Small Batch: Movie Theater Nachos Get a Makeover

January 25, 2013

Every week, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today, Lara Ferroni shows us how to make a smooth and creamy nacho cheese dip and pickled jalapenos in a flash. Lara is the author of Doughnuts: Simple and Delicious Recipes to Make at Home, and the forthcoming book, Real Snacks: Make Your Favorite Childhood Treats Without All the Junk.

- Lara

While I never had a real fast food worker experience as a kid, I did work for several years at the local movie theater, where in addition to an inordinate amount of popcorn, we made a lot of movie theater nachos. You know the kind with the little plastic dish with the special cup for the nacho sauce. Trust me on this one, you don’t want to know exactly what is in that cheese sauce, but I’ll tell you that it does come in very large cans and is closer to plastic in texture before it’s heated than anything you should eat. There was nothing nacho-y about the cheese itself -- that effect was created by pouring a bit of the pickling brine from the equally large cans of pickled jalapenos, after first scraping off some weird oily black stuff off the top. You have my sincere apology for ever being involved in serving such crap as food.

And yet. As gross as it was to see how that nacho cheese was made, it still kind of tasted good, and there have been more than a few times that I craved the velvety spicy cheese alongside my chips.

This nacho cheese sauce, made with far less scary ingredients, is based on the Chile con Queso recipe in Real Snacks, but with a bit of turmeric thrown in to give it that classic cheese sauce color. It satisfies that craving and is the perfect little snack for the Big Game day or a quiet movie night.

While you might be inclined to use cheddar cheese in this sauce, I’ve found that Monterey Jack gives a much better texture -- cheddar just won’t get as smooth. If you really miss the cheddar flavor, try adding half cheddar and half jack instead.

Nacho Cheese Sauce

Makes about a pint of sauce

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons onion, minced
2 tablespoons green chile, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons all purpose flour (or gluten-free flour mix)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup buttermilk
2 ounces Monterey Jack cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over low heat in a sauté pan. Add the onion, green chile, tomato, turmeric, paprika and cayenne pepper. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes until the onion softens completely.



Add the remaining butter and the flour, and continue to cook on low for another 2 minutes. Add the cream, ½ cup of the buttermilk and cheese and stir to until the cheese melts. Add in the remaining buttermilk a little at a time until you get a velvety sauce, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the sauce to a blender (I use a hand blender) and pulse until completely smooth. Stream in the olive oil and continue to blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with chips and pickled jalapenos.

You can make this sauce a day ahead and keep it in a sealed jar. Reheat in the microwave for a minute, stir, and finish heating another minute to serve.

Quick Pickled Jalapenos

1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 or 2 jalapenos


Place the salt, water, and vinegar in a bowl and heat until the salt dissolves (the microwave is fine for this!). Slice the jalapeno into rounds, and add to the brine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Save and print these recipes at Food52.

Like this post? See last week's Small Batch topic: Whole Wheat Pitas, Made at Home.

Photos by Lara Ferroni

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