Those of us who have spent time at sporting events, movie theaters, or amusement parks have probably eaten our fair share of sad concession nachos. You know, the stale round chips topped with "beef" and neon cheese served from a pump. And while these will certainly fill your belly, they're a far cry from even remotely decent nachos. But making a plate of concession stand-inspired nachos at home transforms a junky meal into something worthy of feeding friends.
Lee Frank and Rachel Anderson's Ball Park Nachos in Ultimate Nachos is one of the best ways to do so. Their take calls for a base of spice-laden picadillo, studded with raisins. They pile this mixture atop chips and then douse the whole thing in a bechamel-based cheddar cheese sauce. Sour cream, pickled japaleños, and pico de gallo add punch and brightness to finish.
Why I picked this recipe: It'd be impossible to cook from a nachos cookbook and skip a recipe with ground beef and oozing cheese sauce.
What worked: Sloppy, spicy, and gooey, this recipe hits all of those guilty pleasure points of concession stand nachos, but with much sharper flavor and better ingredients. It's a finger-licker.
What didn't: I thought the picadillo had too much dried spice flavor going on. Next time, I'd either hold back on the chili powder or else bloom it in the rendered beef fat before adding the remaining ingredients. Or both. Be careful with your choice of cheddar in the cheese sauce, too. Too sharp and it won't melt well. If you want to to use an aged cheese, round it out with some monterey jack to ensure smooth meltability.
Suggested tweaks: These are the kind of nachos that can take just about any of your favorite toppings. Pinto beans would be a nice addition, as would a fat scoop of guac and slivers of pickled red onions. Seriously, though. You could top the picadillo and cheese sauce with virtually anything and be super happy.
Reprinted with permission from Ultimate Nachos: From Nachos and Guacamole to Salsas and Cocktails by Lee Frank and Rachel Anderson, copyright 2013. Published by St. Martin's Griffin. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1 pound ground beef
- One (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, with their juices
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- Salt and black pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, diced
- 1 onion, diced
- 1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
- Juice of 1 lime
- 7 ounces corn tortilla chips, approximately half of a store-bought bag, or, if prepared fresh, use 15 corn tortillas, each cut into 6 triangles
- Picadillo (above)
- Béchamel Cheese Sauce, made with cheddar, warmed
- 1/4 cup jarred pickled jalapeño peppers (optional)
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- Simple Pico de Gallo
To make the picadillo: Soak the raisins in water for 20 minutes to plump. Drain the liquid from the raisins before using.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook the beef over medium heat until browned, making sure to break up any lumps. Drain the excess grease from the ground beef.
Stir in the diced tomatoes with their juices and the chili powder, cinnamon, and cumin. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook the beef-tomato mixture for 8 to 10 minutes over medium-low heat until the liquid has reduced by half.
Add the garlic, onion, and peppers. Cook until the vegetables are tender and all of the liquid has cooked off, about 15 minutes. Stir in the drained raisins and lime juice.
To assemble the nachos: Layer the tortilla chips in a 9 x 13-inch roasting pan. Evenly distribute the picadillo mixture over the tortilla chips, then cover the chips with the cheese sauce.
Garnish with the pickled jalapeños, if using, and serve with sour cream and the pico de gallo.