There are a lot of cheese-type products on the market. Most have very little cheese, or any dairy, for that matter. They tend to have more ingredients that aren’t actual food than actual food ingredients. Basically, if a “cheese” product can sit on a shelf for years, it probably isn’t cheese in a form you would recognize.
Fear not. Nacho cheese is very easy to make, and once you do you will never go back to that nasty canned stuff.
Nacho cheese sauce is basically four ingredients you probably already have on hand, milk, flour, butter, Cheddar cheese (and salt, of course). We are just making a cream sauce, and adding cheese to it.
Once you get the basics of cheese sauce down the possibilities are endless. You can put anything into the base of the sauce to add flavor, like smoked peppers or different kinds of cheeses. Here is a basic cheese sauce or nacho cheese recipe.
3 cups milk
¼ cup flour
¼ cup butter
3 ½ cups shredded Cheddar cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste
Melt the butter, add the flour. I like to use a high temp rubber spatula to fold the flour and butter together as it helps eliminate lumps, but a whisk works as well. You want the roux (which is what a mix of flour and butter that has been cooked is called) to be the consistency of wet sand. If it’s too loose, like wet peanut butter, add a little more flour. If it’s too stiff, add a little more butter.
Cook for a few minutes over low heat to cook out the flour flavor. Don’t let the mixture darken, if you start to smell a nutty aroma, take the pan off the heat. Allow to cool for a few minutes. Set aside.
Bring the milk to a slow boil, stirring frequently. If you think the bottom may be scorching pour the milk in to a fresh pan, otherwise the scorch will make your sauce bitter and acrid.
Once the milk is starting to come to a boil add the roux, stirring vigorously. If you don’t stir fast enough the sauce will have lumps. If this happens just pour it through a fine mesh strainer.
With the cream sauce on low heat, slowly stir in the shredded cheese. Take your time with this step. If you try to rush it the cheese will clump together and burn on the bottom of the pan.
Taste and adjust. If the sauce is too thick, add some more milk. If it’s too thin, add some more cheese. If you do have to add milk or cheese, remember to taste again, either will affect the flavor.
This is the basic cheese sauce. As you see, it’s just Cheddar. This is good for people who don’t want their sauce spicy, just cheesey.
Now let’s add some heat! There are a few different ways to do this.
The easiest way to add heat quickly is to use pickled jalapenos. Add as many slices as you want, but be sure to add some of the pickle juice as this has a lot of flavor.
Another easy way to spice it up quickly is to add canned green chilis. They don’t have much heat, but if you dice the chilis and let them steep in the sauce for a while they do have good flavor.
The quickest way to heat up your sauce is to add a few dashes of a hot sauce. These are the easiest ways, but let’s get creative.
A fun way to add some flair to your sauce is to add a peppered cheese to the sauce, like a good pepper Jack. Cut the Cheddar in the above recipe to 2 cups Cheddar and add 1 and ½ cups pepper Jack.
You can add different peppers, or even try roasting peppers and adding those. I like to roast Poblano and Anaheim peppers over an open flame until they are thoroughly blackened.
Then I wrap them in plastic wrap for 5-10 minutes. I use an old towel to remove the blackened layer by just wiping it off. Then I dice them and add the peppers and the delicious juice from the cutting board to the sauce.
Here is a recipe I use when I make nachos for friends who like heat. It’s called salsa con queso, or sauce with cheese, but it’s more like cheese with a little salsa.
Sean’s Salsa con Queso
2 cups milk
¼ cup flour
¼ cup butter
2 cups Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 ½ cups pepper Jack cheese, shredded
1 Anaheim pepper, roasted and dice
1 Poblano pepper, roasted and diced
1 cup hot salsa.
Prepare the same way as the Cheddar cheese sauce recipe, but add the peppers and salsa after the sauce is built, otherwise it’s difficult to remove lumps.
Let the sauce simmer on a very low heat for at least 10 minutes after all ingredients are added, just make sure you don’t scorch the bottom. Enjoy!