Posted on March 18th, 2011
I finished a raucous, all-night signing at a comic book shop in Austin, TX, around two in the morning. My host, a six-and-a-half foot proud Texan with a big heart, massive vehicle with three televisions, eternal gullet, and the ability to tell you like a bullet to the back of the head which year The Empire Strikes Back had been filmed, had sensed the waning line and gone to get us some local BBQ to help us down from the night’s accumulated adrenaline (and vodka-Slurms). Sure, I’d had Armadillo Willy’s back in California, a few backyard goof-offs, and K.C. Rubbins’ Smokehouse Sugah’ Grocery Sirop, and I thought I knew what categories of flavors and textures barbecue was supposed to occupy.
With one bite of an unsauced Ruby’s spare rib, I could not only taste the age and history of the seasoned pit and racks upon which this meat had rested, and the unique alchemical magic of the pit master’s wood recipe, but something I’d never had before: actual American barbecue from a place which had been seriously practicing it for hundreds of years, on very old and dirty equipment. I likened it to eating a good night of camping. Like the first time I tried Nueske’s bacon, I sensed the archetype we seek from childhood.
It was a realization not unlike sprinkling a little salt on your first medium-rare steak, or dipping a fat piece of crab claw in garlic butter and nestling it in a still-warm shred of sourdough.
There was another discovery on that trip, though. One I could replicate at home, without having suffered a lifetime of paternal admonishment and squint-eyed dogma.
Queso, in my experience, is melted Kraft American cheese with canned Ro-Tel salsa mixed in. Most will think of it as “nacho cheese.” You can add minced jalapeño and a handful of cilantro to gussy it up. You can serve it in a warm crock pot with tortilla chips, or use it as a sauce. It lives happily on the counter, next to an enormous bowl of dippables, during a festive occasion such as Thursday, or last June, or Cousin Morty’s shoe removal surgery. Queso is not a participant in snobbish occasions, like where they ceremonially removed George Plimpton’s Lalique Prince Albert.
One of the finest chefs in Portland—working at a place that got academically boisterous over sous-vide documentation and hopelessly unsexy kale varietals—brought this admixture to a pig roast. He was from Austin. Despite the seven preparations of pork, Hypercolor™-style heat-sensitive Coors cans, and multiple fresh pepper salsas, queso easily won the hearts of those assembled. As a species, our capacity for rewarding warm dairy products with acceptance is somewhat of a foregone conclusion.
2 – 10oz cans Ro-Tel
32oz block of Velveeta
1 small can minced pickled jalapeños, chopped
Optional: handful chopped cilantro, minced 2 tbsp jalapeño pepper
Warm all in crock pot, three hundred degrees!
Stir until incorporated! Put a can of refried beans in if you want to give them boys fiber.