Recently, I had a specific hankering. A hankering for piling delicious meaty cheese dip onto tortilla chips and ramming them into my face. This is the kind of hankering a fundamentally depraved sort of person has when left alone in a home for more than a couple hours: a dark degradation into self-destruction, taking the form of an unquenchable, soul-deep yearning for gooey meaty cheese.
It was at the low point of this hankering—staggering around in a blind rage, howling at the moon, slamming a block of cheddar into a handful of raw ground beef and wailing at the injustice of the unconquerable separation of the two, tweeting about it—that I had something of an epiphany: my hankering did not meet the criteria of unquenchability. In practical terms, I could have the meaty cheese dip. I could be the master of my own hankerings—I have my own money, my own kitchen, my own poor cardiovascular health. I, and I alone, am empowered to make final, possibly fatal decisions about how these things are aligned in the pursuit of meaty cheese dip. Quenching the hankering would be as simple as, you know, making some meaty cheese dip, and then destroying all evidence and never speaking a word of it to my wife.
Still not out of the woods, I cast about for an appropriate meaty cheese dip recipe. This is harder than it sounds! There are plenty of recipes for so-called meaty cheese dip out there, but it turns out most of them are trash. Many of them are for carnies whose whole concept of meaty cheese dip stops at cheese-plus-meat; far too many of them substitute Velveeta instead of more upstanding, less industrial byproduct-y, actually-sort-of-cheese-like cheese; one truly deranged psychopath suggested the use of cut-up hot dogs as the meat in the meaty cheese dip. Verily, my gorge did rise at that blasphemous suggestion.
A pattern did emerge, though. All the recipes did have meat, and all of them did have cheese. And so, at the very worst, if I concocted only a slightly more sophisticated version of smashing raw meat and a block of cheese together, and with a controlled application of heat, in the end I would have meaty cheese dip. Whatever else could be done to make the meaty cheese dip special and memorable would have to be triangulated from various and varyingly insufficient recipes, or conjured from my own imagination.
This is what I came up with. It was delicious. It satisfied the basic criteria of meaty cheese dip—it had both meat and cheese, and could be transported via tortilla chip into my feeding hole—while using some cheap, basic ingredients to improve upon the modest template. Let’s do it.
Here’s what you’re gonna need: a couple blocks of cheese; a pound of meat; some cooking oil; some heavy cream; some all-purpose flour; an onion; some peppers; a can of diced tomatoes; some salt; some spices.
I used a block of mild cheddar and a block of Monterey Jack for my cheese. This was a fine combination. Upon reflection, and after having downed roughly four pounds of scalding fondue in the space of a single commercial break, the cheddar might have been juuuuuuust a touch too cheddar-y for my preferences. I like cheddar, piled atop a bowl of chili, or melted over a burger, or as half the cheese content of pimiento cheese, but I never really want cheddar to be the star of the show, and when the show is a vast lake of melted cheese, buddy, the cheese isn’t just taking center stage, the cheese is the center stage. What I’m saying is, I might have enjoyed the meaty cheese dip a bit more (he said while coated bodily in literal gallons of hot cheese dip) if I’d opted for, say, Colby instead of cheddar. Or for that matter, why the hell does my meaty cheese dip need any goddamn yellow cheese at all? I could’ve gone all Jack!
If you dig cheddar, use cheddar. If you’re like me and a bowl of hot cheddar might be a bit much for you, go with something milder. There are plenty of good melting cheeses out there. I would stay away from the real melters, like gruyere and fontina and Raclette—gruyere is mildly footy and will bring traditional fondue to mind; fontina is earthy and nutty and delicious, but might also be a bit too assertive to make up 75 percent of a complex recipe; and Raclette tastes like a brown gym sock pulled out of an ancient gym bag left sweltering for six years in the trunk of a Chevy Cavalier abandoned in the Everglades.
Having said that, so long as your cheese will, in fact, melt (your various hard grating cheeses will not melt the way you want them to) the choice is entirely up to you. Grate two blocks of cheese into a big bowl until all you’ve got is a big bowl full of grated cheese.
For the meat, I went with ground beef. It’s what I had. What I had, specifically, was 93/7 ground beef, which is a goddamn crime, and set off a whole new round of clothing rending and agonized wailing. I can tell you, though, that you will wind up with a perfectly satisfactory meaty cheese dip if all you’ve got is 93/7 ground beef. 80/20 would’ve been better. Next time I’m gonna use El Salvadoran chorizo. You can’t really go wrong, here. Pork would’ve been fine. I probably wouldn’t use ground turkey or ground chicken, because I am not much a fan of those things, but I understand some of you might be addled and delusional enough to think substituting lean meat in a composition that is basically a STEAMING BOWL OF MELTED CHEESE will move the needle in your quest for Rock Hard Abs™. Do your thing.
Once you’ve chosen your meat, get some oil going in a sauté pan or some other wide, deep cooking vessel over medium high heat until it’s shimmering, then drop your meat in and move it around until it’s cooked. This won’t be your last chance to bust up the meat into appropriate-sized curds, but unless you are a crazy person who wants a one-pound, block-shaped burger patty floating around in your bowl of cheese lava, now would be a fine time to start breaking it down. Once the meat is fully cooked, use a slotted spoon or slotted spatula or GREAT CAUTION to remove it from the pan and into a bowl, leaving as much oil and meat fat in the pan as possible.
