We take what we love about most about nachos (crunchy chips and an unapologetic amount of cheese) and loaded them up with the best flavors of summer. Grilled corn, fresh tomatoes, avocado, pickled radishes and shredded chicken with bourbon-brown sugar BBQ sauce.
I don’t know about you, but spring was something of a damp squib. It seemed to rain pretty solidly throughout April and May (you know the old rhyme: “April showers, May even more showers, let’s just forget about June entirely”) and while the garden is now as lush as it’s been in years (“July – finally! – flowers”), we hadn’t had much of a chance before the outset of summer to get out there and enjoy it. Now, at last, the heat is on, the tees and shorts are in rotation, and we’re fully into the swing of the season.
So we wanted to celebrate with something that represented all the things we love about summer eating. The flavors of outdoor grilling and BBQ. The fresh seasonal produce like corn and tomatoes. The potential for spending an evening on the deck with friends and easily-shareable finger food. Wasps. (Just kidding, we hate wasps.) And so our mind, as it often does, turns to nachos. Now, there may be many of you for whom nachos are irrevocably twinned with cool weather sports events or movies. And that’s fair enough – you’re in front of the TV, and you want something you can make a meal of without tearing your eyes away from the action. But for us, celebrating summer means taking it outside. (Also, we’re terrible game-night dunces, and only annoy our more sporty friends with idiot questions such as “How do they choose which team has the brightest socks?”)
Note: This recipe is part of our ongoing collaboration with Serious Eats.
There’s nothing fundamentally seasonal about nachos – the typical toppings of beans and cheese, after all, are available all year round. But those heavy ingredients can load down something which, we think, works just as well with lighter elements – some fresh summer bounty, say. One way of doing that is to effectively deconstruct both the pico and guacamole and leave the veggies fresh and roughly chopped.
With corn and tomatoes now in full swing, we use them pretty much any chance we get. They are, for us, the sigil of the House of Summer. Our tomatoes are going gangbusters this year, but garden corn has always eluded our skills, so we leave that to the experts and pick some up at the farmers market. The other departure we’re making from tradition is to take out the beans and bring in easy shredded chicken with our homemade bourbon & brown sugar barbecue sauce.
As for the process, the first thing we do is pickle some sliced radish to sprinkle over the baked dish. While it’s optional, we really like how it adds a vinegary bite – and of course, color – to the assembly. If you can, make them a day or two ahead to really maximize the tang! We do warn you that after a few days in the fridge, you’ll probably get quite a pickle aroma coming off the jar, but if you like more of a kick, there’s nothing wrong with giving the mixture a little longer to mature. Any standard red radish is fine – no need to spend extra money on the fancy varieties.
You can also make the barbecue sauce a day ahead if you prefer. At this stage of the year, we like to slather BBQ flavors on pretty much anything we can get away with. This bourbon brown sugar sauce is one of our favorites – it has sweetness from the sugar and molasses, and enough savory flavors to balance them out. And of course, the bourbon, which gets most of its harsh alcohol cooked out, leaving a smoky bite behind. The chicken is relatively mild by itself, so the sauce is a perfect way to infuse flavor into the nachos.
This would be a great dish to use a store-bought rotisserie chicken, if you can get one (you only need about half a chicken for this recipe) – otherwise, you can bake a couple of chicken breasts (skin-on and bone-in will hold its juiciness best). Either way, we’re looking for moist, perfectly-cooked meat – if you’re baking your own, check for doneness around 25 minutes (see the recipe below for full details).
Nachos wouldn’t be nachos without cheese – we’re not completely throwing out the rulebook – so we use this recipe for cheese sauce which uses evaporated milk to help sharp cheddar turn silky smooth. But wait! There’s more! We’re also adding grated Monterey jack in two layers, to make sure we get that essential “gooey pull” without which you may as well pack up and go home. You could certainly just use the grated cheese if you want to keep things simple.
Finally, the chips are the backbone of the nachos, and we’re following the same procedure as for our recent chilaquiles dish. Yes, you can use sturdy store-bought chips but they’ll go soggy quickly and are nowhere near as tasty. Make your own and you won’t want to use store-bought chips again, we promise. You should make them pretty close to assembly, since you want them to be ultra-fresh (there is nothing worse in this world than a stale nacho). Make sure to salt them and leave them on a paper-towel-lined plate until you’re ready to use them.
