Jalapeños Queso

Like hummus, queso is a great thing to serve at get-togethers.

There are so many potential ingredients that can go into queso, this recipe is a very basic one. A jumping off point.

The biggest question is “what type of cheese.” This is my opinion. A lot of recipes online will use fake cheese like Velveeta and American. The reasons are tempting: they melt smoother, especially Velveeta. The thing is that they really are fake cheese and is often an ingredient in the queso you can buy in the chip aisle. Why not just buy that instead of spending more money than those commercial imitation queso does? The goal is to always get better quality then what is available in the grocery store.

That is a polite way of saying that using fake cheese is an abomination against nature.

If you can find good quality white cheddar, pepper jack and the like, that would probably turn out okay. Cheap cheeses are liable to turn into an oily mess.

For my money, Mexican cheese is the way to go. The obvious answer to this are either Asadero or Oaxaca cheese. They are very similar to each other. Okay, exactly the same. Asadero is made in Northern Mexico, I believe the Chihuahua province and Oaxaca is, unsurprisingly, from the Oaxaca province in southern Mexico. They are analogous to stringy mozzarella cheese and melts very well. Be cautious, there are many other types of Mexican cheese, a lot of them are the crumbling type and won’t melt. The thing to note when buying them is that it says “melting cheese” on the package. There are forms of Asadero and Oaxaca that are slightly different and don’t melt as well. Here is an interesting and easy-to-read article on the chemistry of melting cheese.

Do not use commercially shredded cheese, it has starches added to keep it from clumping in the package and will not melt as easy because it is drier.

This recipe uses jalapeños. To lessen the spiciness, remove the stems and seeds to varying degrees. If you don’t like jalapeños, pablano and Anaheim peppers are a mild substitute. For hotter peppers there are, in order: some varieties of Anaheim(New Mexico), Serrano, and habanero. Scotch bonnets, a pepper from the Caribbean is as hot as habaneros, but fruitier tasting which might be interesting. If you want to go more extreme there are ghost peppers (Bhut Jolokia), Carolina reaper, dragon’s breath, and pepper X.

Chipotle peppers(smoked and dried jalapeños) could also be okay.

Jalapeños Queso

1/2 finely minced yellow onion
1 Tbsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp butter
1 7 ounce can diced green chilis
2 large jalapeños, diced
1/4 cup diced cilantro
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp cumin
1 cup half and half
2 Tbsp cornstarch
15 oz Oaxaca or Asadero cheese, shredded

  • In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.
  • Add the onions, stir until translucent.
  • Add in the garlic and stir for about two minutes.
  • Stir in the jalapeños and chilis for about a minute to heat it through.
  • In a bowl mix the half and half and cornstarch until the cornstarch is well mixed in.
  • Pour the mixture into the saucepan and stir until it starts to thicken. Remove from heat.
  • Turn the heat down to a low setting and wait a few minutes.
  • While you are waiting, stir in the cilantro, cayenne, paprika and cumin.
  • Place the pan back on the heat and slowly add the cheese, one handful at a time.
  • Stir the mixture until the cheese is melted and repeat until all of the cheese is used.
  • You can immediately serve warm, or cool it down and cover and refrigerate it.

Honestly, you could probably halve all the non-cheese ingredients, and it would still be pretty good. How smooth you like queso will determine how finely the ingredients will be diced. A food processer is helpful getting everything the size you want.

Cayenne pepper is hotter than jalapeños, and is used to knock it up a notch.

I like to let it sit in the fridge overnight - it makes it taste so much better - but doing so will make it very thick. When warming it back up, mix in a little half-and-half until it is the consistency you like.

It might be possible to get this right without the cornstarch, but I have a hard time keeping it stable without a thickener.

Serve with tortilla chips.

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