Nacho Madness: The Cinderella Snack

With Texas hosting the Final Four, chef Hugo Ortega’s spicy crawfish, chorizo and cheese nachos are a slam-dunk party recipe. Plus, 8 Riesling value wines to swish
Nacho Madness: The Cinderella Snack
Courtesy of Backstreet Cafe / Paula Murphy Embrace the heat of these Cajun-Tex-Mex nachos with an off-dry Riesling.
Mar 28, 2018

Three usual suspects and one Cinderella will be suiting up this weekend at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, for the 2018 NCAA Men’s Final Four. (Cinderella missed her ride to the Women’s Final Four: It’s all chalk with four No. 1 seeds headed to Columbus, Ohio.) But whether your bracket busted when top seed Virginia lost to play-in qualifier Baltimore County or you’ve got the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers cutting down the nets, no one should watch college sports on an empty stomach.

When the first game tips off Saturday afternoon, we’ll be popping party-priced Rieslings and digging in to Houston chef Hugo Ortega’s Crawfish and Chorizo Nachos with refried black beans and avocado-tomatillo salsa, cribbed from the seasonal menu at Ortega’s Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence–winning Backstreet Cafe.

Chef Ortega has something of a Cinderella story himself. Born in Mexico City, he was helping to support his family by working in Mexico’s Procter & Gamble factories as a teenager. In 1984 he arrived in Texas and not long after started his career in the restaurant industry—as a dishwasher at Backstreet Cafe, the restaurant founded by his future wife, Tracy Vaught. Today the couple runs H Town Restaurant Group (which also includes Best of Award of Excellence winner Caracol and Award of Excellence winners Xochi, Third Coast and Hugo’s); Ortega has also published two cookbooks and in 2017 won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest.

His haute and spicy nachos star boldly smoky, peppery ground chorizo and savory-sweet boiled crawfish tails. Topped with Ortega’s brightly flavored salsa of avocado, tomatillo, cilantro, serrano pepper, onion and lime juice, it’s a fitting dish when you consider the nacho’s underdog status.

Legend and the Smithsonian Institution have it that the humble nacho was born in Piedras Negras, Mexico, at the Victory Club, where in 1943 maître d' Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya improvised a dish of tortillas, cheese and jalapeños when hungry guests arrived and the chef was away. But it was a Texas concessionaire, with the help of broadcast journalist Howard Cosell, who made nachos a national sensation.

Frank Liberto’s secret and highly guarded recipe for a pumpable, jalapeño juice–infused “cheese sauce” poured over tortilla chips was introduced at a Texas Rangers game in 1976. Despite Big Popcorn’s efforts to keep the exotic snack off the menu—Liberto’s concoction was confined to the stadium concourse so as not to compete with popcorn sales in the stands—nachos were an instant hit. In 1978 they’d made it to the Dallas Cowboys’ Texas Stadium, and into the broadcast booth of Monday Night Football. Cosell started peppering the name into his play calls (“That was a nacho run!”), and nachos went supernova. Who better than chef Ortega to give them the fine-dining treatment?

Sommelier Sean Beck, the beverage director for Backstreet Cafe, Caracol and Hugo’s, has an equally fine wine to pair with this crispy, queso-y indulgence: Högl Riesling Federspiel Wachau Steinterrassen 2015. “With nachos, I love a wine that is a great counterpoint to the decadence of the dish,” Beck says. “Off-dry Riesling is that and more. It’s pure and clean, weaving robust fruit, mineral and a vibrant feel. The lower alcohol also helps it handle the heat of the jalapeños and other spices.” Riesling’s smoky citrus and stone fruit flavors are rich enough to hang with the robust flavors of the chorizo, and floral, peppery notes in the wine play well with vegetables, peppers and fresh cilantro, Beck adds. Try experimenting with drier and sweeter Rieslings like some of the selections below to see which style suits your palate.

With Riesling at its side, perhaps the nacho is finally ready for its one shining moment.

Crawfish and Chorizo Nachos

Courtesy of chef Hugo Ortega, Backstreet Cafe, Caracol and Hugo’s in Houston

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup ground chorizo
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
  • 1/2 cup cooked corn kernels, cut from the cob
  • 1 cup crawfish tails, cooked
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 cups corn tortilla chips
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche (or sour cream)
  • 3/4 cup Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa (recipe follows)
  • 1 cup Refried Black Beans (recipe follows)
  • 1 avocado, cubed
  • 1 cup queso fresco
  • 3 tablespoons jalapeños, thinly sliced
  • 2 radishes, sliced (optional)
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves

1. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and add chorizo and red chile pepper flakes. Sauté for 2 minutes, then add corn and mix well. Continue cooking until chorizo is cooked through.

