Nachos are a tailgating staple, whether that tailgate happens in a parking lot or in your living room. What’s the role of nachos? What’s their identity within a tailgating universe? Eat your way down the rabbit hole of sports-related snacks and rediscover the real meaning of this hearty foodstuff.
Nachos date back at least to the colonization of the new world. Ancient conquistadors took the snack from the Aztecs and used it to placate local deities after leaving a trail of destruction. Beans or crushed vegetables were sprinkled atop the nachos and left to bake under the sun. A few of the more irreverent explorers began spreading and reinventing the recipe, passing down specific family blends; often as an heirloom on their deathbeds. As a result, the modern world has many overlapping and even contradictory nacho traditions.
Today, nachos are a beautiful, unassuming, self-contained hybrid dish. Are they a supplemental snack or are they their own entree? Yes, and yes. Can they complement a meal or grace a buffet of lighter finger foods? Again, yes and yes. Nachos are one of the more versatile foods around. It’s just a matter of doing them right.
If you’re ready to tackle the art of nachos (which we’re almost certain you are), consider these options:
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Breadth over depth. A nacho buried under several others, so deep that you pull it out with just a dab of cheese on one corner, only leads to disappointment. Ever bite into a chocolate chip cookie and miss all the chips? That’s the level of disappointment we’re talking about. To avoid the tailgate heartache, spread the nachos out so there is some overlap, but not too much. It can be tempting to get overzealous about quantity when preparing such a crowd-pleasing snack. In that case, opt for several plates of nachos rather than some sort of Mount Everest of sedimentary nacho layers.
Start with the basics. Maybe you’re the one person on planet Earth who has never had nachos. This paragraph is for you, though eaters in general deserve a hearty reminder. A plate of nachos should include sturdy tortilla chips, beans, salsa/jalapenos and cheese (freshly grated if possible). A meaty protein (ground beef, steak, chicken, etc.) is almost a given as well. Put the strange or niche toppings/sauces on the side. Some people just won’t be into them.
Load up cheese and vegetables. You’ll be hard-pressed to put too much cheese on a plate of nachos. When was the last time you heard: “These nachos are good, but I just wish there wasn’t quite so much gooey cheddar cheese melted on top!” Cheese is like glue for nachos… delicious, delicious glue that holds together all the ingredients. And that means more food in your mouth and less in your lap. Nachos also make vegetables acceptable in a tailgating environment. Even teeth-gnashing carnivores grow strangely accepting of greenery when presented on a plate of nachos. That’s part of the allure: people feel like they’re eating healthy.
If these basic design suggestions do not satisfy, consider a world record. On April 21, 2012, University of Kansas set the Guinness world record for the largest plate of nachos. Pictures reveal it was actually a trough: 80 feet long, two feet wide and 10 inches deep. Sounds like good material for an eating competition…
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Justin Poythress has a prodigious palate enjoying all things food, from the fast to the extreme. His work and latest food adventures can be found on Examiner.com.