For Sunday's Superbowl XLV, which pits Pittsburgh against Green Bay in Dallas, I bring you a Texas dish made with Wisconsin cheese. “Queso” is a Tex-Mex dish served everywhere in Texas, but almost never seen outside the Southwest.
First: It's pronounced “KAY-soh,” with a Texas drawl, and as Americanized as the dish itself. It has its roots in queso fundido, which in turn is the Mexicanized version of Swiss fondue. If we lived in Dallas, every casual Mexican restaurant would serve queso as an appetizer, and every supermarket would sell good, local brands of queso in the refrigerator case to heat up at home. Here in Southern California, the best you expect is the jarred stuff that can sit on a shelf for years without complaint.
The classic make-at-home recipe uses a processed cheese such as Velveeta mixed with Ro-tel canned spicy tomatoes. Most restaurants in Texas use a similar processed cheese for its creamy-smooth texture. I like the smooth, easy-melting texture of Velveeta, but I don't care for its flavor. Mine may not be authentic because this version starts with a bechamel sauce flavored with natural, real cheeses. The evaporated milk, instead of regular milk, helps in obtaining the smooth texture.
Monterey Jack melts smoothly, and its mild flavor is a good base for cheese sauce. Yellow sharp Cheddar is there for its tangy flavor and the traditionally yellow color of queso. Grate the cheese yourself with a box grater. Preshredded cheese contains
cellulose, which keeps the shreds from sticking to one another. It also
prevents the cheese from melting correctly.
This recipe makes a mildly spicy queso. If you like more heat, substitute serrano chiles for the much milder jalapeños and add a little cayenne pepper or ground chile chipotle at the end, to your taste. Sautéeing the chilis mellows their heat somewhat, so if you like, add a second dose of fresh jalapeños to taste once the queso is cooked.
Chile Con Queso
Yield: 1 1/2 quarts
1/2 onion, minced
1 red bell pepper, minced
2 jalapeños, deseeded and minced
4 oz. can of roasted Hatch green chiles
4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
8 oz. Monterey Jack cheese
8 oz. yellow sharp Cheddar cheese
12 oz. can of evaporated milk (must not contain sugar as an ingredient)
1 tsp salt
3 tsp chili powder
3 Tbsp tomato paste
- Melt butter in a 2-quart pot over medium heat, and sauté the onions, minced bell pepper and the jalapeños until the peppers are soft, about five minutes.
- Add garlic, salt and chili powder and cook for another two minutes.
- Add the canned Hatch chili and cook for a minute.
- Add the flour to the butter and vegetables, and stir well so that the flour is dispersed throughout the mixture. Continue stirring and cooking for an additional 2 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and stir until combined.
- Add the evaporated milk slowly, while constantly stirring the sauce. As the milk heats, the sauce will thicken. Keep stirring until there are no flour lumps in the sauce.
- Lower the heat to its minimum and add a handful of the cheese. Stir until it melts. Continue adding cheese a handful at a time until it's all melted smoothly.
- If the sauce is too gloppy, like nacho cheese, stir in regular milk a tablespoon at a time until it's runny but not too thin.
- Adjust for salt, as needed.
- Top with minced raw onion, pickled jalapeño slices, diced Roma tomato and chopped cilantro, and then serve with your favorite tortilla chips.