By PAUL SIDORIAK
Nachos. Can you remember the first time you had nachos?
I think mine was at a New Haven Nighthawk’s hockey game in Connecticut back in about third grade. As a youngster, I was no stranger to game-time concessions and was fortunate that my dad would take me to regional sporting events from time to time.
Semi-pro hockey games were always a fun event, and at that age it was a welcomed sensory overload. From the moment you pull into the parking garage, vendors offer up concessions to enhance your less-than-professional hockey experience.
In hindsight, it would have cost a small fortune if our parents had given in to every impulsive game time commemorative puck, program, or novelty hockey sweater that we kids just had to have. Generally, the sporting event was a great opportunity for Mom to get a night off from cooking and we would catch some dinner at the game. Normally, I would go with a hot dog and some roasted peanuts because I got to just throw the shells on the ground.
But once, I impulsively set precedent for other eight-year-olds and ordered The Nacho. It came in a molded plastic tray that was chock full of round, yellow, crispy chip thingies which were warm to the touch and glistened with salt crystals. Like a sidecar affixed to a motorcycle, the tray had a solitary compartment about the size of a hockey puck, corralling a creamy, spicy cheese sauce which was almost too hot to touch and a color reminiscent of George Washington’s wooden dentures. It did not take a lot of explaining: Dip the hot chip into the warm dip and be prepared for a flavor explosion fit for a kid well beyond my years.
My nacho evolution progressed as my tastes matured. It did not take long for me to despise the canned, liquid, faux cheese and upgrade to real cheese that melts. Today, when I make nachos, I still get excited like I did when I was eight, but now I express my independence creatively with fun and often non-traditional nacho toppings.
The nacho can be a fantastic catch-all for yummy leftovers and works especially well with extras that were previously grilled. There are a couple of unique benefits of making nachos on the grill.
The first is one of the most common benefits of using the grill in the summertime: You don’t have to swelter up your kitchen in the heat of summer to make roasted dishes. The other is that it brings an additional layer of flavor that you just cannot get from using the oven in the kitchen. Previously-grilled steaks, burgers, chicken, pork chops, and even paella all work well as toppings for nachos on the grill.
Dice the left-over protein into bite-size pieces. The grill will heat the nachos hot and fast, and by cutting your meat to a uniform size, it re-heats the meat without toughening it up or drying it out.
If possible, I like to make nachos with a modified indirect method of grilling. I generally use a pizza pan that I get at the dollar store covered in foil coated with non-stick spray. As a warning, the grill can trash pans and dishes, so I often hit a thrift or dollar store for the pans I put on the grill.
I make sure that the pan will fit on the grill with the lid closed, then I will put a couple of bricks down on the grill grate and let the grill heat up. The bricks will heat up and radiate a more consistent heat while getting the food higher up vertically in the grill. Getting your nachos closer to the lid will promote cooking from both the top and the bottom, which should cook everything in unison.
Preparing the nachos for grilling is a loose, three-step process.
I like to start with a base layer of chips that cover the foiled pan as best as possible with some overlap. Sprinkle a good base layer of shredded cheese on the foundation of chips. If I have the means, I will use a combination of a nice grated Vermont aged cheddar, and Monterey jack or pepper jack cheeses. But any Mexican or jack blend of pre-shredded cheeses works really well.
After the cheese is down, I add a relatively sparse layer of toppings. This is where grilled leftovers really can make nachos unique and fun. I have been known to use grilled leftover toppings like shrimp, brats, corn cut off the cob, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and even halibut as a way to clean out the fridge and up the flavor.
Make a second layer of chips with at least twice the amount you used before. Don’t be as concerned with them sitting uniformly and flat. Now you can add toppings until your heart burns with content. I suggest a little restraint though because too much topping will result in un-even cooking and soggy nachos.
Cover your creation with a final blanket of cheese. Liberal applications should melt down thru the layers allowing the flavor of the toppings to share and play nice with one and other.
They should only take about five to seven minutes on the grill, but cooking time can vary. You can tell when they are done because the top and base layers of cheese will both be melted. I prefer to let mine get a little well-done. You will notice that the exposed chips can brown quite rapidly, so be careful not to char them too much. When you are content with the cooking, you can always add toppings like sour cream, guacamole, salsa, olives, and green onions. I prefer to add Sriracha hot sauce and chives to mine because I often have them on hand. However, the hot dish is often too hard to resist and final toppings become an afterthought.
Once you try nachos on the grill, your kitchen oven might just turn into a good place to store cookbooks.
Check out Paul’s other tasty summer grilling recipes, Spatch Cock Grilled Chicken, The Best Burger Grill-Off Competition, and Carne Asada Fajitas with Grilled Veggies, and stay tuned for more delicious grilling recipes all summer long!
Paul moved to Montana in 1996 with about a dozen friends from Lyndon State College in Vermont. He is still reluctantly paying his student loans and has carved out a career working as a supplier representative for various food and beverage products.
Paul enjoys grilling after a day on the water or an afternoon in the garden, where he has been known to grow heirloom tomatoes and peppers out of spite. Often cooking for extended family and friends, he takes a whimsical approach to cooking simple, seasonal dishes, while not taking it too seriously.
You can read more of Paul’s grilling recipes at his blog site, Montana Mise en Place.