“It started out as a staff snack one night that we made with leftover stuff around the restaurant kitchen,” says Bar Amá executive chef and owner Josef Centeno of his restaurant’s now-legendary Super Nachos.
“I grew up in San Antonio where nachos were always on the menu, but they were never done properly – they were either too gluttonous, or one person would get the chip with everything on it and ruin it for everyone else,” says Centeno. So, Centeno and his team at Bar Amá decided to engineer the perfect plate of nachos: A crowdpleasing dish of tortilla chips piled high with toppings and a trio of sauces – that’s also easy to eat.
Here, Bar Amá chef de cuisine Andy Villaluna reveals the step-by-step secrets to their mind-blowing signature dish.
“We messed around a little bit to find the perfect chip,” says Villaluna. “At first we were thinking that thin chips would make it nice and light, but those just broke or get soggy under all our toppings.” In the end, they went for a chip made by deep-frying their house-made corn tortillas. “We make our own tortillas and then fry them, but the home cook could also just use a really great bag of store-bought chips,” says Villaluna.
“If you use shredded cheese on your nachos it melts nicely at first, but there’s always on person who pulls of a chip and all the cheese comes with it,” says Villaluna. “It’s like the nacho nucleus, and it ruins it for everyone else.” So Centeno, a classically trained chef, swapped out the melted shredded cheese for a mornay sauce: A French cheese sauce based on rich and creamy white béchamel. “We had to make it the perfect texture: If it’s too thick it doesn’t get into all the nooks and crannies of the chips, but if it’s too thin it can loose all the cheesy richness,” says Villaluna.
“When we started eating nachos together we noticed that there was never any cheese on the inside,” says Villaluna. “People dig into that outer layer, with all the good stuff, and then you’re left with a pile of dry chips.” Their solution? Build the nachos “lasagna-style” with layers of chips and cheese. “It’s a little more work on the front end, but it’s great when youre eating it. You don’t have to fish around for more sauce.”
This fresh tomato sauce falls somewhere between a chunky pico de gallo and a thin, light blender salsa. “We liked the fresh flavor of pico de gallo, but we didn’t like how you had to balance the chopped tomatoes on the chips to get the perfect bite,” says Villaluna. “When we grated the tomatoes, the sauce had the perfect consistency: Some texture, but still thin enough to find it’s way onto every corner of the nacho plate. “
“A lot of people ask us ‘Why not just put guacamole on the nachos?’” says Villaluna. “Don’t get me wrong, I love guacamole, but by the time you put enough guac on the nachos so that everyone can have some, it just gets too heavy.” The avocado salsa, on the other hand, is sharper and thinner, so it’s easy to distribute evenly over a plate of nachos, but it adds a certain brightness to every bite.
Sour cream tends to be a little more acidic and less thick than the crema and, in this case, the nachos needed that hit of creamy richness instead of a another layer of flavor. “Crema really concentrates that cream taste and texture and doesn’t compete with the acidic flavor of the salsas,” says Villaluna. “Plus, sour cream can sometimes be to watery, which could lead to soggy chips—never good.”
Though the toppings vary by season, pomegranate seeds are a staff favorite. “It’s a little something unexpected,” says Villaluna, who appreciates the pop of fruity acid that they add. Other common finishing touches for the Super Nachos included peppery, cruncy radishes and pickled red onions or other vegetables. “You need something crunchy or sharp that can kind of wake you up against all the cheese and richness in the nachos,” says Villaluna. “It’s all about balance.”