In Texas, where Los Angeles–based chef Josef Centeno grew up, queso fundido was the classic party dish: an unctuous, cheesy dip that cried out for crisp tortilla chips and ice-cold beer. After putting in the better part of two decades cooking in some of the best restaurants on the East and West Coasts, Centeno decided to take queso to the next level at his newest venue, Bar Amá in downtown Los Angeles. The menu at Bar Amá is a refined homage to down-home Tex-Mex food (think Frito pie with beef tongue and fideo with octopus). Here the queso improves on tradition too: It’s rich, tangy, unbelievably silky and packs the twin capsaicin punch of chili powder and spicy Mexican chorizo. Not only must you avoid Velveeta at all costs, you are required to use sharp cheddar—mild makes for a grainy dip.
Bar Amá’s Queso with chorizo
2 tbsp. cornstarch
2½ cups half-and-half
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, grated
1¼ tsp. salt
1½ tsp. chili powder
½ lb. Mexican chorizo
2 tbsp. red onion, diced
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
1) Mix cornstarch with ¼ cup cold half-and-half until completely dissolved. Bring remaining 2¼ cups half-and-half to boil and stir in cornstarch slurry until thickened, about one minute. Add cheese one cup at a time and stir briskly until completely melted. If more half-and-half is needed, adjust to desired consistency. Add salt and chili powder. Reserve in a Crock-Pot or other slow cooker set to medium.
2)Remove casing from chorizo and cook in a medium frying pan over low heat, stirring occasionally and breaking up with a spoon until cooked through and browned. Remove with a slotted spoon. Garnish melted cheese with chorizo, onion and cilantro. Serve with tortilla chips.
Trick out your party arsenal with a slow cooker: It can keep your queso fundido at full melt, your chili from getting chilly and your mulled wine piping hot. And you don’t need anything super fancy. A classic Crock-Pot is priced around $20.