Week 4 - Queso Fundido
Melty, cheesy goodness. An easy and delicious crowd-pleaser that evokes the history and culture of northern Mexico with every bite.
Can't Make Fundido without Fun!
Queso Fundido is super simple, fun to make and delicous! This dish is the kind of informal crowd-pleaser that puts a smile on everyone's face. Melted cheese is scooped into a tortilla for a sort-of cheesey taco, topped with Pico de Gallo or another type of salsa, or maybe some fresh chiles (like diced jalapenos).
In the United States, we tend to think all that melty cheesiness is crying out for crispy tortilla chips to scoop it up with, but the Mexican approach is to use soft tortillas rather than crisp chips. More about that below.
Queso means "cheese" and fundido means "molten" - so the key to great Queso Fundido is the meltiness of the cheese. In the United States, mild-flavored melting cheeses such as Monterrey Jack, Colby or mild Cheddar are all great choices.
In a Mexican or Latin American market, look for Chihuahua, Asadero or Quesadilla cheese. In our local Latin American market, we found Supremo brand Chihuahua cheese (named for the Mexican state of Chihuahua, which borders Texas), and it was delicious!
Prepping the Cheese
In the Adventure Kitchen, we have had the best results using a mixture of 2/3 cubed cheese and 1/3 shredded cheese. The cubed cheese goes in the bottom of the baking dish, then the shredded cheese is spread across the top. We have found this approach tends to result in even cooking of all the cheese without any strange-looking lumps in the end, and without rapid over-cooking (which tends to be a problem when using all-shredded cheese).
Dried Mexican oregano is a great choice if it's available. With a slightly sharper flavor than its Italian counterpart, Mexican oregano is a great herb to have on hand if you like Mexican cooking. You can also use other herbs, such as cilantro, basil, chives, thyme, etc., although some of these will take the taste away from traditional Mexican cuisine. (If using cilantro, we recommend sprinkling it on when you take the Queso Fundido out of the oven. Cilantro tends to work better when fresh).
Roasted chiles are another great, classic Mexican choice. Mild chiles such as Poblano or Anaheim are great here, since they add flavor without much heat. When using one of these mild chiles, you can still serve the Queso Fundido with Pico de Gallo or another salsa and the overall effect will just be greater depth of flavor (rather than overwhelming heat).
Click here to learn how to roast chiles to use in Mexican cooking.
Other Great Add-Ins
The possiblities are endless - though many of them are not traditionally Mexican, you can get creative and make something deliciously contemporary. Any combination of sauteed onions, garlic, mushrooms, chorizo, spinach, etc. would all be great, with or without chiles or herbs.
Tortillas: Corn vs. Flour
In the north of Mexico, Queso Fundido is served with warm tortillas made of white wheat flour. In Mexican cuisine, these are commonly called "flour tortillas" to distinguish them from "corn tortillas" which are made of corn (nixtamal). Throughout most of Mexico, when you hear the word “tortilla,” they are talking about tortillas made of corn, an ancient and sacred food in Mexico for thousands of years.
But when the Spaniards came to Mexico, they initially resisted eating native foods such as corn. As they acquired land and began to grow crops, the Spaniards tried to grow familiar European foods such as wheat. Wheat didn’t grow well in much of Mexico, but it did grow well in the north, where cattle ranching was also begun.
We Americans often think of the cowboy tradition as being unique to the United States, but it actually originated in Mexico. The southwestern United States, including the modern states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, belonged to Mexico long before it was part of the United States. That territory, along with the modern states of northern Mexico, was Mexican cowboy country. Mexican vaqueros (Spanish for "cowboy") were roping and riding and sharing the land with wheat farmers before Americans even learned to sing the Star Spangled Banner!
The combined flavors of flour tortillas and melty cow's milk cheeses in Queso Fundido are emblematic of the culture and traditions of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States.
Choosing flour tortillas
When you are buying flour tortillas to serve with Mexican food, you will see that there are many different kinds available, such as whole wheat, gluten-free, high-fiber, spinach-flavored, etc. The possiblities are endless - and many are delicious - but these varieties are not authentically Mexican. Mexican flour tortillas are made simply from white flour, salt, water, and a little lard or other fat.
Store-bought tortillas are fine to use as long as they aren't loaded with artificial ingredients, but if you can get your hands on some homemade flour tortillas, you will be in for a memorable treat. In northern New Jersey, some Whole Foods markets make fresh tortillas in the bakery. In the northeast, these are the closest thing we’ve found to the tortillas we remember the old Mexican grandmothers making when we were growing up in the border state of Arizona.
Queso Fundido BUFFET
We ended our class with a buffet featuring the two types of Queso Fundido we made in class. Delicious!