) evenly over the mixture; let sit until the cheese has started to melt, then remove from the heat.
Distribute the beef mixture with cheese evenly over the potatoes. (If necessary, make 2 layers of potatoes and the cheesy beef mixture.) Scatter the cabbage escabeche over the mixture, then drizzle with the crema. Sprinkle with scallions and strips of pickled chili peppers. Serve warm.
VARIATIONS: For a vegetarian version, combine 3 cups of cooked cannellini or great Northern or mayocoba beans, 1⁄2 cup chopped drained artichoke hearts and 1⁄2 cup chopped roasted red peppers with the 31⁄2 cups of tinga vegetable base. Top with crumbled dry Jack cheese or asiago, the slaw, crema and grilled scallions (left whole).
NUTRITION Per serving (based on 14): 526 calories, 13 g protein, 42 g carbohydrates, 35 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 29 mg cholesterol, 380 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar