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03/05/2019

~ Na-Cho Mama's Fully-Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos ~

IMG_9362Undercover nacho tester.  I suppose it could get boring, but, because every eatery I've ever been to makes this Tex-Mex pub-grub staple a bit different, I'd be willing to risk running into some occasional repetition and hard-earned heartburn.  From nibbling on basic nachos consisting of deep-fried corn tortillas topped with melty cheese sauce, to digging-into nachos-grande, nachos-supreme, fully-loaded nachos or ultimate-nachos piled high with a plethora of enough savory stuff to qualify for full-meal status, yes, I think undercover nacho tester could be my dream job.

Research has revealed that nachos made their debut in Northern Mexico in the 1940's when a large group of hungry servicemen wandered into a restaurant where Ignacio Anaya was cooking. The savvy chef quickly threw some cheese over a big pan of leftover tortillas.  When it emerged from the broiler, he scattered his creation with jalapeño peppers.  When he presented the soldiers with his group-sized appetizer, after devouring it, they took it upon themselves to spread the word. Popularity came fast, and, along the way, nachos acquired an assortment of toppings.

Use homemade or store-bought ingredients, or a combo of both.

6a0120a8551282970b01a73df7e18c970dWe can all agree, you only get out of something what you put into it, but, when the hankering for nachos hits, no one wants to wait longer than the time it takes to preheat the oven, visit the pantry and open a beer. That said, if one it willing to take the time to deep-fry fresh corn tortillas, instead of opening a bag of tortilla chips, nachos become a great deal better.  There's more.  If you're like me, fully-loaded nachos require (must have) meat or protein, and here are a few options:  

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0984a3a7970dMy family's favorites (and the two most common additions) are American-style kid-friendly ground-meat taco filling or chili con carne -- and both are always on hand in my freezer.  That said, white chicken chili or Texas-style steak chili (as long as they are thick and chunky not stringy and soupy), and, the filling for classic pork carnitas are all excellent alternatives.  In fact, any protein concoction that works when served in a crispy taco shell will work. 

Nachos need a perfect ratio of cheese to toppings on each chip.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d10e0e73970cThat's easy.  That's what I said, until I watched Alton Brown (on The Food Network) make nachos, and, from him I learned how to build better nachos. First, he used a sheet pan to increase the surface area so the tortilla chips can sprawl out (no more crowding them in a 13" x 9" casserole for me).  Second, he took ample time to top them, almost one chip at a time, to make sure that every chip had the perfect ratio of cheese to toppings.  Once you do it his way once, there's no going back.

Building better nachos, one tortilla chip at a time.

IMG_9298In my kitchen, nachos aren't always a snack.  Sometimes they're a meal. When I serve 'em as a snack, I make them on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" sheet pan that's been covered with foil and a sheet of parchment -- so cleanup is a snap.  When I serve 'em as a meal, I make 'em the same way, but, layer them in my oven-safe ceramic skillets -- a bit of cleanup, but a great presentation. One sheet pan feeds 6-8 people snacks. The same ingredients feed four as a main-dish in four 6 1/2"-7" skillets.  

Make movie night or TV tailgate special w/fully-loaded nachos. 

Make these nachos as homemade or semi-homemade as you want.  For example:  I rarely make them without deep-frying the tortillas -- it's a simple task that makes a huge difference.   In the Summer, when my vegetable garden is at its peak and local sweet corn is in season, my pico de gallo is homemade and my corn kernels are shaved straight from the cobs of leftover cooked corn.  If I don't have the time or inclination, I use store-bought salsa con queso without hesitation. Don't like black beans?  Don't complain to me.  Use kidney or pinto beans or skip the beans.

IMG_9322  

26  5"-round fresh corn tortillas (about 1 pound, 4 ounces), or 1, 16-ounce bag store-bought restaurant-style tortilla chips

1 1/2  cups chile con queso or 1, 15-ounce jar store-bought salsa con queso, warmed slightly in the microwave (Note:  The cheese options for nachos vary.  Ultimately, that decision lies with the cook.  While shredded cheddar is the most common, I'm not a fan of it on it's own, as, cheddar, while tasty, is not a great ooey-gooey melting cheese unless it is mixed with a great melting cheese like Monterey Jack or jalapeño Jack.)

