Three ingredients were the key to my survival in college: tortilla chips, shredded cheddar and chunky salsa. Armed with a Chevron card borrowed from my father, I would charge anything and everything under the sun, except actual gasoline. My starving-student diet consisted of Dr. Pepper, chocolate milk, hot dogs, bologna and, yes, even “homemade” nachos. Hey, beggars can’t be choosers.
I’ve come a long way since those junk-food days (well, depending on who you ask), yet those trashy nachos still remain firmly rooted in my culinary arsenal. It often humors my boyfriend when I return home ravenous from a late night at work and immediately pull the chips from the cabinet. Even with a fridge full of more civilized ingredients, sometimes all a girl wants is something fattening and familiar. But before you judge, just think about your favorite nostalgic treats. Come on, I know there has to be a dirty secret lurking somewhere in your refrigerator.
Fortunately, I’ll spare you the “recipe” for that ol’ heat-and-eat mess. I’ve decided to give nachos the old college try, and I think even the haters out there will approve of this Southern-style update. Imagine slow-cooked pulled pork drizzled with sweet-and-tangy barbecue sauce and ladled with creamy cheddar. It’s finished off with cilantro-sour cream, pickled jalapenos and a sprinkling of queso fresco. Each of the components is delicious in its own right, but paired together you get something truly sublime. The only way these nachos could get any better is if they’re washed down with an ice-cold beer. And that, my friends, is how to earn a culinary diploma!
This recipe can be as simple or complex as you’d like. Feeling lazy? Just pick up some smoked pork at your favorite barbecue house and add your favorite sauce. If you only do one thing, though, by all means make the cheddar sauce from scratch. You’ll never go back to the neon-yellow box again. Trust me, you’re conscience (and your taste buds) will thank you for it.
Pulled Pork Nachos
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 3 hours and 30 minutes (including oven time for pulled pork)
Yield: 4 – 6
For the nachos:
1 bag good-quality tortilla chips
2 cups warm Pulled Pork (recipe below)
Cheddar Cheese Sauce (recipe below), to taste
Barbecue Sauce (recipe below), to taste
Cilantro-Sour Cream (recipe below)
Queso fresco or Cotija cheese, crumbled
To assemble the nachos, arrange the tortilla chips on a large serving platter. Pile with warm pulled park. Drizzle barbecue and cheddar sauce over the top, to taste. Garnish with pickled jalapenos and crumbled queso fresco. Serve with cilantro-sour cream , salsa verde and hot sauce on the side.
For the Pulled Pork :
3 1/2 – 4-pound, bone-in pork butt, fat intact (also known as pork shoulder)
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 cup lager-style beer (like Budweiser)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon liquid smoke
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
First, make the spice rub. Whisk together the paprika, kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, mustard powder and cayenne. Massage the spice rub into the pork butt, coating on all sides.
Place the rubbed pork in a large Dutch oven; add beer, cider vinegar and liquid smoke. Cover and cook for approximately 3 hours, basting occasionally, until the pork easily falls apart. Remove the pork to a large cutting board while still hot. Cut off excess fat and carefully shred the meat; it is harder to pull once it has cooled. (I either wear heavy-duty rubber gloves on my hands or use my new “bear paws,” but two large forks would work, too.) Place the shredded pork back into the Dutch oven and toss with its cooking juices. Cover and set aside until moving forward with the recipe. Yields: 1-1/2 to 2 pounds pulled pork, depending on the amount of fat and bone on the cut.
To reheat, cook the barbecue (in its Dutch oven) over medium-low heat until warm. If you want crispier shredded pork (more like your favorite barbecue house), reheat it on the stovetop first, then spread it on a sheet pan and pop it under the broiler for a few minutes, watching carefully so it does not burn.
For the Cheddar Cheese Sauce :
1 cup (8 ounces) evaporated milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
Kosher salt, to taste
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the eggs and evaporated milk. Turn heat to medium-low; add mustard powder, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and half of the shredded cheese. Once the cheese sauce begins to warm, add the cornstarch-water mixture (aka the slurry). Whisking frequently, gradually add the remaining cheese and cook until the sauce reaches desired thickness, about 10 – 13 minutes. (The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools. Stir in more evaporated milk if necessary.) Season generously with kosher salt.
To reheat the cheddar sauce , add additional evaporated milk to the cheese — one tablespoon at a time — while whisking over medium-low heat until desired consistency is reached. Yields: 2 cups sauce
For the Barbecue Sauce :
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup steak sauce or marinade (such as Dale’s or Allegra)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon liquid smoke
Generous amount of freshly ground pepper
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the remaining ingredients, whisking to combine. Bring the sauce to a boil; reduce heat and simmer. Cook until the mixture is thickened, approximately 10 minutes. (This barbecue sauce only gets better with time, so feel free to make it a few days in advance.) Yields: 2 cups sauce
For the Cilantro-Sour Cream Sauce :
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice (about half a lime)
Kosher salt, to taste
In a small bowl, mix the sour cream, cilantro and lime juice until well combined. Season with salt, to taste. Chill for at least one hour before serving. Add more lime juice and salt before serving, if desired.
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Nealey moved from Alabama to the West Coast to follow her dreams, only to realize once there how much she missed good ol’ country cooking. So she took to the kitchen and began re-creating the dishes of her past, but this time without any help from a can. What started out as a hobby turned into an obsession, so she quit her day job to pursue cooking, and eating, fulltime. Dixie Caviar is where you can follow her pursuits of all things Southern.