There’s a difference between the jarred queso I pop into the microwave as guests walk through the door and the ooey, gooey appetizer gracing Tex-Mex restaurant tables. The former usually congeals untouched; the latter, I’m tempted to lick out of the bowl.
Great homemade queso takes a little longer than a twirl in the microwave. And while we're fans of making dinner a little speedier, that’s one shortcut you definitely shouldn’t take. No matter what cheese you decide to melt, it’s very important to buy chunks or blocks and grate the cheese yourself, says Homesick Texan creator Lisa Fain. “Pre-packaged shredded cheese is mixed with non-clumping agents, [which] prevent the cheese from melting into a smooth sauce,” she writes in her latest book, Queso!, which is chock-full of delicious dairy recipes and bits of Lone Star State history.
The James Beard Award–winning writer shares the recipe for one of her home state’s most famous recipes: the Austin Diner-Style Queso, with a more viscous texture perfect for coating tortilla chips. “In Austin, inviting places such as Kerbey Lane and Magnolia Cafe have long been popular spots for people to get their queso fix in the darker hours,” Fain writes.
Get your fix. Photo by Bobbi Lin
The recipe calls for American cheese; its low melting point makes it ideal for smooth dips. However, you’re not likely to find a chunk of American in the dairy aisle, because it is usually sold pre-packaged in individual slices. Your cheapest and easiest option is to get a pound from your deli.
While Texans rabidly defend their favorite restaurants' quesos, Fain’s recipe isn’t specific to any particular place. Instead, this dip is meant to remind you of all those great times with friends, and fuel you for many more.
Austin Diner-Style Queso
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup diced yellow onion
- 4 jalapeños, seeded and finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Anaheim chiles, roasted (see above note), peeled, seeded, and finely diced
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 pound white or yellow American cheese, shredded
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Guacamole (for topping)
- Pico de Gallo (for topping)
- Tortilla chips (for serving)
Do you have a favorite place to get queso? Tell us where and why in the comments!