This Recipe Has the Two-Ingredient Secret for the World’s Greatest Queso Fundido
And we’re not even talking about the three cheeses or green chorizo
There may be no better way to consume vast quantities of cheese than in melted form, and while the Swiss and the French have both thrown their hats in the ring, Mexico’s queso fundido may well be the prime example of the category. After all, what is queso fundido but a literal skillet (or, in this case, a ramekin) of cheese melted in a hot oven until just bubbly? Enjoyed simply with fresh tortillas, it’s any turophile’s dream.
At El Alto in Los Altos, Robert Hurtado’s version of the classic combines mellow and buttery Oaxaca, salty and creamy Chihuahua, and rich and nutty Gouda for “maximum flavor and best cheese pull,” according to the chef.
“I know that Gouda is a Dutch cheese, but it is used so much in Mexico that I figured: why not add more richness to our fundido?” he says. “All these cheeses blend and work so well with one another to create an amazing experience while eating.”
To set the cheese to its best advantage, Hurtado relies on a few cheffy techniques, namely the addition of cornstarch and heavy cream, which keep the mixture from congealing.
“Adding those two key ingredients is a game changer,” he says. “I could geek out over the science of why this changes everything, but I’ll keep it simple.” The “aggressive” heat of the high oven, he explains, usually means that the cheese exudes its moisture and fat as it melts, separating and growing quickly solid as it cools.
“You’re left with a tough, oily fundido that doesn’t look that great,” he says. The added cream, he explains, adds much-needed moisture, and the cornstarch helps bind everything together. “It also allows for the cheese to not solidify and keeps it gooey without sacrificing the amazing cheese pulls.”
In its simplest form, this queso is served with char-roasted pasilla or poblano chiles for a touch of sweetness and smoke. But at El Alto, you’ve also got the option to include a rare green chorizo, sure to be a conversation starter.
“In Mexico, there are many varieties of chorizo depending on what part of the country you are in,” he explains, noting that the green iteration is one he rarely sees on restaurant menus. “I like to do things differently and showcase other Mexican foods that are lesser-known. This type of chorizo is green in color due to the purée that it is marinated in.”
The purée, made with fresh jalapeños, serranos and herbs, adds fresh flavor as well as a beautiful green color — a crowning achievement atop all that cheese.
El Alto’s Queso Fundido
- 1 lb. Oaxaca cheese
- 1 lb. Chihuahua cheese
- 1 lb. Red wax Gouda cheese
- 2 lbs. fresh pasilla or poblano chiles
- 4 Tbsps. cornstarch
- 8 oz. heavy cream
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Char the whole chile peppers on all sides over an open flame. To do this, place the raw whole chile peppers directly on the grate covering the flame of a gas stove, and let the flame blacken the outside skin of the peppers. When one side has blackened, use tongs to turn the chile over a little so the flame can blacken another side.
- Once the peppers are blackened all over (you can still have a few green spots), place them in a bowl and cover them with a plate or plastic wrap. Let the chiles steam in their own heat for a few minutes.
- Grate the cheeses and combine with the cornstarch. (Avoid using pre-shredded cheeses as they will not melt properly.)
- When the chiles are cool to touch, remove them from the bowl. Use your fingers or a damp towel to strip off the blackened skin. (Try to avoid running the chiles themselves underwater, as that will wash away the good flavor.)
- Once the blackened outer skin is removed, open up the chiles, and remove and discard the stems, seeds, and inner veins. Cut the chiles into long strips, about one-inch wide. Set aside.
- Evenly spread the chiles out among eight ramekins. Add six ounces of the grated cheese mixture and one ounce of the heavy cream to each ramekin.
- Bake for about 7-10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve warm with flour tortillas, corn tortillas or tortilla chips.
Hurtado’s Pro Tip: “At El Alto, we add housemade chorizo verde over the top of the cheese prior to baking. “
Yield: 2½ quarts
- 5 pasilla chiles
- 5 serrano peppers, chopped
- 5 jalapeño peppers, roughly chopped
- 3 white onions, chopped
- 10 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bunch coriander
- 2 lbs. spinach
- 5 lbs. ground pork (25-30% fat, coarse ground)
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- Salt, to taste
- Bring a pot of water to a boil. Char the pasilla chiles directly over a gas flame or four inches below a broiler, turning regularly, until blistered and blackened (about five minutes over an open flame, about 10 minutes for the broiler). Cool until you can handle it, rub off the blackened skin, tear open and pull out the stem and seed pod. Remove any seeds or bits of skin.
- Sweat the serranos, jalapeños, onions and garlic over low heat until translucent. Spread out over a parchment-lined sheet pan to cool.
- Prepare an ice bath. Once the pot of water has reached a rapid boil, quickly blanch the spinach and cilantro. Remove and set in the ice bath to maintain a bright green color.
- Squeeze as much water as you can from the cilantro and spinach, and add to the blender along with your other ingredients. Blend until you have a very smooth and thick purée.
- In a large bowl, combine the pork with the green purée and let sit overnight to marinate.
- Cook and enjoy!
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