My love for queso began at my 13th birthday party. I was addicted at first bite—and for that, I credit my Tío Israel (Uncle Israel). Tex-Mex cuisine at its best, queso is beloved throughout my home state of Texas. Creamy, dreamy, and best served with a cold margarita, it’s a big part of my love affair with Tex-Mex.
My sister and I had begged Mami (our mother) for months to give us permission to throw a joint birthday party. After much persistent persuasion, she gave in—and we began planning. A local hall was rented, invitations were printed, a DJ was acquired, and the date was set. I was so excited. My first birthday party with all my friends! Our birthdays were usually a family-only celebration in our home, so this was major.
The day of the party, my mami set up a table filled with our favorite finger foods. Tiny sandwiches, overflowing bowls of chips and dips, plenty of pizza, and a huge bowl of her famous punch filled every open space. Lights were meticulously strung, Papi (our dad) rented extra-large speakers for the music, and my Tío Adrian was stationed at the door checking invites and happily acting as our bouncer for the evening.
Tío Israel arrived at the party with a huge slow cooker for our food table. I walked over to greet him and was hit with a heavenly smell. “It’s my famous queso,” he said proudly, going on to tell me he made it often for get-togethers and thought it would be a great addition to my mom’s menu. Surely enough, it was the hit of the party.
My friends and I couldn’t get enough of this cheesy creation. Tío’s queso was warm and gooey with a hint of spice, just begging to be ladled over a pile of chips. I was smitten immediately. When I thanked him for bringing it, he just smiled and said, “I knew you would like it.” Boy, that was an understatement.
I recently celebrated another significant birthday, and por supuesto (of course), I served queso. To help it stay warm, I made it in my thick-walled cast-iron skillet. I baked it at a low temperature to melt the cheese down to that perfect mouthwatering, molten consistency, and served it warm with my own little addition: a mountain of fresh pico de gallo.
It veers from my tío’s original recipe, but it adds a burst of freshness and another layer of spice. And though I’ve added my own spin, each time I whip up a batch, I’m taken back to that first bite of queso, and I can’t help but silently thank Tío Israel once again.
- 1 (16-ounce) package ground pork breakfast sausage
- 1 (2-pound) package processed cheese product*, cubed
- 2 (4-ounce) cans chopped green chiles
- Pico de Gallo (recipe follows)
- Tortilla chips, to serve
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage; cook, using the back of a spoon to break up meat, until browned and crumbly. Drain; stir in cheese and green chiles.
- Bake until cheese is melted, about 10 minutes. