Since 2008, Lee Frank and Rachel Anderson have run Nachos NY, a website dedicated to exploring what the duo calls the “ultimate shareable food.” They’ve hosted Tecate-fueled walking tours and a guacamole competition held at a Brooklyn rock club. Those events made them nacho aficionados. We’d even throw out the world authorities. But with the release of their book, Ultimate Nachos, they are now fully loaded nachos experts. The colorful book tackles not just nachos, but salsas, guac and cocktails. But it’s their clever recipes like black and blue burger nachos and nachos with asparagus and Hollandaise sauce that got us most interested. We spoke with the duo about the definition of nachos, and what the hell is up with strawberry, basil and mascarpone entering the equation.
OK, first off, what is a nacho?
Lee: For us, we think that a nacho traditionally has a tortilla chip base, and we of course break that rule a few times in our Irish Nachos by using potatoes as the base, but that is the start. I think that if you look at the food and can tell it’s a nacho — or interpretation of a nacho — then it’s a nacho. From there you need toppings: cheese, veggies, sauces, meats.
So, then, what isn’t a nacho?
Lee: We actually have a rule about this. For a while there was a very popular recipe for healthy apple nachos circulating, but I wouldn’t call those nachos. They could have just as easily been called a healthy sundae. Also, a bowl of tortilla chips are not nachos.
Do you have a preferred brand of nacho chip? And are you going to get all crazy and suggest making your own is a reasonable thing?
Rachel: Making your own is ridiculously easy and tasty. You can season them to your liking, or omit salt all together to make some of our dessert nachos.
Lee: I’d agree that making your own chips is the best way to go, but if you have to buy a bag, don’t buy Doritos.
What was the process like to develop these recipes? How long did it take to craft the 80+ recipes?
Rachel: It took us about two years to really put this book together. We would have weekly pow-wows discussing flavor combos and utilizing different meats and cheeses, while trying to think of how to make already established dishes into nachos — like the Reuben/Rachel and Croque Monsiuer/Croque Madame nachos.
Biggest lesson learned about nachos?
Rachel: We used to be anti-cheese sauce of any kind and now we have a béchamel cheese sauce recipe in the book and it hss made some tasty nachos. Same thing with single chip-style nachos. When we would be reviewing a restaurant, if only eight chips came out individually topped, we’d be angry and feel ripped off. Now we’ve learned there’s different ways to make nachos. Just because it isn’t piled high with chips and topped of with some guacamole doesn’t mean it can’t be a killer plate of nachos.
Biggest nacho fail while testing the recipes?
Rachel: For some reason I was fixated on the idea of a nacho panna cotta and initially I wanted to infuse the milk and cream with crushed corn tortillas. It was hard to eat it and understand what was going on. Not only did it taste bad because it was this chip-flavored milk, but it was panna cotta so it was this gelatinous texture. It was like we were making nachos for people with no teeth and we failed miserably.
Make the case for asparagus on nachos, which you include in the book…
Lee: No one ever said nachos can’t be healthy.
What about nachos with strawberry, basil, mascarpone. I’m skeptical of this…
Rachel: Marscapone is one of those foods you could sit and eat a whole tub of it and not realize (or care) that you just ate 1,000 calories of creamy, delicious cheese. It pairs really well with strawberries. And the basil stands in for the traditional cilantro in this nacho plate. It’s also a great dish-to-pass nacho because you can prep it and bring it to a party and not worry about re-heating or soggy chips. Plus, people don’t think it’s going to be good. They’re like “What? Dessert nachos? Marscarpone? I don’t know if I like that.” And you just know they’re going to eat like 10 of them.
Where are your five favorite places to each nachos?
Lee: Rachel is a fan of Professor Thoms, I like Coppelia, El Maguey Y La Tuna and we both like making nachos at our respective homes. If not, one time we made nachos with Cathy Erway on someone’s rooftop, and that was pretty excellent, too.
Ultimate Nachos comes out today, April 23 and can be ordered via Nachos NY