I like food with a history and although I have known about nachos for quite some time (and nachos were really part of my life for quite some time), I never knew the origin story. Thank god for Wikipedia. Did you know that nachos originated in the city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico (just over the border from Eagle Pass, Texas) in 1943? Here’s how the Wikipedia tale goes:
The wives of U.S. soldiers stationed at Fort Duncan in nearby Eagle Pass were in Piedras Negras on a shopping trip, and arrived at the restaurant after it had already closed for the day. The maître d’hôtel, Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, invented a new snack for them with what little he had available in the kitchen: tortillas and cheese. Anaya cut the tortillas into triangles, fried them, added shredded cheddar cheese, quickly heated them, added sliced pickled jalapeño peppers and served them. When asked what the dish was called, he answered, “Nacho’s especiales”. As word of the dish traveled, the apostrophe was lost, and Nacho’s “specials” became “special nachos”.
Thank you Nacho, or should I say, “Gracias Sr. Anaya” (he deserves the respect). The man changed the world from his kitchen with just some tortillas, some cheese and good old fashioned ingenuity. That could have gone a whole different direction. What if he had told those hungry Army wives the kitchen was closed? What if he just gave them tortillas and Spam? The whole delicious world of nachos may have never come into existence. I don’t want to live in a world without nachos.
Celebrating this would be easy. The only issue was that Lola is out of town this week, so I am home alone. There are great places in town for nachos (the Brick Alley Pub have some of the best nachos I have ever tasted and I hear good things about Fieldstones pulled pork nachos too). My problem was that I didn’t feel like sitting at a bar alone and eating nachos. I wanted to just enjoy them at home like any self-respecting man would when his wife is away (in his underwear, on the couch, watching football). The problem with getting nachos to go however is they don’t travel well. You have eat them hot. You have about a five minute window before the cheese starts to harden. When we used to get nachos to go, we would get them “prepped, no fire” which meant the restaurant would make them, but not cook them. I would put them in the oven when I got home so they’d be cooked to order for us. While it’s easy enough to do, it’s hard to order over them that way over the phone, so not really an option for today.
In the end, Cumberland Farms had the answer (as often they do). I made a quick run up the street and picked up everything I needed. There are really two kind of nachos in the world. The one we get in restaurants which are topped with cheese and all sorts of various toppings that they bake in the oven and then usually get garnished with some kind of veggie and served with salsa, sour cream and guacamole. Then there are the quick nachos which are tortilla chips topped with a melted cheese sauce. These are the kind you get at the movies or at various concession stands. They are pretty easy to recreate at home, so I did.
It’s really just a bag of tortilla chips and a little canister of nacho cheese (both Lay’s products). You microwave the cheese for about 15 seconds and pour it over the nachos (save some for dunking too). These are what nachos are to a lot of people. I myself still like the restaurant kind, but I’m never going to turn my nose up at melty cheese. On occasion, if we are particularly hungry at the movies, Lola will get these nachos as her snack and it’s fun to watch her crunch away on them in the flicker of a movie in an otherwise darkened theater. Sometimes there will be a quiet moment in the movie and the whole theater will be hushed and on the edge of their seat, and then you hear Lola’s nacho crunch and her little laugh afterwards when she hears herself crunching. The key to these nachos at the movies, and this is a Lola tip, is getting an extra serving of cheese because inevitably you run out of cheese before you run out of chips. Always ask for an extra cheese and you have yourself a backup plan. It’s the only way to go.
These were good, but I still felt like I was coming up short on my nacho celebration. But, I too had a backup plan. Later in the night, I made some of the other kind of nachos. Making nachos at home is always easy, you just have to make sure you cover all with cheese and watch closely. I usually make them on a sheet pan so there’s plenty for Lola and I, but because it was just me, I decided to make them Chili’s style which is to build them on each chip. I got the oven preheated and then spread out ten big tortilla chips. I spread some canned refried beans on each chip, topped it in a chicken and salsa mixture I had whipped together from leftovers, then covered each chip with cheese. They cooked in about ten minutes after which I loaded them onto a plate with a side of sour cream and salsa. Not my best work, but getting the job done.
I would have loved to have topped them with some fresh greens or even some chopped scallions, but Cumby’s was a little light on the fresh produce today. Building your nachos on each chip solves the issue of the rogue chips that end up with nothing on them. This way, every chip has everything you need right on top. I think I used a bit too much beans but the beans give the chip the heft you are looking for and really make the whole bite come together. As always, a little more cheese would have been ok too. They were good. Nothing that I would bring to party, but a perfect snack for being home alone in your underwear watching The Walking Dead.
Nacho parties are always fun, no matter where you are or who you are with. They are a food that deserves to be celebrated more. And although my celebration was a little lonely, I could still enjoy it. This is the 73rd year that nachos have been around and the possibilities are still as endless as ever. Today I was like those Fort Duncan wives. I was alone, hungry and no place to turn. Then like a ghost from the past, Nacho Anaya reached out to me and showed me the way to a great snack.
Gracias Sr. Anaya. Gracias indeed.
Next Up: National Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day