Hot and spicy salsa con queso
Difficulty Rating: 3/10
Time Taken: 25 mins (10 minutes prep, 15 minutes cooking)
Serves: Makes approximately 375g of chile/salsa con queso
One of my earliest memories from my two fantastic years living in the USA came from the night my friends and I were sitting around playing video games with a few beers. All seemed fairly rudimentary until someone returned from the microwave, clutching a bag of tortilla chips and a polystyrene bowl of what could only be described as hot, yellow goop laced with specks of green and red.
“What is that?” I hesitantly asked, before being met with a look of equal parts confusion and disgust. “Just eat it,” I was firmly told, grabbing a tortilla chip and jumping right in. What I ended up eating has since become one of my favourite snack accompaniments; a glossy, silky, spicy cheese dip known as salsa con queso. A cheese-based sauce with small chunks of fresh jalapeno, tomato, and red pepper, queso’s questionable nutritional value is vastly outweighed by just how much it delivers on taste, texture and comfort.
After moving back to the UK it’s been harder to source this cheesy gold, with many of the cheese-based dips over here a totally different - and less flavoursome - animal. As such, after a bit of experimentation and little bit of research, I found a way to make it myself.
If you’ve ever tried to melt a more traditional cheese into a sauce like cheddar, you’ll have noticed that rather than a smooth and silky liquid, you’re left with a clumpy, thick, often separated mess. The reason American cheese (cheese singles in the UK) works here is because of the amounts of milk, water, emulsifiers and cornstarch it contains, versus something like cheddar. The end result is a sauce that is tangy, spicy, creamy, and most of all, silky smooth.
- 240g cheese singles, or American cheese
- 100ml milk
- 1 fresh jalapeno pepper
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 pickled jalapeno pepper
- 40g cheddar cheese
The first thing to do is prep your veggies, and it doesn’t get much easier than this. Everything needs to be diced into small cubes, of roughly the same size, and I also like to remove the seeds/inners from the tomatoes. While it’s not essential, it won’t add much in terms of flavour and adds unnecessary liquid to your sauce, so I prefer to remove them and stick them into a chili or pasta sauce if I’ve got one going at the time.
For the jalapenos, I cut them in half lengthways, and then cut each half lengthways again, keeping the seeds in for a little extra kick. If you don’t want it too hot, just remove the seeds, as the peppers themselves won’t give off too much spice in the final dish. Set your chopped peppers, jalapenos, and tomatoes aside.
In a cold medium saucepan, add your American cheese slices, simply cut in half, and all of your milk. Place over a medium to low heat, and gently start to melt the cheese. It’s important to constantly stir your mixture as it melts, keeping an eye that the heat doesn’t rise too much; you want to melt the cheese, rather than burn or bubble it.
As the two begin to incorporate, after about five minutes, add in your diced veggies and fresh cheddar cheese. Continue to stir slowly, keeping the heat the same, and wait for the cheddar to melt fully. Turn the heat right down, and let the sauce cook slowly for another ten minutes or so, giving the chilis, peppers and tomatoes time to release some of their oils and flavours into the sauce.
After ten minutes, take off the heat and allow to cool. During this time, as it’s so hot, the sauce will be incredibly runny, more so than you might be used to, but it will thicken up as it cools and the ingredients in the processed cheese allow it to set. Pour into a tupperware container or hot sterilised glass jar, and keep in the fridge.
This sauce is now ready to use, and the best way to serve it is to spoon out as much as you need into a bowl, and reheat in a microwave for around 30-40 seconds. It’s made for tortilla chips, but also goes great on burgers, with potatoes, in sandwiches, or drizzled over chile con carne.
It will keep for 7-10 days in the fridge - maybe longer, I haven’t tried - but I doubt it’ll last that long!