Super Bowl smackdown: Nachos vs. nachos

Potato Chip Nachos With Chipotle Beef (left) vs. Tostadas With Chorizo, Tangy Guacamole and Fresh Cheese (right).
Potato Chip Nachos With Chipotle Beef (left) vs. Tostadas With Chorizo, Tangy Guacamole and Fresh Cheese (right). (Michael Temchine For The Washington Post)
By Bonnie S. Benwick and Joe Yonan
Wednesday, February 3, 2010

As far as we're concerned, the most egregious fouls committed during Sunday's Super Bowl will involve tortilla chips and melted cheese.

Nachos are championship party food, to be sure: cheap, easy and sociable. But once the best bites come off the top and the cheese congeals, things get ugly. We agreed that a better game plan was in order.

In previous years, Joe has played positions of Texan, traditionalist and purist in our smackdowns over chili, guacamole and meat snacks. This year, he chose to run an anti-nacho pattern. He called chef-restaurateur Rick Bayless, who coached him through a recipe for tostadas built like tlayudas, the famous street food of Oaxaca, Mexico. The huge corn tortillas are grilled on both sides, brushed with lard, then topped and cut into pizzalike wedges.

Bayless's version calls for six-inch tortillas, a thinned guacamole sauce, crumbled cooked chorizo and judiciously applied queso fresco. Simple. Guests can grab one and go. And while the tostadas may overlap slightly on a platter, no ref would throw a flag for piling on. The tostadas pack a spicy punch and will remain crisp through four quarters plus a halftime show with the Who. The same technique can be applied to all manner of combinations: grilled shrimp with black beans (or a smooth bean puree), or perhaps carnitas and pickled onions drizzled with a smoky salsa.

Bonnie spent the past three contests trying to reverse the status quo, and the strategy for Super Bowl XLIV is no different. Her nachos could remain en masse, but they would need crunch, coverage and heat. Those elements couldn't come from a corny base, soggy toppings and rubbery jalapeño slices.

David Suarez, culinary director of Rosa Mexicano, offered up the X's and O's of a recipe created for the restaurant chain's current Real Men Cook Mexican festival. The nachos start with thick-cut potato slices fried golden brown and crisp. Transferred to the largest platter you've got, they form a wide playing field for layers of flavor: a garlicky herbed oil, chopped braised boneless short ribs deepened by a tinga (cooked vegetable base), scattered hits of Mexican blue cheese, a crunchy jalapeño slaw, cooling crema, chopped scallions and -- wait for it -- julienne strips of pickled morita chili peppers.

Not simple. And at some point, utensils need to be called in. But these nachos welcome substitutions, depending on the strength of your culinary bench: Use kettle chips or wedges of baked corn tortillas instead of frying your own potatoes. Skip the garlicky oil and reduce the calorie count. Add cooked beans, roasted red peppers and marinated artichoke hearts to the tinga instead of beef. Choose a milder cheese such as a dry Jack instead of a salty Cabrales or Valdeon.

If classic nachos are more your speed, see our list of tips for ways to raise that game. The snack might have sprung from a Hail Mary attempt long ago by a desperate restaurateur just across the Rio Grande, but Americans continue to top nachos in winning ways. Except for the goopy ones sold at stadiums, which should be banned from all sports.


Potato Chip Nachos With Chipotle Beef (Nachos de Patata con Tinga de Rez)

Tostadas With Chorizo, Tangy Guacamole and Fresh Cheese


Tips for improving your nachos

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