Bucking tradition with Thanksgiving nachos

Written by Jacob Quinn Sanders on

There are those ideas that sound far better in the shower than they do in the real world.

I thought Thanksgiving nachos might be one of them.

Chips, turkey. OK, easy enough. Gravy? Cranberries? I mean -- how?

And these are nachos, so ... cheese? And if cheese, clearly not cheddar. It's English and this is Thanksgiving, yo. America.

It was half a joke at first. My wife legitimately thought I was kidding. In this world of Gobbleritos and Thanksfurters, what other frightening and cringe-worthy ideas are left to -- let's be generous -- borrow from Thanksgiving traditions and transform in a way that's still edible?

My first mission was to encourage people I know who like food to talk me out of it. If it wasn't going to work -- or if it was -- I needed to know.

My wife and I planned a Friendsgiving party at our house: All the food you can't or won't make for family and hanging out with, like, not your family. Seemed the perfect time to debut such a thing.

Nobody tried to talk me out of it. I got one "Gross, dude," from my friend Sara, but everybody else encouraged me.

Even as I asked around, I wanted a way to solve the cranberry issue. In a lot of sauces, they're almost painfully sweet as people try to overcorrect the tartness.

My friend Abby sent me one recipe I liked. Cranberry, orange, Grand Marnier. It lended some ideas on technique, but the whole of it didn't quite work with what I had in my head.

By now I was plowing ahead. I got smoked turkey wings from Strip District Meats and corn tortillas from Reyna Foods to fry into chips. Originally I thought of making flour-based chips from scratch, but an acquaintance rightly put me straight. Corn it was.

It was in Reyna that the cranberry thing resolved itself. Tomatillos. Roasted tomatillos. Tart but creamy, they would add a bit of a rich earthiness behind the cranberries.

What else? Jalapeno. Yes. And cilantro. And garlic. And tequila. Add in some orange, orange zest, sugar, a pinch of salt and grind up Mexican cinnamon, cumin and a guajillo chile and this was well on the way to becoming cranberry salsa.

I still needed actual cranberries. Wild Purveyors had wild cranberries foraged in Allegheny County. Checking them for stem bits was a pain but worth it.

I should note here: I considered adding stuffing but didn't. The bread-plus-chips thing didn't seem quite right. And no mashed potatoes. Why overdo a good thing?

Party night was Saturday. Chips had been made, turkey meat shredded, salsa ready to go.

I gave some of the salsa to my wife to taste-test. She made a face I couldn't decipher right away.

"That's ... interesting," she said. "OK, that's good. That's really good."

Once the big turkey was out of the oven and gravy made, I could assemble this monstrosity.

On an over-proof plate, a layer of chips, then salsa, then gravy, then a little bit of grated Monterey jack cheese. (Monterey jack? Yep. American. A little tangy and a different kind of creamy than the gravy.)

Two more layers and into the oven.

I tasted one. I'd tasted everything separately and a couple things together -- the chips, the salsa, the salsa and the turkey, the chips and the salsa -- but this was my last chance to keep it off the table if it was vile.

Actually? Not bad. Pretty good even.

"Honestly, the nachos are the best thing I've had tonight," my friend Paul said.

There had been cocktails, so take that for what you will. But not bad for a random shower idea.

Jacob Sanders photo

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