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How To Build The Perfect Plate Of Nachos

01/31/2013 09:56 am ET | Updated Apr 02, 2013
Flickr: KittyKaht

By Andrew Knowlton, Bon Appétit

The secret to great nachos? The architecture. Andrew Knowlton shares his guide to the layering, balancing, and copious amounts of cheese behind the perfect Super Bowl snack.

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(Credit: Christina Holmes)

Nachos may flourish in sports bars alongside jalapeño poppers and chicken tenders, but I give them the consideration of a four-star meal. You can't just dump chips and cheese together and expect crunchy-melty-salty-spicy excellence. After years of experimenting for my annual nacho party (held during one very big football game), I've landed on a few rules for each component.

The Five Keys To Reaching Nacho Nirvana

THE CHIP
The ideal specimen is medium-thick. Greasy, thin versions--like the ones some restaurants fry in-house--won't hold up here. I'm into Tostitos Simply Natural chips.

THE CHEESE
Liquid cheese, the kind that comes in a side compartment at the concession stand, tastes like candle wax. Gruyere? Save it for grilled cheese. I go for a blend of sharp yellow cheddar and Monterey Jack; they melt well and aren't overpowering.

THE MEAT
You want shredded or pulled meat for easy building and eating. Pork is my gold standard--it crisps up nicely but remains juicy under blasts of cheese-melting heat. Try our carnitas, or buy pulled pork from a barbecue joint. Omitting the meat is fine, too; just don't anger the nacho gods with tofu.

THE FIXINGS
As with any dish, balance is paramount. Meat and cheese beg for heat, freshness, and acidity. So I finish with radishes and cilantro and set out jalapeños, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream for garnishing.

THE STRATEGY
Nachos leave room for personal preferences (switch up the fixings, use a different chip), but proper assembly is nonnegotiable. Start with a baking sheet: You need surface area, plus it makes a statement to present a tray of nachos that generous. Spread out a layer of chips, followed by an even distribution of meat and beans, then lots--I mean lots--of cheese. Complete coverage guarantees you don't commit the cardinal sin of nacho making: the sad chip with no topping. Repeat until you have an impressive tray a few layers high, then bake. Pour yourself a Margarita, let guests yank out a cheesy chipful, and watch them go nuts.

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Nachos with All the Fixings
Recipe by Chris Morocco
12 servings
Active: 1 1/2 hours
Total: 2 1/4 hours

Ingredients
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
3 9-ounce bags tortilla chips
Beer-Braised Carnitas
2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed
1 large white onion, chopped
3 pounds shredded cheese (such as sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack)
8 ounces Cotija cheese or feta, crumbled
1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced
1 fresh cilantro leaves

Toppings (choose from the following)
Charred Tomatillo Salsa
Dried Chile Salsa
Pickled jalapeños
Pico de gallo
Guacamole
2 cups sour cream, thinned with 1/3 cup water
Hot pepper sauce

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350°. Coat 2 large rimmed baking sheets with nonstick spray. Dividing evenly between baking sheets, layer chips, carnitas, beans, onion, and shredded cheese, mounding in the center. DO AHEAD: Nachos can be assembled up to 1 hour before baking.

Working with 1 sheet at a time, bake until cheese is melted, 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle with Cotija cheese, radishes, and cilantro. Serve with desired toppings.

This story originally appeared on Bon Appétit's website.