It’s game time! You’ve gathered your friends, donned the jersey, and are ready for the biggest snack-food event of the year. What are you serving? Chili-Cheese Fries! Aren’t you? You are if you want the undying admiration of your football crew.
After some extended work on fries here at the ThermoWorks demo kitchen, we thought that the perfect football-Sunday party food might be golden crisp french fries with delicious, meaty chili and gooey, creamy, spicy cheese sauce.
I think we’ were right.
So what makes the best chili cheese fries? Well, the best fries do. And the best fries are double fried! Then comes a meaty, hearty, real chili, made with actual dried chilies. Then comes a gooey, smooth cheesey cheese sauce.
We’ve written about fries on this blog before and won’t go into great detail here, but we’ll be brief in saying that french fries have two critical temperatures: 325°F (163°C) and 375°F (191°C). Those are the two temperatures at which to fry french fries in order to get golden, crisp, fluffy fries, and they are important. Cook them in oil that is too hot the first time and they will burn before being cooked through. Cook them in oil that is too cool the second time and they won’t crisp up the right way.
Use a ChefAlarm® to track your oil temp as you cook the fries by first setting your high-temp alarm for 325°F (163°C), and frying the rinsed potatoes for 5 minutes. Then let the fries sit for 10 minutes on a cooling rack and reset the high-temp alarm for 375°F (191°C). Fry the fries in the hot oil until they are golden brown and done to your liking.
Real chili is made with dried chilies. And the best of it has no tomatoes. And you can just forget about beans. Don’t believe me? Ask Texas. It’ll set you straight. To work with dried chilies, you almost always have to toast them first.
Toasting chilies is a way to awaken their flavors, bring out their complexities, and just make them easier to work with. Ask anyone who knows Mexican cookery well and they’ll tell you, toasting chilies is essential. After that, you want real meatiness in your chili, and we’ll get that from a few kinds of beef. Shortribs and chuck each have different flavors and textures and will cook up nice and tender in the chili braise. If you can get a small amount of brisket, throw that in too!
How to toast chilies
To toast dried chilies, heat a comal, cast iron pan, or heavy skillet to be hot enough to toast our chilies quickly but without burning them. Using the Hi Temp Industrial IR w/Circle Laser, we make sure our griddle top was at 400°F (204°C), a perfect temperature to awaken those flavors and aromas without charring the delicate dried flesh.
Place chilies in the pan in one layer and use tongs to press them against the hot surface. Turn the chilies and repeat on the other side. When they are fragrant, more pliable, and show color from the cooking they are done.
After toasting the chilies, remove the stems and the seeds (just shake them out). Put the chilies in a pot or bowl with some boiling hot water to steep for 20-30 minutes. Strain them and you are ready to go.
The Cheese Sauce
We all love cheese sauce, but sometimes feel bad we’ve never learned how to make it without Velveeta—not that there’s anything wrong with that! Well J. Kenji López-Alt cracked the code for a truly simple, truly delicious, truly perfect cheese sauce with just four ingredients. We added some jalapeño to make it five. You’ll be putting cheese sauce on everything after you learn this method.
So, without further ado, let’s make some. . .
Amazing Chili Cheese Fries Recipe
Homemade French Fries
See our post on Homemade French Fries for the recipe. You can do the first-batch frying early on, then let the fries sit (even in the fridge) until the chili and sauce are ready. Then, dry them off and toss them into 375°F (191°C) oil to finish to a golden brown right before serving.
Based on Bon Appétit’s Beef Chili
- 2 guajillo chiles
- 1 dried ancho chile
- 1 dried morita chile
- 4-5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound boneless beef chuck, cut into ½” pieces
- ½ pound boneless beef short ribs, cut into ½” pieces
- ½ pound brisket, cut into ½” pieces (if you can’t get a small piece of brisket, use more short rib meat)
- Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
- 2 yellow onions, finely chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 12-ounce bottle lager
- Toast guajillo, ancho, and pasilla chiles in a 400°F (204°C) skillet, turning occasionally and pressing chiles to help them make contact with the pan, until darkened in color and beginning to soften, about 3 minutes.
- De-stem and de-seed chilies.
- Cover with 2 cups boiling water; let sit 30 minutes to soften.
- Purée chiles and 4 cups broth in a blender until smooth, about 1 minute.
- While chiles are soaking, heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat.
- Season beef with salt and pepper.
- Working in batches, cook, stirring occasionally, until browned all over, about 5 minutes.
- Transfer beef to a plate.
- Add 1 Tbsp. oil to pot, then onions and garlic; season with salt and pepper.
- Cook, stirring often, until onions are softened, 6–8 minutes.
- Add a splash of water if the pan gets too brown.
- Add cumin, oregano and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
- Return beef to pot and add lager.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid is almost completely cooked out, about 5 minutes.
- Add chile purée, pepper, and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer until liquid is slightly thickened and meat is very tender, 1–1¼ hours, adding more broth if needed to keep meat submerged.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Do Ahead: Chili can be made up to 4 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Reheat gently over low heat, adding a splash of water to loosen, if needed.
From J. Kenji López-Alt, Cheese Sauce for Cheese Fries and Nachos Recipe
- 8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated on large holes of a box grater
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
- 2 teaspoons Franks Red Hot or other hot sauce
- 1/2 fresh jalapeño pepper, finely diced (you can choose how heavily to de-seed and devein it based on your spice preference)
- Add cheese and cornstarch to large bowl. Toss to combine.
- Transfer cheese to medium saucepan.
- Add 1 cup evaporated milk and hot sauce.
- Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with whisk until melted, bubbly, and thickened (about 5 minutes). Mixture will look thin and grainy at first but will thicken and come together after heating.
- Thin to desired consistency with additional evaporated milk.
- Add diced jalapeño.
- Serve on everything.
All together now
Cook the fries until golden and crisp, top with hot chili, top with cheese sauce, sprinkle with a little more chopped jalapeño, and stand back as it is devoured before your very eyes. That’s the power of temperature control.
For more on french fries, check out our other posts on the topic!