Nachos in the microwave? Egad… I suppose I should try it before condemnation, but something seems just a little off with the concept.
Nachos are an art, and though I admit any nachos are better than no nachos, going through life without ever appreciating the depth and range of exquisite goodness would be like going through life thinking McDonalds is the extent of what could be done with beef.
Given the ramifications of ignoring nacho-related cravings, I do keep some Utz or Tostitos on hand, as well as plenty of canned refrieds. But if there’s enough time (i.e., throwing a party), things start with dried pinto beans in a pot and the masa harina in a bowl. Corn tortillas are ridiculously easy to make, it just takes a few trial runs to get the proportions and feel right. Once you get it, you can slap together a batch in under an hour. From there, sliding them into oil to fry into chips creates the perfect foundation.
For the cheese, I generally like to take a couple sharpnesses of cheddar, some jack, colby, and a smattering of gruyere (works almost like a binder) and throw it in the food processor to shred. There are better/different cheeses to select, but these are the basics.
The cheese is where I’ll throw the main spices. The tortillas have some, but I find the flavor flows better when it is embedded in the cheese. One thing to add at this point is a very small amount of vanilla. DO NOT overdue it, as while it won’t necessarily be bad, it will be too distracting. Just enough to release the cumin’s natural undercurrents and complement the cheese.
Assemble the whole thing carefully – the architecture is important because of how the heat, steam, ingredients, and final resting interact. The chips should remain crunchy, stable platforms for heavenly deliverance, not soggy, wobbly limp blankets. The key is to build layers that can breath, not pack things in as tightly as possible.
For each layer, keep a light interlocking matrix of chips. Then deliberately add scoops of your beans, meat, jalapenos, tomato (which you diced and wrapped in a paper towel to absorb excess water), olives, and whatever else you care to add. Deliberately as in you don’t want to throw things on there all willy-nilly. Think about placement in terms of heat, air flow, stability, and how they’re going to be eaten. Add about half the layer’s amount on bare chips, then add a heafty amount of cheese, then the other half of that layer’s toppings, then a slight coating of cheese to hold things together. Repeat for the rest of the layers (how many layers you can reasonably make depends on the size of the tray, and how large/stable your chips are. This is another benefit to making your own chips–in doing so, you can build some amazing creations that maintain crispiness all the way through).
While everything is generally cooked and warmed through before the assembly, there is no way to keep it hot before going in the oven. (Hey look, I’m getting around to the OP!) I put them in at around 250 or so for about seven to twelve minutes. Watch carefully so things don’t dry out – the timing depends on what’s inside your nachos. When everything is beginning to melt/meld, and everything is warmed through, I’ll turn it up to the 400 range to push the melt down. At the very last minute I’ll switch to broiling to give the top a browning (but DO NOT turn your back on the broiler–this is less than a minute!).
And them’s nachos!