When I was in junior high, my best friend Kerri and I would ride the bus home from school every day and do homework at my house. And being 8th and 9th graders (that’s junior high in Minnesota), we were always hungry. And almost every single day, we would make “nachos.” Now, our nachos really just involved chips and layers of cheddar cheese, melted in the microwave. That said, it was a tasty snack we both enjoyed.
Most of the time, however, nachos means that bright orange cheese that comes in a bag and get squirted on your nachos. I still love nachos, but I do my best not to eat foods that, well, come in plastic bags and are heated up before being squirted on the rest of my food.
Instead, I started making homemade nacho cheese sauce that is so much better than simply sticking shredded cheddar cheese on chips and nuking them yet reminds me of the creamy kind that goes so well with shredded chicken and tomatoes and beans and I think I know what I’m having for dinner.
This homemade nacho cheese sauce doesn’t take long to make, and if you have leftovers, it stores nicely in the fridge until you reheat it. And if I decide that I “accidentally” made too much, I have the perfect solution. I simply turn my nacho cheese into beer cheese soup (perfect for winters in Chicago) by adding a little chicken stock and beer, along with some grated nutmeg and a tiny bit of Worcestershire sauce. It isn’t my exact recipe for beer cheese soup, but oh does it taste good anyway if I decide I’ve had enough nachos.
Homemade Nacho Cheese Sauce
It really is pretty easy to make a homemade cheese sauce like this. Depending on the thickness of the sauce – controlled by the amount of flour and cheese you add – and the flavors you infuse in it, you can use it not just as nacho cheese sauce (or a base for beer cheese soup), but also to make homemade macaroni and cheese and other dishes where you use a cheese sauce, including fondue!
Like many sauces, you want to start by heating butter in a pan and then adding diced onions and sauteeing them until they’re translucent but not caramelizing. Add the minced garlic at this point to prevent the garlic from burning. After 30 seconds or so – once the garlic is fragrant – add the flour and stir, which also helps to break up the onions.
Add the slowly milk while stirring, which helps to prevent the formation of lumps in your homemade nacho cheese sauce. Once the milk is added and it’s warmed up – never boiling – add the cheese in small handfuls. Stir each handful into your sauce until it melts before adding more. If you put all your cheese in at once, you end up with a ball of cheese that doesn’t incorporate into your sauce nicely at all.
If you are looking to kick up the spice of your homemade nacho cheese sauce a bit, you can easily do so. I really enjoy roasting a jalapeno and using it not just in my guacamole recipe but also in my homemade nacho cheese sauce. Half a roasted jalapeno, diced and added when you add the garlic is delicious. You could also do some diced fresh jalapeno, but I love the flavor roasting gives it. The same holds true for adding a little chipotle sauce to the nacho cheese once the cheese is added. I love that smoky kick. Really, once you’ve made the base sauce, it’s yours to play with and make your own.
Granted, it won’t be that scary color orange that comes out of the pumps, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be happy.
A quick and easy homemade nacho sauce that you'll find yourself making again and again as you invent excuses to eat it.
- 3 T butter
- 1 c onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 roasted jalapeno, optional
- 3 T flour
- 2 c milk
- 4 c cheddar cheese, grated
- Melt butter in a medium size heavy pot while you dice your onion. Add the onion to the pot once the butter is hot and saute 5-7 minutes until translucent and soft.
- Add the minced garlic (and jalapeno if you are using it) and cook for 30 seconds until the garlic is fragrant. Add the flour and stir, cooking for a few minutes to cook out the raw taste of the flour, stirring it together to help break down the onion a bit.
- Add the milk slowly, stirring as you do so to avoid any lumps forming.
- Once all the milk is incorporated and is warm but not boiling, start adding the shredded cheese one handful at at a time, stirring between additions to melt the cheese before adding any more.
- Once the cheese is completely melted and incorporated, remove from the heat and serve, chipotle sauce if you want it a little spicier.
Add in a little chipotle sauce to give it a smoky kick. Feel free to make this nacho cheese sauce your own by adding your favorite flavors. Store any leftovers in the fridge. When reheating, do so gently over low heat.