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At the onset of the holidays, I whipped up a double recipe of Kenji's chile verde. It was one of the best holiday dishes I've ever made, though it also took five hours and set off the smoke alarm as I roasted chilies early in the morning. The pot lasted two potluck parties and multiple meals afterwards, and when it came time to scrape out the final leftovers, we couldn't help but be sad that the party was over.
Since then I've been craving more chile, but a less labor-intensive version. So I've whipped up a few batches of quick-cooking chicken chile verde...and turned them into the best nachos I've ever had.
The Chile Verde
There's no need to mess with the basic green chile formula: Roast chilies and tomatillos, then stew them with aromatics and spices. Though for this recipe I do throw some cubanelle peppers into the mix with poblanos for extra brightness.
The greater question is how to get lowly chicken chile to taste as deeply flavored as fatty pork shoulder. The answer is to stick with chicken thighs, the most flavorful, juicy, and fatty pieces on the bird.
I also take time to brown the chicken in oil. First they go skin-side-down until the skin turns golden, then I briefly brown the other side.
Doing so leaves you with a pot of rendered chicken fat and a beautiful crusty brown coating clinging to the bottom. Sauté onions and garlic in the fat, then purée them with the roasted peppers and tomatillos to form your stewing base.
Once I remove the onions and garlic for puréeing, I deglaze the pot with chicken stock, which will quickly turn dark brown from all the fond that gets scraped up. Once the pot is deglazed, pour in the chili base, then nestle the thighs in and keep them submerged until they hit at least 175°F on an instant-read thermometer.
You'll end up with an intensely flavored chile only a fraction less rich than the pork version. Remove the thighs so they can cool down, and while you wait, boil down the chile until it thickens slightly—it should be thick so it doesn't soften the tortilla chips too much.
Once the chicken cools down enough to touch, pull it into shreds and add it to the chile along with fresh cilantro and some salt and pepper.
Now it's nacho time.
The Cheese Sauce
Nachos are only as good as their cheese, and these nachos needed a cheese that could stand up to the chile base. You could just melt on Monterey or pepper Jack, but these nachos need something more creamy than stringy, which means they need cheese sauce.
Using this tried and true method, I whisk together half a pound of grated pepper Jack coated with cornstarch along with a cup of evaporated milk over low heat. Slowly but surely it'll come together into a silky smooth cheese sauce, to which I add some finely chopped pickled jalapeños for extra heat along with a slight tang.
The Avocado Salsa
With a fairly spicy chile and cheese sauce, these nachos need something to temper the heat. Enter a creamy avocado salsa.
For this salsa, I took inspiration from the guasacaca—a Venezuelan avocado sauce—I made a few year back. I start with the flesh of a couple very ripe avocados and process them into a smooth paste along with Mexican crema (which is a lot like crème fraîche), cilantro, garlic, lime juice, and salt. The end result is a cool and creamy sauce that lends a bright citrus note to the nachos.
We're in the home stretch now, but the nachos still need some final details. A few toppings will add a final freshness to the dish. I go with diced onion, roughly chopped cilantro, fresh jalapeño, paper thin slices of radish, and crumbly cotija cheese.
To build your nachos, start with a single layer of chips (fried at home, of course), then a spoonful of cheese sauce and a ladleful of green chile. I drizzle on a layer of avocado salsa as well before adding more chips. Repeat as many times as you like, then finish with the fresh toppings.
Yes, these nachos taste as awesome as they look. There's depth in every bite of chile, with earthy, fruity, and tart flavors too. The cheese sauce adds creaminess while the avocados tame the heat, and the final fixin's add the perfect contrasting fresh crunch.
Okay, but is all this work with it for a plate of nachos? I found myself asking that midway through putting them together, which took two weeknights of work. But I was hooked after one bite, and they're bound to impress a crowd, so if you're looking for an alternative to your standard loaded nachos, these are tough to beat.