When your blog is titled “The Homesick Texan,” odds are that you’ve gotten used to occasionally settling for sub-par barbecue and a less-than-stellar Frito pie. But New York-based food writer Lisa Fain was more than willing to do the work to discover the best way to recreate her favorite chile-cheese dip. In her book QUESO!: Regional Recipes for the World’s Favorite Chile-Cheese Dip, she digs her metaphorical bag of chips deep into the secrets of the warm, gooey deliciousness that may have started in Texas, but has expanded its reach to include dip lovers all over the world.
Bowl of gold
First, some definitions. In the way most Texans might put it, “queso” is really shorthand for chile con queso, which is any melted mix of chiles and cheese, served with tortilla chips, Fritos or other dippers. Fain says that some variations call for it to be spooned onto tortillas or even eaten with a fork.
The key to queso perfection is to get the proportions and flavors just right. Too much emphasis on the cheese side of the equation can make it excessively bland, and too many chiles can make it too spicy for the fatty goodness to shine through
Every church cookbook in the Southwest has a version of the dip that calls for one can of tomatoes with green chiles melted with one block of pasteurized processed cheese, but real Texans take their own regional recipes much more seriously than that. In El Paso, “queso” calls for long green chiles and white melting cheese. Closer to the Gulf of Mexico, it’s a hearty dish called Queso Fundido or Queso Flameado. And of course there are lots of ways to change things up, which is why all-vegan versions are making an appearance. Fusion dips add a modern touch to the old classic, including the addition of Indian chutney, or making it “Greek style” with melted feta and pita chips.
Torchy’s queso reigns supreme
In her book, Fain says that many Texans consider the queso served at Austin’s Torchy’s Tacos to be the “sine qua non” of queso perfection. The backstory of Torchy’s is enough to warm the heart of any chef or operator. Owner Mike Rypka had maxed out mortgages and credit cards to open his taco stand, but business was slow until he started driving around town on his red Vespa, handing out samples of salsa and chips. Torchy’s Tacos now operates several locations across Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma, all serving its highly lauded versions of queso: the basic Green Chile Queso and Hillbilly Queso, adds Texas chorizo.
One thing is clear: adding your own creative approach to this “bowl of gold” can be an excellent idea for your app or specials menu, one that fills diners’ desire for comforting, shareable food with an authentic regional story