Is there really a wrong way to make nachos? Part of me is inclined to say "no," but I've also been the person at a party standing next to a tray of soggy, cheesy chips. The person who digs into the platter, pulls out a chip, and sees life in slow motion as the chip collapses beneath its own weight. I catch the falling bits in my other hand and momentarily debate the best way to eat a handful of cheese and sour cream. I either have to find a napkin (ineffective), wash my hands (and risk getting nacho goo on the doorknob/light switch/faucet), or... eat nachos, like an animal, out of the palm of my hand (the single most repulsive human act).
So, in order to prevent this madness, here are some tips I've picked up on nacho architecture. Take heed and keep your Superbowl snacks sanitary.
Salsa!? No, no, no. When I was a kid, "nachos" meant dumping a jar of Tostitos salsa over a plate of Tostitos, sprinkling some pre-grated Kraft cheese on top and microwaving for a few minutes. I distinctly remember doing/eating this while watching a Ren & Stimpy marathon (so I was, max, 8-years-old?) and needing a spoon to scoop up all the sludge. As an adult, I've completely nixed any salsa. Instead, I like to make a quick pickle of thinly-sliced radishes (added at the end, so they stay chilled) and I add lots of pickeled jalapenos (baked into the cheese to take away a but of the intensity). Then, right before serving, I drizzle on my favorite hot sauce-- anything from Tabasco to Sriracha. Those ingredients add the spice and acidity of salsa, but keep things from turning into a drippy mess.
Texture is everything. The key to great nachos involves strategizing what gets baked and what gets added post-oven. Ultimately, you should aim to protect chip integrity and too much moisture is the enemy! I like to bake nachos with just my protein (beans, meat), pickled jalapenos (drained) and cheese. I layer on everything else later-- sour cream, veggies, cilantro, hot sauce, chopped avocado. 'Cause who wants hot avocado and sour cream!?
Keep it colorful. Have you ever been to a crappy sports bar, ordered nachos, and received a completely yellow mound of food? Ew. Adding color makes things look interesting, but it makes your nachos taste better too. Green avocado and freshly chopped cilantro, a fiery red hot sauce dribbled on top, bursts of white from radish and bubbling cheese, and, my favorite, blue corn tortilla chips. These chips are usually thicker than their yellow or white counterparts, making them better vessels, too!
It's really about the cheese. I've talked a lot about every other part of the nacho, but what's a nacho without cheese? And, while I'm usually a low-brow gal who loves a Big Mac, this is the area where my snobbery kicks in. Grate cheese yourself. Pre-grated varieties in zipper packs taste like nothing. I like to use a combination of Monterey Jack and Mexican melting cheese. You can often find "quesadilla cheese" or "Mexican style mozzarella" in good grocery store cheese sections. If I feel zesty, I'll also get some queso fresco for sprinkling on top-- this one used as a "final touch" after baking.
I'm also intrigued by the idea of making creamy queso like this, but I haven't tried it yet!
Cook meat ahead. A bit of a no-brainer, but nachos work fantastically as leftover food. Have leftover chili or rotisserie chicken? Shred the meat into bite-sized pieces and put it on some nachos!
In conclusion: Here's how I like to make nachos. Blue corn tortillas topped with scattered spoonfuls of refried beans, pickled jalapenos, shredded chicken and cheese. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Finish with diced avocado, pickled red radishes, chopped cilantro, chopped onions, dollops of sour cream, and lots of hot sauce! Oh, and for the love of God, put away the sliced black olives forever and ever, amen.