The Ultimate Guide to Nachos

Tortilla RepublicTortilla RepublicNacho perfection, like other kinds of cooking perfection, isn't difficult to achieve. In fact, any home cook can achieve nacho nirvana. It just requires care and attention to detail - in selecting the right ingredients, in preparing them properly, and in constructing the overall dish. It really is one of those things where you only get out of it what you put into it. With the exception of a few lucky accidents, few cooking masterpieces are ever created by throwing everything into a pot or casserole dish and sending it to the fire.

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Such is the case with nachos. A proper plate of nachos has to be constructed. It has to have the right number of ingredients. It can't have the wrong proportion of toppings to chips, and it certainly can't be soggy. And it requires a bit of advance planning and thought. So how do you do it right?
To find out, The Daily Meal teamed up with Marlon Braccia, author of The Enlightened Cook: Protein Entrées, for some serious nacho advice. Braccia, an avid nacho fan, was passionate and opinionated about the topic and certainly had plenty to say.

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What Is a Nacho?

The bare minimum when it comes to ingredients, says Braccia, is "a great nacho chip and a great piece of cheese that melts easily." And if that's all you have, there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, if you're a bit of a purist, you'll probably agree.

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But, if you would like to have more to munch on, that's great, too. Check out what Braccia had to say about some of the most popular ingredients.

Chips: Baked or Fried?

What about baked chips? Well, the jury's out on this one. While it might make for a healthier nacho dish, Braccia says that in her experience, some brands taste like parchment paper. If you do find a baked tortilla chip that you like, go ahead and use it - just make sure to pick a high-quality, flavorful cheese that will make up for it because oil carries flavor molecules that help bind the dish together.

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Chips: Salted or Unsalted?

If using store-bought chips, choose salted, for sure. That old cooking mantra still applies - season, season, season. If you're frying your own chips, make sure to salt the chips right when they come out of the frying oil, or the salt will just bounce right off the chip.

Cheese: Why Pre-Grated Is Bad

If you're in a pinch and a sudden, uncontrollable urge for a plate of nachos sets in, you may be tempted to use pre-grated cheese. But Braccia finds that manufacturers often don't start with the best-quality cheese when it comes to pre-grated, which is why there often isn't a whole lot of flavor (if any).

Cheese: Best Choice

Instead, start with a block of sharp white Cheddar, which generally has a little bit more of a bite than yellow. If you're using white corn tortilla chips, it's also more pleasing from an aesthetic standpoint, if you care about that sort of thing. But the important takeaway is: Don't use pre-grated cheese, and whatever you use, start with something high-quality.

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Nothing beats homemade salsa and it's really not that hard to do, but Braccia says that if you absolutely must use store-bought, opt for the salsas in the plastic containers in the refrigerated section rather than the jarred ones in the condiments aisle. They'll taste fresher, have superior texture (jarred versions often have the consistency of tomato sauce), have more flavor, and likely contain fewer preservatives. Fire-roasted is a nice twist as well.

Beans: Canned Versus Dried

Braccia prefers dried beans mainly because of texture. Canned beans often have a mealy, slimy texture, says Braccia, whereas dried beans still have a bit of a bite.

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-Will Budiaman, The Daily Meal