Why It Works
- Drizzling the tortilla chips with cheese sauce and then topping with grated cheese guarantees both silky cheese sauce and chewy, stretchy melted cheese in every bite.
- Thinning the refried beans to a just barely pourable consistency prevents dryness in the finished dish and ensures even distribution of the refrieds.
- Drizzling the tortilla chips with Mexican crema and then serving sour cream alongside offers the benefit of both.
- Spreading the tortilla chips in two layers on a baking sheet or baking dish makes it easy to top each one without overloading any of them; a space in the center provides a place for the guac and sour cream without having to mound it on top of the tortilla chips.
When Kenji unveiled his ultimate fully loaded vegan nachos, one of the most remarkable things about it, aside from being incredibly delicious, was that we did not already have a regular, non-vegan fully loaded nachos recipe on the site. (Vegans, if you ever feel like second-class citizens, remember that Serious Eats thought of you first when it came to fully loaded nachos.) Regardless, it seemed like something we should rectify.
The truth is, though, that there wasn't much for me to do. Over the years, Kenji has written definitive articles and recipes on just about every conceivable nacho component, from cheese sauce to guacamole, pico de gallo to home-fried tortilla chips. Add to that my recipe for refried beans, and you have just about everything you'd need to put a big plate of nachos together.
Even so, I went out one day to do a little nacho-eating research in my neighborhood, joined by my old high-school friend, Rona, her husband, Ross, and their insanely adorable baby, Otto. (I may have also packed in a healthy dose of taco-eating non-research, but the story of my incredible appetite will have to wait for another day). My research proved fruitful, because I came away with a few realizations.
The Cheese, Please
My first realization is that fully loaded nachos need both cheese sauce and melted grated cheese. While I love nachos that have just one or the other, any self-respecting ultimate version has to have both because they each bring something different to the dish. The cheese sauce is smooth and silky and easy to drizzle, which means you can practically guarantee getting some of it on each tortilla chip.
The cheese sauce is also a great vehicle for distributing spiciness and acidity. I boosted my version with a healthy dose of Frank's hot sauce and minced pickled jalapeños (I also add plenty of those in slices, but mixing them into the cheese sauce ensures that almost every bite has a pop of that spicy green-chili tang).
The grated cheese, meanwhile, is substantial and deeply satisfying. It's the stuff that, when melted, stretches into indulgently gooey, cheesy strands as you lift the chips.
Including both types of cheese is also my little nod to two critical moments in the history of nachos. First, their invention in the 1940s, when a Mexican maître d' named Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya threw together tortilla chips, jalapeños, and melted Wisconsin cheddar to feed a bunch of Texas army wives; and second, the cheese-sauced baseball-stadium version created by Frank Liberto in the 1970s, a development that helped launch nachos onto the national stage.
Oh, and I also decided to include cotija cheese sprinkled all over the top of the nachos since I couldn't see any reason not to add cheese in as many forms as possible.
The Cream of the Crema
Realization number two is that fully loaded nachos are best with both crema and sour cream. Crema, a type of cultured cream from Mexico, is thinner than sour cream and not quite as tangy. The benefit is that, like the cheese sauce, crema is very easy to drizzle all over the chips instead of falling in blobs like sour cream does. If you own a squeeze bottle, you can load it with crema and squirt it all over the plate like I did.
The sour cream, though, shouldn't be left out—it's thick and tangy, and it brings a cooling effect to counter the spicy and hot ingredients. The key is to serve the sour cream as an optional dip in the middle of the nacho pile, which I'll explain next.
My third realization came courtesy of my nacho-research companions.
"What do you guys think is the most important thing for a great plate of nachos?" I had asked them. Ross thought for a moment, then said, "What I don't like is when you get a plate where the tortilla chips around the edges are easy to grab, but mostly dry, and then the ones in the center are loaded with toppings, but they're so covered that there's no good way to grab them."
Yes, I thought, he's right. The ideal plate of fully loaded nachos has plenty of goodies on all the tortilla chips, but not so much that you have to go up to your knuckles in goop to dig them out.