3-3 1/2  cups American-style ground-beef taco filling, warmed slightly in the microwave (Note:  All taco filling is not created equal. My chunky beef recipe is full of onion, garlic, bell pepper and tomatoes, and, seasoned with my homemade Tex-Mex taco seasoning blend.  If you decide to use chile con carne instead, omit the can of black beans below.)

1  8-12-ounce jar pickled, sliced jalapeño wheels, well-drained, liquid reserved (3/4-1 cup)

1  15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and well-drained (1 1/2-2 cups)

1  15-ounce can whole corn kernels, well-drained (1 1/2-2 cups)

8  ounces shredded jalapeño Jack cheese (about 3 cups)

1  cup pico de gallo or store-bought salsa fresca, well-drained

1  cup spicy avocado crema, a 10-second task to process mixture of 1 cup mashed, ripe Hass avocado (store-bought Wholly Guacamole may be substituted) with 6  tablespoons Mexican crema and 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce

1  cup Mexican crema or sour cream, thinned to a drizzly consistency by stirring in 4-6 tablespoons liquid reserved from pickled jalapeños

1  cup thin-sliced scallions, white and light green parts, for final garnish

IMG_9304 IMG_9304 IMG_9304 IMG_9304~Step 1.  To deep-fry fresh tortillas, divide tortillas into two stacks and cut each stack into six wedges.  Heat corn or peanut oil in deep-fryer, according to the manufacturer's specifications, to 375º.  When the deep fryer is ready:  Fry 2 stacks (two sixths) of the tortilla triangles for 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Chips will be lightly-browned and puffed in spots. Transfer to a large baking pan that's been lined with 3-4 layers of paper towels. Using a spatula, quickly and randomly separate the chips into a single layer and lightly salt their tops ASAP.  Repeat process 5 more times.

IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325~Step 2.  To assemble the nachos, arrange chips across the bottom of the pan, in a semi-single layer, allowing them to overlap and double-up occasionally.  Drizzle and plop blotches of warm queso over the surface of the tortilla chips.  By generous teaspoonfuls, plop blotches of the warm taco-filling over the cheese. Arrange the jalapeño slices over the taco-filling.  Scatter the black beans, followed by the corn kernels over the jalapeño slices and taco-filling.  Sprinkle the shredded jalapeño Jack over all.

IMG_9348 IMG_9348 IMG_9348 IMG_9348 IMG_9348~Step 3.  To bake and properly garnish the nachos, place on center rack of 350º oven and bake until jalapeño Jack cheese is melted and bubbly, and, sweet corn is showing signs of light-browning, about 6 minutes. Remove from oven.  Without any hesitation, plop blotches of the well-drained pico de gallo over the top, followed by a drizzle of my avocado crema and Mexican crema.  Sprinkle the sliced green onion over all and serve immediately.

Place pan on table or cocktail table & get out the napkins:

IMG_9360Snack your way from the outside of pan to center of pan:

IMG_9398Perfect ratio of chips & cheese to toppings?  You be the judge!

IMG_9415Na-Cho Mama's Fully-Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos:  6-8 snack-size servings/4 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; deep-fryer (optional); hand-held cheese grater; colander; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" sheet pan or 6, 8" oven-safe ceramic skillets; aluminum foil; parchment

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3904a89200dCook's Note: Mango salsa, full of sweet heat, is a favorite of mine served with nachos that are made with jalapeño Jack cheese. Prepared as an alternative to pico de gallo, in the event you are a sweet-heat-seeking-missile like me, try my ~ Sweet Heat:  Island-Style Mango or Pineapple Salsa ~. When mangos are in season and inexpensive, it's a wonderful alternative to what we associate with traditional Summertime salsa.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

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