Once all your elements are ready, layer the chips, sauced chicken, cheese sauce, grated cheese and grilled corn in a baking dish and bake until the cheese is gooey and the chips are slightly browned on top. Add the fresh tomatoes, red onion, avocado and pickled radishes, drizzle with crema, and serve, preferably in the sunshine.
We’re happy to have helped brighten up your nachos! Getting your friends and family out of the TV room and into the yard, however, is something you’re going to have to tackle on your own.
- ½ cup ketchup (120ml)
- ½ cup homemade chicken stock or store-bought low-sodium chicken broth (120ml)
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- ¼ cup cider vinegar (60ml), plus more if needed
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon bourbon (75ml), divided
- 1 small onion, grated on the large holes of a box grater (about 4 ounces; 115g)
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (30ml)
- 1 tablespoon dark molasses (15ml)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce (15ml)
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (15ml)
- 2 teaspoons hot sauce (10ml), plus more if needed
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 to 4 cups peanut, vegetable, or canola oil, for frying (see note)
- 20 fresh corn tortillas, cut into 6 wedges each (see note)
- 3 ears grilled shucked sweet corn, kernels sliced off with a sharp knife
- 2 cups (10 ounces) cooked shredded cooked chicken meat (see note)
- 8 ounces Pepper Jack cheese (225g), grated
- ¼ cup thinly sliced pickled or fresh jalapeños, stemmed (and seeded, if you want to reduce their heat)
- 1 cup (5 ounces; 140g) chopped grape or cherry tomatoes
- ½ small red onion, cut into small dice
- 1 ripe Hass avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from skin, and cubed
- ½ cup sour cream or crema (120ml)
- ¼ cup picked cilantro leaves
- 1½ cups Nacho Cheese Sauce (1 full recipe)
- ¼ cup pickled radishes
- Preheat oven to 425ºF. Place 2-3 large bone-in skin-on breasts on a sheet tray and season both sides with kosher salt and cracked pepper. Drizzle each breast with a little olive oil (a teaspoon or so each). Roast until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the breast is at 155ºF (carry-over cooking will take it to 160º). This will take 25-35 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Allow them to rest for at least 10 minutes. Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin and bones and shred the meat. Meat can be frozen in a freezer bag and stored for up to a month.
- Combine all sauce ingredients except 1 tablespoon bourbon in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk together and simmer until reduced to a glaze consistency, about 15 minutes (sauce should reduce by about one-third). Adjust flavor vinegar, or hot sauce to taste. Cooled barbecue sauce can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for several months.
- Heat a grill pan over his heat or set glass grill to high. Grill corn, turning every few minutes, until cooked and charred in spots, about 7 to 10 minutes. Allow to cool a few minutes and cut kernels off the cob with a sharp knife. Set grilled corn aside.
- In a medium bowl, add chicken and ¾ cup bbq sauce. Toss to coat. Taste for seasoning and add more sauce, if needed.
- Heat oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet, dutch oven, or wok over medium-high heat until it registers 375°F. Adjust flame to maintain temperature. Working in batches, add tortillas and fry, agitating with a metal spider, until edges just start to brown. Flip chips over and continue to cook until crisp and light golden brown. Transfer chips to a paper towel lined tray, sprinkle with salt to taste, and let sit for 2 to 3 minutes to drain. Repeat with remaining batches. Set aside until ready to use.
- Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 375°F.
- Layer ½ of chips in the bottom of a rimmed 9-by-13-inch baking sheet or baking dish, leaving a large space in the center. Drizzle with ½ of cheese sauce and ½ of shredded bbq chicken. Top with half the corn and sprinkle with ½ grated cheese.
- Layer with remaining ½ of chips, maintaining the space in the center. Drizzle with remaining cheese sauce and chicken and corn. Top with jalapeños and sprinkle all over with remaining grated cheese. Bake until cheese is completely melted, about 5 minutes.
- Top with chopped tomatoes, onion and avocado and drizzle all over with crema. Garnish with cilantro leaves and pickled radish slices. Serve immediately.