There have been early reports this week of a shortage of Velveeta this Super Bowl season, sending cheesy dip lovers into a small panic. Oh noes! The nation’s dips! What will we do?!
As Bloomberg’s Vanessa Wong pointed out on Marketplace yesterday, we’ve heard this song before without consumers ever seeing any real decline in product availability due to the shortage. Last year we supposedly wouldn’t have enough wings for the annual Super Bowl buffet and in 2009 word was there wasn’t enough avocados to meet the nation’s guacamole needs. Neither of those shortages ever came to fruition. Velveeta is also stable at room temperature, so if one really needed Velveeta that badly, I’m sure there’s are enough bodegas and country markets with a stockpile of Velveeta bricks that have been on the shelves since 1997. (Personally I find the timing a little off myself considering I’ve been seeing Velveeta-Ro*Tel commercials on TV the past couple of weeks and I cannot think of a single time I’ve seen them team up for a national ad campaign before.)
But why would you want to limit your queso to just a block of what is called “cheese food” and not actual cheese? That’s ridiculous, like asking for the best replica Blaine Gabbert jersey when you can easily buy an authentic Adrian Peterson jersey for the same price.
Last season we made Queso Fundido with Chorizo that was thick and meaty. But if you’re looking for a queso that is thinner, meltier, similar in profile to the missing Velveeta — but with you know, taste — this is how you do it.
(Also before we begin, let me apologize for the bad lighting in the photos. I recently moved and while it gets beautiful full sunlight during the day, it has terrible lighting at night.)
Basic Queso Dip
Did you make my Beer Cheese Soup last season? No? Well, if you haven’t, you should because it’s delicious and great in the cold weather. If you did make it, you’ve already got the basics down to make your own queso. A roux, some whole milk and some cheese. Boom. Installed.
You will need:
4-5 Roma or medium heirloom tomatoes (You want a tomato that has the least amount of seeds and pulp.)
Small amount of cooking oil to brush the tomatoes and the jalapeños while roasting
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, freshly shredded
8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, freshly shredded
1/4-1/2 cup diced scallions, about 3-4, including the white sections
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, about one small bunch
Avocado, diced for garnish (optional)
Now, you can season your queso anyway you like. You can add ground cayenne, chipotle — either ground or diced peppers that have been packed in adobe sauce, garlic, hatch chiles. Up to you. When melting cheese, it’s good to go with one young cheese, like the very soft Monterey Jack, and one older cheese (I prefer extra sharp cheddar because it has the most punch). I like to garnish my queso with avocados, but you can add your own salsa, black beans or even sausage if you like.
And if you want to cheat and use a can of tomatoes and chiles because the tomatoes in your market don’t look so hot, (it is January after all and not all of us live in California), feel free. I just prefer this method so the tomatoes and the jalapeños get a nice roasted char on them.
You can also make your queso thicker or thinner based on how much milk you use. I think one cup is perfect, but some people like their queso a little thicker, and some like it thinner. I used to work with a cook who liked his queso very creamy and made his with evaporated milk.
Preheat oven to 350º.
Slice the tomatoes and the jalapeños in half and remove the seeds. Place cut side down on a baking sheet lined with foil and lightly brush with cooking oil (or spray with cooking spray) and roast for 20-25 minutes, until soft all the way through. Turn the oven to broil and place the baking sheet under the broiler for 5-10 minutes, until the skins have started to blacken and char. Once done, remove from the oven and allow to cool. Once cool, drain off the excess liquid and coarsely chop the tomatoes and mince the jalapeños. Set aside.
While the tomatoes and jalapeños are roasting, shred the cheese and let sit out to get closer to room temperature. Your cheese sauce is less likely to break if your cheese isn’t ice cold.
When you have your tomatoes, jalapeños and cheese ready, you can start making your queso. Think to yourself, LOW AND SLOW. In a medium sauce pan, gently heat the butter over medium-low heat until foamy, and then whisk in the flour to make your roux. Keep stirring until you start to get a light toasty brown color, about two or three minutes. Turn down the heat a touch and slowly stir in the milk, adding just a small amount at a time so it can properly thicken with your roux. After you have stirred in all the milk, add the cumin and keep stirring until you have a nice thick sauce.
Turn down the heat all the way down to low and at a handful at a time, stir in the cheese until it melts.
Once you get all the cheese incorporated, giving the bottom of the pan a good scrape every now and again to prevent any sticking, you should have a nice melty blend just like this. See how easy that was? You’ll never go back to Velveeta again.
Keeping the heat at low, slowly add your tomatoes, jalapeños, cilantro and scallions. If you are adding beans, you can either incorporate them now or you can do what many people in Texas do, put them in the bottom of your serving bowl and pour the queso over top, adding pico de gallo and avocado the same way.
But see? You can add all these other things and your cheese sauce will not break.
Garnish with avocado and serve with chips.
Want to make your queso ahead of time? No problem. Just refrigerate and then gently reheat over low on the stove, stirring frequently until hot and smooth.
Making your own queso is easy, tastes better, gives you more room for experimentation with your seasoning and isn’t embarrassingly referred to as “cheese food” by the FDA.