Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.
Nachos, though often derided for being a movie theater or stadium food, are a gift that can be shared by many. They can be made in the microwave (not recommended) and be simple, or they can get as difficult as poached pear and gorgonzola dessert nachos. Made right, nachos will please any group.
Things to focus on if you want amazing nachos: quality ingredients and a strong layering ethic. With a good layering technique, you can ensure that the nachos will have cheese and jalapeños through every grab and every bite.
We suggest making your own chips and quick-pickling jalapeños for maximum wow factor and deliciousness. This might seem like a daunting task, but it is incredibly easy and the return on investment is massive. We're keeping it simple here with cheese and jalapeños, but other innovations can be made with toppings such as chorizo, carne asada, or no-recipe guacamole. Other cheeses we'd suggest are Colby Jack or Chihuahua, or, if you're making a variation like pizza-style nachos, mozzarella. As long as the cheese melts, it will make for a delicious nacho.
How to Make Nachos Without a Recipe
1. Whisk a cup of apple cider vinegar with two tablespoons of sugar and a bit of salt. Slice jalapeños into a jar and pour the vinegar mixture over them. Close the jar and refrigerate the jalapeños overnight.
2. Slice storebought corn tortillas into triangles (Ed. note: ours were a corn-flour hybrid, which works too). Use a whole bag to support a big party of nacho eaters. In a shallow pan, heat vegetable or canola oil to 350° F. Use a thermometer, or just test the temperature by dropping a small piece of tortilla into the oil -- you're ready to go as soon as the tortilla floats and bubbles.
3. Fry tortilla triangles until both sides are golden brown. Remove the chips to a paper towel to drain excess oil, then toss the chips with salt and cayenne pepper.
4. Shred your cheese -- we used half a block of sharp cheddar cheese and half a block of pepper jack. On a baking sheet, spread half of the chips evenly and sprinkle heaps of cheese all over. It's always good to add more cheese than you think you need. Layer the remainder of the chips and the cheese.
5. Broil or bake at 500° F until cheese is melted, or about 5 to 8 minutes. Top with pickled jalapeños and sliced radishes, or whatever you like.
Photos by James Ransom