This Small Batch Queso (aka Nacho Cheese Dip) with roasted jalapeno pepper is made with a secret ingredient to help keep it silky smooth, even after it cools.
I’m pretty sure I say this all the time, but I love to snack.
If I could eat snacks for dinner, I totally would. I’ll eat snacks straight from the bag or with dip.
My favorite snack? Queso. AKA Nacho Cheese Dip.
It’s one of my weaknesses. There’s a place in Pittsburgh whose queso is nicknamed “liquid gold” but it also costs $12. Although I dream daily about that queso, my wallet dies a little inside.
That’s usually why I opt to make Small Batch Queso at home. One – it’s more affordable. Two – I can control the portion size.
Not to say I’m on a diet or anything, but I probably shouldn’t be eating a bucket of cheese dip either.
Although you can eat queso 365 days a year, I often think of making it on two occasions:
- The Big Game I can’t officially name due to the NFL possibly suing me (or tailgating in general)
- Cinco de Mayo (even though it’s Tex Mex and not Mexican)
Both occasions involve parties, but I never have large gatherings. Hence the small batch.
Or if you’re staying in on a Saturday night watching Netflix (exciting, I know), you can whip up a batch.
Ready to get started?
What is queso?
If you don’t know Spanish, queso literally translates into cheese. When you order queso at a restaurant, it’s a hot cheesy dip served with nachos.
Sometimes it’s white queso made with queso fresco. Other times it’s yellow made with cheddar cheese (or Velveeta).
The toppings will vary. Sometimes you’ll get salsa con queso, which is cheese dip with salsa on top. Other times you may get jalapenos on top.
I put chopped jalapenos in mine so you get some spice in every bite.
How do you keep queso dip from hardening?
There is no true way to keep queso from hardening after it cools; that’s how cheese dip works.
However, there is a secret ingredient to keep it from congealing and separating – canned evaporated milk. When the dip cools, it stays smooth instead of a thick gloppy mess.
The top will still firm up after cooling, but it won’t be congealed when you reheat and stir it.
I first discovered this trick when I posted about my Italian Nachos with a mozzarella cheese sauce.
If you don’t want the queso to firm up at all, one solution is to keep it constantly warm in a small slow cooker. This method would be ideal if you’re serving queso at a party.
How do you thin out queso?
The one downfall to making any cheese dip is it will thicken greatly as it cools. Luckily it’s easy to thin out!
The best way to thin out queso is to stir in extra milk while reheating.
Although this recipe calls for evaporated milk, it seems a little silly to open up a new can to use a small amount. You can use dairy milk in a pinch when reheating.
Why is my queso grainy?
If your queso is grainy, chances are your cheese got too hot, causing it to separate. You want to stir the cheese in at the end and let the heat melt it rather than continuing to cook it.
Sometimes it’s the cheese itself. Some pre-shredded cheeses have a waxy coating that doesn’t melt down well. It’s best to buy a block of cheese then shredding it by hand.
To fix grainy queso, put it in a blender until smooth again.
Do you have to use roasted jalapeno peppers?
I’ve made queso both ways – with oven roasted jalapeno peppers and pan fried jalapeno peppers. Although both methods are delicious, oven roasted develops a more flavorful queso.
However, if you don’t have time to roast them, you can sauté chopped jalapenos right in the saucepan before adding the milk.
When I think of queso, I often think of tailgating. Why? I don’t know, but if there’s an opportunity to eat melted cheese, I’m there.
To make nacho cheese dip even more football friendly, set up a nacho bar with salsa, guacamole, and sour cream.
- 2 medium jalapeno peppers*
- One 12-ounce can evaporated milk**
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 400F. Cut each jalapeno in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and membrane. Place them cut side down onto a baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until soft and slightly darkened. When cool enough to handle, chop into small pieces.
- In a small bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon evaporated milk and the cornstarch to make a slurry. Set aside.
- In a large saucepan, heat the rest of the evaporated milk until hot but not boiling.
- Whisk in the cheese, cornstarch mixture, and salt until smooth. Cook for 3-5 minutes or until thickened, whisking often.
- Stir in the chopped jalapeno. Serve immediately.
*Roasting brings out more flavor, but if you don't have time to roast: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saucepan. Once hot, add chopped jalapeno and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Continue with Step 2.
**Evaporated milk helps keep the dip from congealing and separating, even after cooling. Although it is highly recommended, you can substitute dairy milk in a pinch.
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