Friday, December 14, 2012

Queso (Tex-Mex cheese dip)

We went to the US for a visit and  had to have all of our old favorites.  One of them (well a few of them) was going to a Mexican Restaurant that we had been to a few years before. We had an incredible queso dip for an appetizer, and of course I had to try and recreate it.

I actually spent quite a bit of time researching this one.  There are a few mays to make queso, and almost all of them involve cheeses that are not readily available here. I started off with the desire to find a good monterry jack substitute.  While researching, I did learn that the Cheese Man occasionally carries it, but that you need to contact him. He is at the Zürich HB and the Viadukt. I then took all the suggestions of cheeses that were available in the supermarkets and tried them with a cheddar base.  I tried both the British yellow-white cheddar and the more Americanized orange cheddar (available from Migros Brunaupark or Jelmoli on the Bahnhofstrasse).

Here are the types of cheese that I tried:
St Paulin
Cheddar - Cathedral City
Cheddar - rot

I thought about trying the Iberico as well, but didn`t quite get around to it. The cheeses that work in the best combination to make a creamy, tasty queso are the Manchego, Asiago and Cathedral City Cheddar.

The main thing you need to do when making the queso, is have a good base. If you have a recipe for cream sauce that you love, you are basically there and just need the cheese and a few other things to make a fabulous queso.

Feel free to use whatever kind of peppers you prefer. I used the skinny, long red ones available at Migros as I did not want to use the jarred jalapenos, or travel to El Maiz (though they do ship, and it is fairly quick). My husband and I disagree on spiciness, so the first time I made this, I used one pepper, and this time (the better version of the recipe), I used 3. He thought it was perfect, and I think 2 would be. So take into consideration how spicy you want it to be. If it ends up too hot, add some more cheese.

The one other important piece of information you need to know, is make sure you do this on a low heat. I have a range from 1-9, and I stayed at about a 3. Depending on your range, you may need to adjust as we have one burner that gets super hot. I avoided that one. Also, you need to whisk constantly towards the end.

What you need:
2 Tbls butter
1/4 to 1/3 cup of flour
250 ml of whole milk.

With the following, feel free to add a bit more, or a bit less depending on your likes and dislikes, but keep in mind, if you add too much, it will be like salsa cheese, or too little and it will be cheese soup :-)

1/2 cup of diced onion
2 or more hot peppers (I used one the first time, for a very mild flavor and 3 this time for a stronger flavor. I think at least 2 should be added to get at least a hint of spice).
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup or more of cilantro, depending on how much you like it (I used an entire bag from Migros)
2 large diced tomatoes, or a drained can of diced tomatoes
1/2 cup of sour cream, optional (this does thin it out a little bit, creme fraiche would be a little thicker)
200g of Manchego cheese
200g of Asiago cheese
200g of Cathedral City Cheddar cheese (the cheeses all came in packages really close to that amount).

First, put your butter in a large pan and start to melt it over low heat. Add the diced onions and peppers and cook for about 5-10 minutes. I used this time to grate my cheese.  You do not want to buy pre-shredded as I read that there is something added to it that makes it not melt as well (I don`t know for sure as I haven`t tried it, but thought I would throw that out there for you).

Add the garlic and stir.

Add the flour and then whisk the mixture till the flour is evenly mixed in.

Add the milk and whisk constantly until the mixture has thickened. Probably another 5 minutes.

Roughly chop the cilantro, and add it, along with the diced tomatoes.

Very slowly, add the cheese. About 1/4 cup at a time, and mix until it has melted before adding more.  This can take another 10-15 minutes.  After adding all your cheese, if you feel that it is too runny, slowly add flour a teaspoon at a time and wait about 3 minutes in between adding more, or you may find you have something to eat with a fork.

Add the sour cream last. (the photo with sour cream looks more orange as that was my first batch and I added a can of diced tomatoes. If you use fresh, the queso is a lot lighter)

Don`t forget the chips.  I have yet to find decent tortilla chips (or at least something without seasoning on them already), so you have a few options.
Buy the really good ones from El Maiz or Jelmoli
Buy a box of the crunchy taco shells and break them up, or
Make your own.

Making your own is very simple. All you need are flour tortillas and some vegetable oil. Heat the oil in a pan until it is very hot. Cut your tortillas into triangles (like a pizza) and put them in the pan. If you have let the oil get very very hot, you only need to cook them on one side. After they brown and bubble up, lay them on a paper towel to blot some of the grease. Sprinkle with sea salt, as desired.

These are the homemade tortillas, which taste a lot better than store bought if you have the time (see flour tortilla link above)

These are with tortillas I had found in France

Your final option is just to heat up flour tortillas and dip them in the hot queso. Simple and yummy.

I hope you enjoy, and feel free to try your own cheese combinations. Let me know if you come up with something fantastic!

The only thing that could have made this better would be a frozen Swirl or Margarita, but until I get a blender, I guess I will have to pass...

Adapted from the Brown Eyed Baker