Now we’re going to soften some diced vegetables, namely a medium-sized yellow onion and some good peppers. Poblanos are a solid choice for the peppers—they’ll add an earthy version of the good capsicum flavor, they hold up well when cooked (they’re fleshier than some of your smaller, more delicate peppers), and they have the mildest possible little touch of capsaicin heat. I like things that I eat to be spicy—hellishly spicy, nuclear fucking spicy!—but I also want this preparation to have some pepper flavor, and I can cover the distance, heat-wise, with pepper flakes or cayenne or, for that matter, Szechuan peppercorns. Poblanos have a tidy little core with tightly packed seeds and a long, sturdy stem, so trimming them is very easy. You shouldn’t be careful at all about separating the seeds from the flesh, though—the seeds will mostly disappear in the meaty cheese dip, and they’ll add some negligible heat to the finished product. Just dice up your yellow onion and your peppers, and add them to the pan.
Move the veg action around in the pan at least until the onions are softened and translucent. This will progress more quickly if you add salt to the vegetables. If you lower the heat a bit and keep at it, you could ride it out until you’ve put a gentle caramelization on this stuff, so that it will add a little more sweetness to the meaty cheese dip, balancing the outrageous salty richness of your greasy delicacy. It will not surprise you to learn that two of the ingredients in the very delicious, nightmarishly synthetic Tostitos brand nacho cheese dip are sugar and maltodextrin—the evil corporate food scientists know you will compulsively eat a lot more of this slop if it does terrifying things to your blood sugar.
What I am saying is, you can caramelize your onions, or you can throw in a pinch of sugar later on. Because science!
When your onions and peppers are where you want them, carefully haul them out of the grease and into the bowl with the meat, once again leaving as much of the fat in the pan as possible. You want about a tablespoon of fat in there. If you used 80/20 ground beef, or ground pork, or chorizo, you’re probably fine. If you went with leaner beef or goddamn fowl instead, you might need to add a tablespoon of whatever relatively high-heat oil your personal nutritional coach permits you to use when cooking up vats of melted dairy with almost zero nutritional upside.
Now, bump the heat down to medium-low, then sprinkle a tablespoon of all-purpose flour into the pan and stir it around to make a roux. You will be done with the roux-making when the mixture is brown and does not smell like raw flour. When the roux is ready, whisk a cup of heavy cream into the pan. Here’s what’s going to happen right away: the roux is going to seize up instantly into a terrifying concrete-like blob, and the cream is going to splash all over the place, and you are going break out into a flop sweat. Keep stirring, my friend. Stir and stir and stir, and the roux will start to break down, and the starch of the flour will bind the oil molecules to the water molecules of the cream, and everything will be fucking fine. As you stir, and as the ingredients incorporate, something vaguely béchamel-like will start to form in the pan. Feel free to add splashes of cream to help this process along, but be conservative about it. Generally, we want the mixture to be reducing in the pan, so that it eventually has a texture that isn’t much thinner than fondue, itself.
When the mixture is smooth and has reduced to a cream sauce-like texture, stir in all the cheese. It’s gonna need a few minutes to fully melt. There are stages to this. First it’s gonna soften and start forming thinner and thinner threads. Then it’s gonna start to shed some of its oil and become a loose blob. We want to stir this mixture until it reaches the later stages of controlled melting, where all the structure of the unmelted cheese is basically gone, and the texture is completely smooth. Resist the urge to add cream or water or any sort of liquid to hasten this process, and here’s why: When you dump the vegetables and meat into this cheese goop, quite a lot of juice and liquid and fat is gonna come along for the ride, and the salt content of the cheese will drag out a little bit more of this stuff than is already pooling in the bowl. So, if you’re worried that your melted cheese mixture isn’t wet enough, that’s good! It’s gonna gain a lot of moisture, very soon.
When the cheese is completely melted and the mixture is completely smooth, dump the meat and onions and peppers back in, along with all their accumulated liquids. Stir everything around until it’s more-or-less evenly distributed. Also, open that can of diced tomatoes, aggressively strain out all the liquid, and then stir the tomatoes into the cheese mixture. Now, have a taste. Well, it’s certainly cheesy, and there’s certainly meat in there. Probably it needs salt! Treat the cheese dip as you would soup: add some salt, then taste; add a tiny pinch of sugar, then taste; add a couple grinds of black pepper, then taste; add some cayenne or red pepper flakes, then taste. Continue in this fashion, adding small doses of flavor and then tasting, until you’ve got that sucker lined up where you want it. No, this is not an excuse to just spoon-feed yourself a pot of cheese soup, although now that you’re well, well past the point of no return, what difference could it honestly make? Just ram it into your maw like Winnie the Pooh stuck in the honey tree. Who can stop you! Dunk a chip down in there and stuff it home. MMMMMMM. So fatty and decadent, so full of good chunks of tasty things. This is a fine way to die.
When you are done tasting and making love to the meaty cheese dip, take some time to notice that you just made a fucking TON of it. Holy shit that is a cauldron of meaty cheese dip. This would be a fine time to investigate whether there are any televised sporting events scheduled for the next half hour, and whether you’ve got any actual friends, and whether you like any of them enough to share a bench in your hot tub of melted cheese. Ladle some of that action into a bowl, grab a bag of chips and a beer, and go plant yourself in front of the tube. You are now the great master of meaty cheese dip. Enjoy the spoils.
Chris Thompson lives in Virginia, hate-loves and writes about the Wizards, and spends too much of his meager income on meals out. He’s also written for Gawker, Vice Sports, and The Classical, and can be found on Twitter @MadBastardsAll. Check the Foodspin archive here.