If you know me, you know that I love nachos. You really can’t go wrong with melted cheese and crispy tortilla chips. I will confess, even the ballpark, orange goo nachos have a place in my heart. As much as I am able to enjoy even the lowliest of nachos, I have a very critical palate and a strong opinion about what makes the best nacho.
In each place that I live, I seek out, sample, analyze, critique, rank and crown the “perfect nacho” (and then go back, again, and again….). Having just moved to DC from Durham, NC (stay tuned for my retrospective on nacho experiences in the Bull City), my nacho journey has just begun. Some stong candidates have already emerged, but no clear “perfect” just yet.
In general, I look for several key components to the perfect nacho:
1. The chip: are they house made, fresh, hot, crispy? If not, are they at least a good quality, sturdy enough to stand up to serious toppings, and hopefully not those fake-dyed “tri-color” chips.
2. Toppings: cheese – of course- must be flavorful and plentiful and FULLY melted, ideally a sharp cheddar or maybe a jack.
Beans, either on their own or in a chili, must have flavor. Often they are clearly straight from a can, no salt or flavoring at all. My preference would be a bangin’ house-made re-fried pinto, dolloped all around. On the point of chili, this can be good, but must know it’s place and be done well. I usually prefer vegetarian chili, as meat chili is often made with the lowliest of beef or chicken – too many “bits” of unknown (and unchewable) origin.
Meat or meat-like: In general, I prefer a meatless nacho, as often the meat just distracts from the other ingredients. However, I do concede that it is possible to elevate the nacho to gourmet status using meats that have been truly cared for (a beer-braised, pulled pork nacho from NC comes to mind). Often, though, you lose some of the other ingredients to focus on the meat. As for meat-like toppings, TVP (texturized vegetable protein) cooked in a tomato-chili sauce works well, kind of like ground beef, but without the unchewable bits. Neither are essential elements for me, but I thought I should mention them.
Sour cream – a must if a nacho is to be considered in the “perfect” catagory.
Guacamole really gets bonus points. However, it is easily and often done so badly that it distracts from the whole dish. First, it must be fresh and house-made. Personally, I am a purist when it comes to guacamole – mashed avocado, salt, lime – if you want to get fancy – a little garlic, cumin, hot sauce, cilantro. I want to taste the avocado most.
Salsa – tomatoes, onion, garlic, cilantro, salt, lime, and something hot – those are the basic necessities. As long as you are close and not stingy with it, we should do just fine.
Pickled jalapenos – I have come to realize that I just need these in my life (thus the gallon jar of them in my fridge), especially on the perfect nacho.
A good table hot sauce is also a nice touch since I tend to like spice options.
Some extras that are nice, but not necessary if the other components are there: black olives, shredded lettuce or cabbage, fresh cilantro, green onions, chopped tomatoes, lime wedge.
3. Quantity: Nachos should be big, they just should. I do not want to leave hungry or need more chips at the end to actually get all the toppings up. Nachos almost always get shared, no matter what, so don’t make me wish that my friend would stop taking “just one more bite” from across the table. I should be saying “Please! Go ahead, I’ll never finish all this.”
4. Cost: I put cost last, because, honestly, I’d pay (and have paid) more than I should for the perfect nacho. But really, nachos are mostly chips, so they shouldn’t be more than $6 to $10 at most. If you add meat, and sometimes for guac, I realize it could be more, but not much. And on the quantity issue, if I am paying $10, there better be more nachos than I could possibly eat in a lifetime (which I will then of course eat in more like 30-40 minutes).
If you think I am missing an essential component, please let me know. My search is pure and true and any guidance is surely welcome.