I’ve been thinking about nachos a lot lately. Not in a “I kinda feel like nachos” way (though that, too), but more from a curiosity standpoint.
You see, I’ve come to the realization that no other food can provide as much immediate, relevant information about a person or place. I’m confident that, with a little tweaking, a nacho cook-off would be infinitely more accurate than a police line-up at identifying an offender. Entire FBI profiles could be built based on choice and order of toppings. D.B. Cooper would have been caught by now, is what I’m saying.
Here’s an example. Have you ever been to a bar or restaurant that’s served the “broiled cheese on chips” variant? The kind that has the half-life of a subatomic particle before it congeals into an intractable clump? I’d wager the other food at that establishment probably gets the same lack of thought and care and planning, it’s just more painfully obvious in nacho-form.
That’s not to say the peak of nacho-dom is high-end, fancy ingredients. Equally obnoxious is the plate of “bistro” fare, piled high in an impressive tower, with explosive tufts of wilted lettuce and a few dabs of guacamole or sour cream or pico, but digging in looks like a dystopian society where ninety percent of the chips get nothing and the other ten disintegrate into soggy sludge. This kind of place probably charges extra for fries on the side, and has a $17.00 flavorless burger the size of your head.
The other reason I’ve been thinking about nachos is because I love them. And I’m genuinely horrified at the state of nacho cookery in modern society. WHY ARE THEY SO BAD SO OFTEN?
Well, after a lot of pacing and ranting and concerned looks from my loved ones, I think I’ve solved the problem. I present: the 10Chickens Unified Theory of Nachos
First up, there are two families of nachos: the “bistro” kind, and the “stadium” variant. Neither is superior to the other, but the real nacho nirvana (nachovana?) lies between them.
NOTE: There is also a disturbing third category of “every chip is its own nacho.” This is an abomination, and the people purveying these hate fun and are the enemies of all good things.
Anyway, the bistro nachos use fresh ingredients, usually have shredded cheese that’s broiled onto the chips, and are finished with higher-end condiments like that guac and sour cream we were talking about. But, they run afoul of the wealth distribution problem, and the congealing-clump contingency. And they’re usually disproportionately expensive.
The stadium approach uses a melted cheese sauce (or even the mysterious food-adjacent product: “nacho cheese”), pickled jalapenos, and maybe nothing else. They have the salt content of a Maine winter road, and tend to go soggy. They are ALSO disproportionately expensive because you’re probably eating them at a sporting event or a movie theater (you monster).
Rule One: The perfect nachos look profane. When you order them, people at other tables should recoil a little in horror, then steal increasingly-frequent furtive glances, ignoring their companions, until they finally blurt out “HEY YOU GUYS WANNA SPLIT SOME NACHOS.”
Rule Two: The perfect nachos are evenly layered. This is the one that really gets me, because it’s a tiny bit of extra effort that pays immeasurable dividends in the end product. Take the extra five minutes to layer and broil, then layer and broil.
Rule Three: The perfect nachos have a wet-hot component. This can be a cheese sauce, this can be chili. This can be beans, it can be whatever. But you need a wet-hot layer in there to keep the other cheese from congealing into a lump. What’s that? Yes, the perfect nachos have cheese broiled onto the chips which act as a water sealant against the wet-hot ingredient, which in turn keeps the broiled cheese warm and stretchy. IT’S SYMBIOSIS.
Rule Four: The perfect nachos have a cold ingredient, like sour cream or pico. There needs to be a balance to the screamin’ hot melty stuff. Likewise, there needs to be a balance of spicy to cool (like pickled jalapenos to lettuce).
That’s it. Four rules to nacho bliss, and to keep your guests from presuming you’re secretly embezzling funds or ripping the tags off of mattresses or whatever.