15 Delicious Facts for National Nacho Day

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Today is National Nacho Day, which seems like as good a reason as any to celebrate the splendor of tortilla chips topped with cheese.

1. Nachos Aren’t a New Snack

Nachos
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While new generations of chefs are putting their own spin on nachos, the appetizer has already stood the test of time. The cheesy chips date all the way back to 1943.

2. There Was an Actual “Nacho”

Nacho is a common nickname for the Spanish name Ignacio. The heroic Nacho who is immortalized by the dish first crafted the snack almost by accident, when he was pressured to create a meal using whatever he could find in the kitchen.

3. Nachos Were Invented Right On the Border

As the dish’s origin legend goes, nachos were first crafted by Nacho when he was working as the maître d' of a restaurant in Piedras Negras, Mexico. Right before closing, a party of women came in for a bite to eat. They were the wives of officers stationed at Fort Duncan in Texas, and would cross over the border to shop. The restaurant’s cook was nowhere to be found, but the ladies did not leave disappointed. The maître d' combined the first three things he found in the kitchen: shredded Wisconsin cheddar, tortilla chips, and sliced jalapeños. When the women asked him what this new improvised creation was called, he told them “Nacho Especiales.”

4. Nachos Had Taken America by Storm by 1949

After the new food was unveiled, it started to spread throughout America. In 1949, the dish was first mentioned in English print in a cookbook that gave credit to the original creator.

5. Nachos Are in the Public Domain

The creator never sought to claim ownership of the dish, but his son contacted a lawyer in 1960 to explore the possibility. Unfortunately, too much time had passed, so the recipe was free to the public.

6. Nachos Don’t Have to Be Unhealthy

If you want to cut down on greasy food but aren’t ready to give up nachos, just make some adjustments. For a more diet-friendly snack, try baked tortilla chips, ground chicken, a small amount of cheese, and lots of vegetables.

7. Beef, Beans, and Other Tweaks Are Considered “Modern”

The authentic version of the dish is simply shredded cheese, tortilla chips, and jalapeños, just as the creator made it. Nachos with other additions are considered a spinoff of the original.

8. Tortilla Chips Are An American Invention

Although they’re known as Mexican restaurant staples, tortilla chips could carry an American culinary passport. An American tortilla factory came up with an ingenious way to get rid of their scraps—they took warped and unsellable tortillas, fried them up, and sold them for ten cents a bag. The company managed to get rid of its surplus and make money doing it.

9. “Nacho Cheese” Is Also An American Invention

Nachos were becoming popular in restaurants in Texas, but as they required an oven to melt the cheese, one man sought to make a more convenient solution. Nacho cheese is liquid goo that can be layered over chips quickly. If you’re wondering what’s in it, the recipe is a well-guarded secret.

10. The FDA Doesn’t Consider It a Real Cheese

If you turn your nose up at this liquid cheese, you’re not alone—the concoction does not meet the FDA’s standards for real cheese.

11. Stadiums Love It, Though

The liquid cheese invention did not have to be refrigerated and had a longer shelf life than regular cheese, so it was easy to serve at ballparks. The sauce hit the stands in 1976 and was an immediate hit. Nachos soon outsold popcorn, stadiums’ former bestseller.

12. Nachos Can Take on a Grand Scale

A school in Kansas holds the record for the largest plate of nachos in the world. The gigantic platter weighed a whopping 4,689 pounds, and 2,200 of those pounds were nacho cheese alone. Servings of the 80-foot creation were sold to the masses for a dollar each in an effort to raise funds for charity.

13. The Recipe Is Made to Be Tweaked

Nachos can take on many different forms, including nacho lasagna, chocolate nachos, and even spicy nacho-flavored beer. Although the original recipe is rigid, modern takes can be a lot more creative.

14. Nachos Are Delicious Enough to Carry Two Holidays

In addition to today’s National Nachos Day, Piedras Negras observes the Day of the Nacho on October 21 and has erected a bronze plaque to honor the dish’s creator.

15. Ambitious Cheese Sauce Lovers Can Make Their Own

All you need is milk, butter, flour, and your choice of cheese. There are also plenty of vegan recipes floating around that use vegetables, tofu, and beans as substitutes.