2. Mix in crawfish tails and toss, cooking for another 2 minutes. Season to taste, remove from heat and set aside.

3. Line a large serving platter with tortilla chips. Drizzle Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa and crème fraîche evenly over the chips. Scatter dollops of Refried Black Beans over top of chips. Spoon the sautéed mix of corn, chorizo and crawfish evenly over the nachos and top with cubed avocado, queso, sliced jalapeños, radishes and cilantro. Serves 6 to 8.

For the Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa

Prepare up to 30 minutes prior to serving nachos

  • 3 medium tomatillos, husks removed and quartered
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup white onion, chopped
  • 1 serrano pepper, roasted, stemmed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 small avocado, peeled, pitted, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Place tomatillos, cilantro, onion and peppers in food processor and pulse four times. Transfer to a bowl. Fold in avocado, lime juice and salt and gently combine. Makes about 1 cup.

For the Refried Black Beans

Prepare up to 3 days prior to serving nachos

  • 2 cups dry black beans, well-rinsed
  • 1/2 small white onion, quartered, plus 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

1. Bring 4 cups of water to boil in a medium saucepan and add beans, quartered onion and salt. Boil about 5 to 7 minutes, then lower heat and simmer until soft, about 90 minutes. Strain and discard liquid, then transfer beans and onion to a food processor or blender and process into a smooth puree.

2. In a cast-iron skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and preheat 2 minutes. Add remaining finely chopped onion and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add bean puree and lower heat. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Remove from heat. Makes 3 cups.

Note: If making Refried Black Beans ahead of time, allow to cool, then store in an air-tight plastic container and refrigerate for up to three days. To reheat, place a pan over medium heat, add lard or olive oil and preheat 2 minutes. Add refried beans and simmer and stir for 5 to 8 minutes.

8 Recommended Rieslings

More white wine values rated in the past year can be found in Wine Spectator’s Wine Ratings Search.

FORGE Riesling Finger Lakes Classique 2015 Score: 92 | $19
Weighty for a Riesling, with a rounded feel and layers of creamed yellow apple, white peach and persimmon flavors. Delivers energy and cut throughout, with lemon pith, citrus oil and chamomile accents filling in. Shows length and range through the finish. Drink now through 2021. 1,800 cases made.—James Molesworth

NIK WEIS ST.-URBANS-HOF Riesling Qualitätswein Mosel From Old Vines 2016 Score: 91 | $19
A pure, well-sculpted, off-dry version, with persimmon, lime and slate flavors coating the palate. Hints of orchard blossom and herbs add to the complexity, making you reach for another sip. Drink now through 2024. 7,000 cases made.—Aleksandar Zecevic

FRITZ HAAG Riesling Qualitätswein Trocken Mosel 2016 Score: 90 | $20
Firm acidity fuels this light and refreshing white, while savory mineral details and flavors of lime and green apple provide charm. Graceful yet effusive, leaving a long, mouthwatering finish. Drink now through 2022. 3,600 cases made.—A.Z.

RAVINES Riesling Finger Lakes Dry 2016 Score: 90 | $18
Very lively, with good cut from start to finish, as peach, yellow and green apple and honeysuckle notes stream through, backed by a lingering mineral hint. Drink now through 2020. 5,825 cases made.—J.M.

KUENTZ-BAS Riesling Alsace 2015 Score: 89 | $15
A bright and open-knit white, with sleek acidity and a stony undertow driving the flavors of ripe and juicy Honeycrisp apple, slivered almond and honeysuckle. Drink now through 2019. 2,000 cases made.—Alison Napjus

PACIFIC RIM Riesling Columbia Valley Sweet 2016 Score: 89 | $11
Soft and delicately sweet, with lively pineapple and lemon flavors that show spicy accents. Drink now. 60,000 cases made.—Tim Fish

CHARLES SMITH Riesling Ancient Lakes Of Columbia Valley Kung Fu Girl Evergreen 2016 Score: 89 | $13
A fun quaff, with floral nectarine and lime flavors that dance agilely on a sleek and succulent finish. Drink now. 185,000 cases made.—T.F.

CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE Riesling Columbia Valley 2016 Score: 88 | $9
Fresh and vibrant, with juicy and slightly sweet grapefruit and pear flavors that finish on a spicy note. Drink now. 790,000 cases made.—T.F.

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