Now, one way to solve this is to meticulously build each tortilla chip individually. That can be good in some situations, but it's way too involved and precious for a big platter of fully loaded, bar-style nachos like these—plus, I think there's something to be said for the pleasures of hunting for particularly well-topped chips.
Instead, my solution was to spread the tortilla chips in two layers on a small rimmed baking sheet (technically a quarter-sized baking sheet, but you could also use a baking dish), but leave a space in the center.
I coated each layer with enough warm cheese sauce and refried beans (which I had thinned to a pourable consistency) to touch just about every chip without completely drowning them, then topped them with sliced jalapeños, cooked black beans, and lots of grated cheese (I used a combo of sharp cheddar and Monterey jack).
After about five minutes in the oven to warm it through and melt all the cheese, I topped the nachos with drizzles of crema, cotija cheese, pico de gallo, cilantro leaves, and thinly sliced radishes. As for the space in the center, that's where I dropped heaping mounds of guac and sour cream right before serving. The beauty of this is that they can be used as dips without burying a whole bunch of perfectly good nachos underneath.
What About Chili?
I know what you're thinking: If these are fully loaded nachos, why isn't there chili, or at least ground beef?
Well, I hear you, and I too sometimes love meat on my nachos. I actually had a great version with chorizo on my nacho-research endeavor. But I just don't think these need it because they have more than enough going on already. If you want to add it, though, we've got you covered with this amazing chili recipe.
1 1/2 quarts peanut, vegetable, or canola oil
16 fresh corn tortillas, stacked in groups of 8 and cut into 6 wedges each
1 1/2 cups nacho cheese sauce (1 full recipe), flavored with 2 minced pickled jalapeños as per the recipe note
2 cups refried beans (1/2 recipe), thinned with water to a just-pourable consistency
1/2 cup sliced pickled jalapenos
1/2 cup cooked black beans from one (15-ounce) can, drained and rinsed
8 ounces cheddar and/or Monterey Jack cheese, grated
2 cups pico de gallo (1/2 recipe)
1/4 cup Mexican crema
1/4 cup cotija cheese
1/4 cup picked cilantro leaves
1 large radish, very thinly sliced on a mandoline
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 recipe the best basic guacamole
Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Heat oil in a large wok or Dutch oven to 350°F (177°C). Add 1/3 of tortilla chips and cook, agitating and flipping them constantly with a wire mesh spider until bubbles slow to a trickle and chips are pale golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined bowl, season with salt, and toss. Allow to drain for 30 seconds, then transfer to a second bowl. Repeat with remaining chips in 2 more batches.
Layer 1/2 of chips in the bottom of a rimmed 9-by-13-inch baking sheet or baking dish, leaving a large space in the center. Drizzle with 1/2 of cheese sauce and 1/2 of refried beans. Top with 1/2 sliced pickled jalapeños and 1/2 black beans and sprinkle with 1/2 grated cheese.
Layer with remaining 1/2 of chips, maintaining the space in the center. Drizzle with remaining cheese sauce and refried beans. Top with remaining jalapeños and black beans and sprinkle all over with remaining grated cheese. Bake until grated cheese is completely melted, about 5 minutes.
Top with pico de gallo and drizzle all over with crema. Sprinkle cotija on top and garnish with cilantro leaves and radish slices. Mound sour cream and guacamole side-by-side in the space in the center of chips. Serve right away.
You can use as many or as few of the toppings as you wish. High quality store-bought tortilla chips can be used in place of the fresh, but the chips will not stay crisp as long.
This recipe requires that you complete many other recipes before you begin. All recipes except for the guacamole can be completed several days in advance, leaving only the guacamole, fresh radishes and cilantro, and construction for the final day just before serving. If using chilled pre-made toppings, warm them up in the microwave or on the stovetop before applying, adding a little water if necessary to the cheese sauce or refried beans if they are too thick.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 3 to 4|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 98g||125%|
|Saturated Fat 39g||197%|
|Total Carbohydrate 92g||34%|
|Dietary Fiber 17g||62%|
|Total Sugars 12g|
|Vitamin C 29mg||146%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|