gameday snacks: loaded nachos [week 10]

This post is going to be part recipe and part rant.  Why, you ask?  I have a pet peeve (okay, I have many pet peeves, but I’ll only go into one of them today) about improperly prepared nachos.  Context: you’re out at dinner with friends, and you decide, “Why yes, it would be a terrific idea for the 4 of us to split nachos before a main course of romaine salads with no dressing, no cheese, no bacon, and no croutons!”  After what feels like forever, your calorific starter makes its way to the table; the cheese is oozing and the meat is sizzling.  You know you made the right choice.  You all eagerly dive into the chips, cheese, guac, and sour cream…only to discover that the restaurant only bothered to line the outermost chips with toppings; an epically tall tower of bare tortilla chips now sits as the centerpiece of your forlorn table.  You know you’ll finish the dish, but you feel completely mislead and totally disappointed by the “nachos” for which you just shelled out twelve bucks.

If the above scene has never occurred in your life, count your blessings, skim my pretty photos, and skip to the recipe section.  If you feel me, read on as I describe why it’s so critical to layer your nacho ingredients to achieve Fully Loaded Nacho status and fall asleep a happy person.

Spicy Loaded Nachos
Spicy Loaded Nachos

Perhaps I should have titled this post “Toppings on Toppings on Toppings” – it would have been more accurate.  Look closely at the chips in the above photo and you’ll see that the cheese, chicken, jalapeños, and beans seemingly fall out of the center of the nachos.  THIS is how nachos should be!  You shouldn’t be punished for devouring the outermost layer first; you should be rewarded with fresh, new toppings to shovel into your mouth with a perfectly curled corn chip.

Spicy Loaded Nachos
Spicy Loaded Nachos

I did keep the ingredient list simple here – while these nachos are Fully Loaded, I didn’t want to put so many different ingredients into them that the result was a weird smorgasbord of flavors that was reminiscent of meals in college between grocery store trips.  The chicken is cooked with onions and bell peppers; adding pepper jack, cheddar, black beans, and jalapeño sounded like it would get me a big punch of flavor at a pretty low cost.  Definitely a plus since I’ve seen 4 people take down an entire bag of tortilla chips.  And by “seen,” I mean I have been one of four people who demolished an entire bag of tortilla chips.  It’s okay, you can judge me.

Spicy Loaded Nachos
Spicy Loaded Nachos

Don’t freak out about the amount of jalapeño you’re seeing here.  The creaminess of the cheese helps tame the spice of the pepper.  If you keep the slices thin, you’ll get a pleasant “oh hey” from any peppered chip as opposed to a “HELLO!” that will hit your tongue with bigger slices.  And hey, if you’re thinking pepper jack cheese is plenty of heat for you, then add some chopped tomato in place of the jalapeño and call it a day.

Spicy Loaded Nachos
Spicy Loaded Nachos

Please just take a minute to appreciate the fact that the chip above was pulled from the center of the pile.  And the ooey, gooey cheese is holding all of the ingredients, which resulted in the perfect bite.

Okay, I’ll get off my soap box and give you the recipe and notes.

1) Make the chicken the night before for even easier gameday preparation.
2) Even better: double the chicken recipe and have fajitas for dinner on Saturday, then nachos on Sunday.
3) Serve these with your favorite dips.  I like sour cream and my boyfriend likes salsa – I usually save the guac for smaller groups since avocados can get a little expensive, but if you’ve gotta have it, you’ve gotta have it.

As always, there’s tons of room for variation with this recipe.  Try the marinade on pork or steak, use refried beans if you prefer, swap out the cheeses – whatever floats your boat!  Happy eating 🙂

Spicy Loaded Nachos
Spicy Loaded Nachos

loaded nachos

prep time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

cook time: 30 minutes

total time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

yield: 4 large servings


    For the Chicken
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced into quarter inch pieces
  • 1 tsp garlic powder/garlic granulates
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp lime juice
  • 2 bell peppers, julienned
  • 1 onion, julienned
  • 2 TBSP oil, divided
  • For the Nachos
  • Chicken from above
  • 12 oz pepper jack cheese, shredded
  • 6 oz sharp cheddar, shredded (I used white; yellow is fine)
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 medium jalapeños, thinly sliced into rings
  • 1 bag tortilla chips (12-13 oz will be plenty)


  1. Mise en place, and read this recipe all the way through.
  2. For the Chicken
  3. In a medium sized bowl, combine the thinly sliced chicken with the garlic, cumin, chili powder, salt, black pepper, soy sauce, and lime juice. Mix well to coat the chicken thoroughly, then cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour and a maximum of 24 hours.
  4. After marinating is complete, head a large nonstick skillet over high heat and add 1 TBSP oil. Add bell pepper and onion to the skillet when the oil is shimmering, and cook 10 minutes, constantly stirring.
  5. When the bell pepper and onion have softened and developed some color, push them to the outer edges of the skillet and add the second TBSP of oil. Let the oil heat briefly, then add the chicken. Cook 5-7 minutes, again stirring constantly. [If you're doubling the recipe you'll need to do this in 2 batches]
  6. For the Nachos
  7. Chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
  8. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray lightly with nonstick spray.
  9. Make a single layer of chips on the foil. Cover with 1/3 of the cheese, beans, jalapeños, and chicken.
  10. Make another single layer of chips on top of the previous layer, and layer once more with another third of each of the toppings.
  11. Repeat for a third and final layer of chips and cheese.
  12. Bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling.
  13. Let cool slightly, then use a spatula to cut the "nacho cake" into 4-6 pieces, or serve as one giant plate of nachos.


Cook the chicken the night before you want to eat the nachos.

Serve the nachos with your favorite dips, such as sour cream, salsa, guacamole.


2 comments to gameday snacks: loaded nachos [week 10]

  1. Very good comments. So many people and restaurants make the mistake of not layering. It is so important to making stellar nachos and is so often neglected. The one major caveat I’d throw in is that you have to cook slightly lower and at a longer temperature so that the cheese melts all the way through, because you certainly don’t want unmelted cheese in the middle. Making the chicken at the same time helps, as the hot chicken melts the cheese in the middle of the nachos. I am salivating as I write this.

    One other thing: use dark meat. Since you cook the chicken before you put it in the nachos, you run the risk of drying it out. Many times, I’ve had restaurant nachos which had dry lumps of chicken cubed and cooked twice. For myself, I’ll use boneless, skinless dark meat (easier to cube than bone/skin, usually cheaper too). If you are worried about calories, bake the chicken instead of frying it to cut the oil. But you’re eating nachos. You’re not worried about fat. Nevermind.

    • Hi Ari! Thanks for your detailed comments. I totally agree that you have to cook these lower and longer to melt the cheese. I initially cooked these at 425 for 5 minutes only to discover that my innermost toppings didn’t achieve their destined melty goodness. When I dropped the temp to 375 and left the nachos in the oven for about 15 minutes, the inside layers were totally molten.

      I personally prefer the flavor of breast meat, though my intention for this recipe was actually to make pork tenderloin, not chicken. I just happened to have a lot of leftover chicken that I wanted to use up. I think using dark meat in this would require a side of line wedges and a sprinkle of cilantro to cut through the rich, fatty flavors.

      Happy eating!!

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