12 Turkey Cooking Tips From Real Chefs

To get a turkey this beautiful, follow the tips below.
To get a turkey this beautiful, follow the tips below.
AlexRaths/iStock via Getty Images

When it comes to cooking a juicy, flavorful turkey, the nation's chefs aren’t afraid to fly in the face of tradition. Here are a few of their top suggestions worth trying this holiday season.

1. Buy a Fresh Turkey.

Most home cooks opt for a frozen turkey, but chef Sara Moulton recommends buying fresh. The reason: Muscle cells damaged by ice crystals lose fluid while the turkey thaws and roasts, making it easier to end up with a dried-out bird. For those who stick with a frozen turkey, make sure to properly thaw the bird—one day in the fridge for every 4-5 pounds.

2. Buy a Smaller Bird—or Two.

Idealizing the big, fat Thanksgiving turkey is a mistake, according to numerous chefs. Large birds take more time to cook, which can dry out the meat. Wolfgang Puck told Lifescript he won’t cook a bird larger than 16 pounds, while Travis Lett recommends going even smaller and cooking two or three 8-pound birds.

3. Brine That Turkey.


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Brining a turkey adds flavor, and it allows salt and sugar to seep deep into the meat, helping it retain moisture as the bird cooks. You can opt for a basic brine like the one chef Chris Shepherd recommends, which calls for one cup sugar, one cup salt, five gallons of water, and a three-day soak. Or, try something less traditional, like Michael Solomonov’s Mediterranean brine, which includes allspice, black cardamom, and dill seed. One challenge is finding a container big enough to hold a bird and all the liquid. Chef Stephanie Izard of Chicago’s Girl and the Goat recommends using a Styrofoam cooler.

4. Or, Try a Dry Brine.

If the thought of dunking a turkey in five gallons of seasoned water doesn’t appeal to you, a dry brine could be the ticket. It’s essentially a meat rub that you spread over the bird and under the skin. Salt should be the base ingredient, and to that you can add dried herbs, pepper, citrus and other seasonings. Judy Rodgers, a chef at San Francisco’s Zuni Café before her death in 2013, shared this dry rub recipe with apples, rosemary, and sage. In addition to a shorter prep time, chefs say a dry brine makes for crispier skin and a nice, moist interior.

5. Bring the Turkey to Room Temperature First.

Don’t move your bird straight from the fridge to the oven. Let it sit out for two to three hours first. Doing this, according to Aaron London of Al’s Place in San Francisco, lets the bones adjust to room temperature so that when roasted, it "allows the bones to hold heat like little cinder blocks, cooking the turkey from the inside out."

6. Cut Up Your Turkey Before Cooking.

This might sound like sacrilege to traditional cooks and turkey lovers. But chefs insist it’s the only way to cook a full-size bird through and through without drying out the meat. Chef Marc Murphy, owner of Landmarc restaurants in New York, told the Times he roasts the breast and the legs separately, while chef R.B. Quinn prefers to cut his turkeys in half before cooking them. Bobby Flay, meanwhile, strikes a balance: "I roast the meat until the breasts are done, and then cut off the legs and thighs. The breasts can rest, and you can cook off the legs in the drippings left in the pan."

7. Cook the Stuffing on the Side of the Turkey.

A traditional stuffing side dish for Thanksgiving in a baking pan
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Many chefs these days advise against cooking stuffing inside the turkey. The reason? Salmonella. "With the stuffing being in the middle, a lot of blood drips into it and if everything in the middle doesn't come to temperature then you're at risk," chef Charles Gullo told the Chicago Tribune. TV host Alton Brown echoed this advice, and writes that it’s very difficult to bring the stuffing to a safe 165 degrees without overcooking the bird. (You can check out some more tips to prevent food poisoning on Thanksgiving here.)

8. Butter Up That Bird.

No matter if you’ve chosen a dry brine, a wet brine, or no brine at all, turkeys need a helping of butter spread around the outside and under the skin. Thomas Keller, founder of The French Laundry, recommends using clarified butter. "It helps the skin turn extra-crispy without getting scorched," he told Epicurious.

