Dave in the City out West (DITCOW)

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Blog: Nachos

January 26th, 2017

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An ode to nachos and the best things to put onto them.  Plus: a Kevin on the Cape update.

Before we talk about the nachos, I want to share a link Kevin on the Cape, our longtime co-host, has for us.  He started a new blog to document his heart attack from a few weeks ago and update all of us on his recovery.  It shall be a long journey for him, and if you've followed him on our podcast, I HIGHLY recommend bookmarking this link: http://kevingorey.weebly.com .  Please visit, and Kevin, speedy recovery brother!

Let me also add that, when you talk about topics like nachos, especially in light of our friends and family going through bad health, please exercise moderation.   Not necessarily "eat two chips and then throw the rest out" but don't eat nachos every day.   Save it as your cheat meal, have it once a month.   I do want to emphasize that I am not eating nachos and donuts and things like that every day three meals a day.   I would die. 

Actually, when you think about it, Kevin told us before on the podcast that he really doesn't eat a lot of fatty foods.   Apparently family history and his cigar use were bigger factors in his recent health scare.  That's an interesting note -- sometimes you can make all the right nutritional moves and *still* get a heart attack.   The point is, you can never be too careful, and exercise is so important for all of us.  Regardless of what you eat, you improve your chances with about 30 minutes of exercise a day.  I'm honest not that great at it myself, but I would say that I at least get in a few days of swimming every week... and that is beating most of America apparently.

Now after all of that good exercise and careful portion control, a plate of nachos is the greatest.   Look at those nachos in the picture.  Mmm, beef, onions, jalapenos.   Cheese.   I see so many different ways to make nachos.   You can categorize them into several groups.

Chips:  Fresh chips or store bought?   Are they round or triangles?   Are they multi-colored or plain?  Blue corn or white corn or yellow corn?  All of these factors make a difference.  Clearly the freshly fried chips are the best.   It's not getting beat by those mission circle chips from the store.  The store bough chips are so grainy on the outside, as in, they have all kinds of salt and preservatives just rubbed all over, then the surface looks like guys stepped on it and sent it through the mud.  It has all these brown crater spots on them.   I don't know how you even get that texture, but I believe it's designed to make the chips last longer.  The FRESH chips are smooth and a little oily on the surface.   They have a light crisp, and some even go a little further and showcase some soft chewable tortilla mush on the inside, almost like a donut.

Cheese: Big point of contention with so many variations.  Fresh cheese or nacho cheese goo?   You can honestly make a case for either one.  The better one is the fresh cheese, which I believe is Monterrey Jack, grated and topped all over the chips.  Sometimes you can go cheddar cheese, or you might even do both just to be adventurous.    On the other hand, the cheese goo has added spice and it can get into all the openings smoothly.  There's nothing like it, even if it's factory manufactured.   I still say go with the fresh stuff and melt it down.  However, if you reach that cheap nachos category, ya know, the 4-6 dollar variety, the goo is a good get.  

Jalapenos:  This isn't really to illustrate different types of jalapenos, there's literally only one kind of jalapeno to use.   But the fancier nachos, or perhaps the quote-unquote "canonical" nacho leaves them out, using pico de gallo and actual salsa instead.   That's a tough one.   Some use jalapenos, some don't.  Most do, I believe, but my favorite nachos, the nachos from Tacos Por Favor in Santa Monica, don't touch them.  They think their salsas and pico de gallo are spicy enough to stand on their own.  I dare say they're right too.   However, it's a useful study.   You *can* have the best of both worlds at your local cantina, get the nachos with the fresh chips and the fresh cheese, and still have jalapenos, then add their fire roasted salsa to punctuate the taste.

Let's take a break, and during this intermission I prsent, the "Tacos Por Favor" nachos (courtesy of Yelp and Kalani B.):

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All right, we're back from break.  Here are the other components to look out for.

