Take game-day snacking to whole new level.
Queso. The uber popular Tex-Mex staple so ubiquitous in restaurants, bars, and game-day coffee tables across the country.
Personally, I was never a big fan. In my initial queso-eating experiences, I found the stuff was always a two-ingredient concoction of melted processed cheese with canned tomatoes and green chilies. Straight from the microwave, no less.
However, in more recent years, I’ve come to develop a real appreciation for queso cheese sauce—once I realized just how easy it is to make from scratch. From real ingredients with pronounceable names and loads of flavor.
By summer’s end market shelves and gardens are loaded with beautiful, ripe peppers of all shapes and colors, each with its own distinctive flavor and heat profile. People in Colorado seem to be partial to New Mexican green chilis, also called Hatch chilis, in no small part because of our proximity to the growing area. Hatch chilis are one and the same as Anaheim peppers, though the growing conditions of California vs. New Mexico give them each their own unique taste. Regardless of where they’re grown, these chilis are the customary pepper of choice in most queso sauces
While I do appreciate the Anaheim in terms of flavor, my absolute favorite is the poblano, which has a deeper flavor and a less overpowering (but still apparent) heat level. It also boasts the most gorgeous dark green hue and a sturdy flesh that holds up much better to roasting than the traditional green chili. If you’ve ever had chili rellenos, they were most likely made from poblanos.
And it works incredibly well in my queso (aka Cheese Sauce of the Gods).
The poblano lends just the right amount of heat, while the combination of cheeses provides a perfect balance of creaminess and melty goodness, not to mention a pronounced cheesy flavor. This queso is seriously addictive and doesn’t need to be reserved for a basket of tortilla chips (though that sounds beckoning, with the upcoming football season upon us). Serve it alongside raw veggies. Drizzle it over grilled meats, burgers, or steamed veggies. Add it to burritos, tacos, or fajitas. Stir it in with some pasta for an incredible macaroni and cheese (or cauliflower and cheese, for a low-carb version). Since this queso doesn’t have any additional starch or milk, it’s also suitable for low-carb and ketogenic diets.
Be sure to always grate your cheese by hand. Pre-shredded versions are dusted with a coating to prevent the shreds from sticking together, which not only takes us a step away from real food, but also inhibits its melting capabilities. Go figure, since most people who buy pre-shredded cheese are most likely going to melt it.
Make this queso in a double boiler or a large bowl set over a pot of boiling water to diminish the chances of burning the sauce or letting it get too hot, and store leftovers in the fridge to eat chilled as a veggie dip or sandwich spread if you like.
Roasted Poblano Queso
Makes about 2½–3 cups
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
1 large poblano pepper (or 2 small)
2 oz. cream cheese
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup water
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon chili powder
4 oz. queso fresco or feta, shredded
12 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz. Monterey jack cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (plus more for garnish if desired)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Dash cayenne pepper (optional)
Additional chopped roasted pepper, to garnish
- Preheat grill or broiler to high. (Alternately, if you have a gas stove you can roast your pepper directly over the flame of your stovetop.) Roast pepper on all sides until charred. Using tongs, transfer blackened pepper to a bowl and cover with an inverted plate (the steam trapped within will help release the skin). Set aside until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, prepare cheese sauce.
- For cheese sauce: Place cream cheese, cream, water, garlic, and spices in a double boiler or large bowl set over a pot of boiling pot. Bring to a low boil. Reduce heat to low, then add cheeses, one handful at a time, whisking until melted between each addition.
- Meanwhile, peel charred skin from pepper. Cut in half and discard seeds and stem. Dice pepper, then stir into hot, melted queso. Add chopped cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper. If you like more heat, you may add a dash of cayenne pepper to taste. Garnish with additional chopped roasted peppers if desired. Serve immediately, or transfer to a small slow cooker or Crock Pot to keep warm.
Image from Briana Goodall.