I always love the idea of sitting around a big steaming dish of food, into which we can all dive, elbows out and forks in – and if it involves melted cheese, then so much the better. And now that the temperatures are dipping below freezing, and many of us are snow bound, what better meal to make than one that acts as internal central heating?
Queso fundido (meaning ‘melted cheese’) is the Mexican cousin of Swiss fondue. Although you don’t dip anything in the cheese, it does make sense to keep it warming over a lamp or tea light as you would a fondue if you are going to leave it on the table for people to help themselves, rather than dishing it up, so that the cheese doesn’t seize and separate. (This happens very quickly so you can’t make this in advance.)
Traditionally it is served with fried, crumbled chorizo which can either be layered with the raw grated cheese, or, as I like to serve it, piled up on top after the cheese has melted. For vegetarians I use fried mushrooms which go perfectly with the melted cheese.
If you can order your cheese from one of the great specialist suppliers online, it’s worth trying to track down some of the delicious Mexican traditional cheeses that are used to make this dish, including Oaxaca and Chihuahua. However, the rest of us can get by just fine using a mixture of mozzarella and Cheddar. I’ve had the best results using those bags of pre-grated mozzarella, as they melt evenly, and occasionally I’ve been lucky enough to find a grated mix also containing Monterey Jack, an American cheese that melts perfectly and would always be my first choice.
I always use a cast iron frying pan that can go in the oven, but there’s no reason why you can’t melt the cheese in Pyrex or, if you are going down the stovetop route, a standard frying pan.
Most recipes call for the cheese to be baked so the mixture remains wholly liquid. I like to cook it in cast iron on the stove top so that the bottom goes crispy and brown, but that’s just my preference.
SERVES 4 as a main course, 6 as an appetizer
200g chorizo, crumbled out of its casing (it may need to be finely chopped)
I medium onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes
400g small white mushrooms, halved and then cut into thirds
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt and black pepper to season
500g grated cheese (my basic mix is 250g grated mozzarella cheese plus 250g grated Cheddar cheese, or Monterey Jack, if you can find it. If I have some Manchego left over from a party, then I sub that in too. Mmm.)
handful coriander leaves
corn tortilla chips or large tortillas, to serve
large ovenproof frying pan, preferably cast-iron
Place a frying pan over a medium-high heat. Crumble in the chorizo. (Do not add any extra oil: it gives off plenty.) Cook for about five minutes, until it starts to give off its characteristic red oil. Then remove the chorizo with a slotted spoon to a plate, leaving the oil in the pan.
Whilst the chorizo is cooking, core and chop the tomatoes into small pieces.
Keep the pan over the heat but turn it down to medium. Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook until translucent. This will take at least 15 minutes. When the onion is done, tip the chorizo back in the pan, make sure everything is mixed together and keep warm over a very low heat.
Place a frying pan over a medium-high heat, add the oil, and when it is hot, tip in the chopped mushrooms and cook until soft. Put to one side.
Meanwhile, if baking, turn the oven on to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.
Mix the cheeses together and add to the cast-iron frying pan. Either tick in the oven for 5-10 minutes, or heat on medium on the stove top with a lid over the frying pan to hasten the melting process.
Keep a beady eye on the cheese: you don’t want it starting to separate. (The aim is a pan of molten deliciousness.)
Remove the pan from the heat and spoon either the mushrooms or the warm chorizo-onion mixture and chopped tomatoes in the middle.
Scatter lots of coriander over everything. Either dip tortilla chips into the melted cheese, or spoon the cheese onto large corn or wheat tortillas. I like to serve it with sliced avocado, greek yogurt or sour cream, crumbled chillies and lots of hot sauce (Cholula Chipotle for preference).
This recipe is adapted from my cookbook Friends, Food, Family: Recipes and Secrets from LibertyLondonGirl