Meats: steak is the classic go-to.  Chicken is also tremendous.   After that, it's really up to the restaurant.   Some cheap-out and use ground beef, which I think is regrettable.  It may work at some places, but if you're going to the trouble to put all of these ingredients together, step it up and use steak.  Ground beef is great for burritos, tacos, pasta, and even enchiladas if you're in the mood.  Nachos, they will suffice, but it's annoying to get that close to solid construction and settle for second best. 

There are many additional meats that can go into nachos that can work with the right supporting cast members.  Crab can be so delicious with pico de gallo, guacamole, and the rest.  Lobster is the way to really high-class a nacho, but it's usually so expensive by then it defeats the purpose.   Pork is an interesting call.  I think it depends on the method of making the pork.   Adobado is serviceable as is al pastor, but their flavors lean a bit sweet too... the supporting cast members need to compliment these great.  It's almost like trying to get Carmelo Anthony to participate in nachos.   It seems to cater towards drawing attention to itself but you can get those supporting ingredients to make it sing.   I've had al pastor nachos before and some of them are great.  It really just depends.  Your margin for error is less with the outer construction of such a nacho.  This is also the opinion I have of pulled pork nachos, but I think the smokiness of pulled pork provides a better fit for nachos.   Places with mean, bitchin' pulled pork hit it out of the park with their nachos.  Taking that a step further, King's Hawaiian Restaurant in Torrance has a Kalua pulled pork nachos that *slams* it home!   Shrimp nachos also are pretty good but those need lighter ingredients around it to work.   Most restaurants go the extra mile configuring nachos for shrimp.  There is no "ceviche" nachos because that's redundant.  Ceviche is already served with chips so it's practically 80% there on its own.

Guacamole: I'm not really sure if guacamole is a required add-on for nachos, but it tends to be used at the higher quality establishments.   You can execute nachos pretty well without it, but I will always be a proponent of guacamole for the traditional nacho stylings.   Obviously pulled pork would completely clash with guacamole, hence my earlier comment on "Meats."  That's probably why you see it off and on and not consistently across all nachos.

Sour Cream:  another 50/50 case.   Not crucial for the satisfying nacho, but implemented in many of them.  It just depends.  Unlike guac, the sour cream could compliment pulled pork nicely.   I often lose track of whether sour cream took the stage within a nacho, but in fairness, many times it does, unless we're talking stadium nachos where they go all the way to basics: circle chips, cheese goo, jalapenos.  Sometimes the stadium vendors try to throw in a cup of that weak-ass pansy salsa, ya know the one, Pace lack-of-picante-sauce and that thing.   I mean, throwing that lame salsa in a jar stuff with nachos is insulting.   Sometimes you dip a chip into the pansy salsa to humor it, but overall I find it convenient to stick to the goo and jalapenos.  They're pretty spicy on their own anyway.

Vegetables:  I couldn't come up with a better word.   Some nachos just do onions.  Some go with pico de gallo which I think is the way to go.  Some don't use any vegetables.  Tony P's nachos are just simmered red sauce chicken, chips, cheese, sour cream, and salsa.  No vegetables, no jalapenos.  Some may even do only the tomatoes.  Some may add to that itinerary and throw in fajita peppers, possibly.   Usually you wind up with some level of pico de gallo as the vegetables.

Salsa:  Now it get's interesting.   What is your choice for the salsa?  Many places just leave you to it and send you to the salsa bar.  This is a solid move, because then you can *really* personalize the taste to fit your personality.  You may go black fire roasted salsa, Baja Fresh style.  You might do the red roasted salsa, red hot, whoo!  Spicy!   You may go with the roasted green tomato salsa, which generally is milder but not at all places.  The fun one is that avacado salsa which is such a snake... it looks so mild visually but it's arguably spicier than the red salsa!  When the salsa is provided by the kitchen, it can bring any number of outcomes.  Usually it's a solid pretty spicy red salsa.  Sometimes it's the weak "pansy salsa".  Sometimes it's just pico de gallo which isn't spicy at all, but is freshly chopped, so it works well.