9. Use Two Thermometers.

A quality meat thermometer is a must, chefs say. When you use it, make sure to take the temperature in more than one spot on the bird, checking to see that it’s cooked to at least 165 degrees through and through. Also, says Diane Morgan, author of The New Thanksgiving Table, you should know the temperature of your oven, as a few degrees can make the difference between a well-cooked bird and one that’s over- or under-done.

10. Turn Up the Heat.

If you’ve properly brined your meat, you don't need to worry about high heat sucking the moisture out, chefs say. Keller likes to cook his turkey at a consistent 450 degrees. This allows the bird to cook quickly, and creates a crisp shell of reddish-brown skin. Ruth Reichl, the famed magazine editor and author, seconds this method, but warns that your oven needs to be squeaky clean, otherwise leftover particles could smoke up.

11. Baste Your Turkey—But Don't Overdo It.

Man basting a turkey
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Spreading juices over top the turkey would seem to add moisture, no? Not necessarily. According to chef Marc Vogel, basting breaks the caramelized coating that holds moisture in. The more you do it, the more time moisture has to seep out of the turkey. Also, opening the oven releases its heat, and requires several minutes to stabilize afterward. It's not really an either/or prospect, chefs agree. Best to aim somewhere in the middle: Baste every 30 minutes while roasting.

12. Let It Rest.

Allowing a turkey to rest after it’s cooked lets the juices redistribute throughout the meat. Most chefs recommend at least 30 minutes’ rest time. Famed chef and TV personality Gordon Ramsey lets his turkey rest for a couple hours. "It may seem like a long time, but the texture will be improved the longer you leave the turkey to rest," Ramsey told British lifestyle site Good to Know. "Piping hot gravy will restore the heat."

Why Do We Eat Pumpkin Pie at Thanksgiving?

gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images
gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images

While it’s possible—even probable—that pumpkins were served at the 1621 harvest festival that’s now considered the predecessor to Thanksgiving, attendees definitely didn’t dine on pumpkin pie (there was no butter or wheat flour to make crust).

The earliest known recipes for pumpkin pie actually come from 17th-century Europe. Pumpkins, like potatoes and tomatoes, were first introduced to Europe in the Columbian Exchange, but Europeans were more comfortable cooking with pumpkins because they were similar to their native gourds.

By the 18th century, however, Europeans on the whole lost interest in pumpkin pie. According to HowStuffWorks, Europeans began to prefer apple, pear, and quince pies, which they perceived as more sophisticated. But at the same time pumpkin pie was losing favor in Europe, it was gaining true staple status in America.

In 1796, Amelia Simmons published American Cookery, the first cookbook written and published in the New World colonies. Simmons included two recipes for “pompkin pudding” cooked in pastry crust. Simmons’s recipes call for “stewed and strained” pumpkin, combined with a mixture of nutmeg, allspice, and ginger (yes, it seems our pumpkin spice obsession dates back to at least the 1500s).

But how did pumpkin pie become so irrevocably tied with the Thanksgiving holiday? That has everything to do with Sarah Josepha Hale, a New Hampshire-born writer and editor who is often called the “Godmother of Thanksgiving.” In her 1827 abolitionist novel Northwood, Hale described a Thanksgiving meal complete with “fried chicken floating in gravy,” broiled ham, wheat bread, cranberry sauce, and—of course—pumpkin pie. For more than 30 years, Hale advocated for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday, writing regular editorials and sending letters to five American presidents. Thanksgiving was a symbol for unity in an increasingly divided country, she argued [PDF].

Abraham Lincoln eventually declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 (to near-immediate outcry from Southerners, who viewed the holiday as an attempt to enforce Yankee values). Southern governors reluctantly complied with the presidential proclamation, but cooks in the South developed their own unique regional traditions. In the South, sweet potato pie quickly became more popular than New England’s pumpkin pie (mostly because sweet potatoes were easier to come by than pumpkins). Now, pumpkin pie reigns supreme as the most popular holiday pie across most of the United States, although the Northeast prefers apple and the South is split between apple and pecan, another Southern staple.

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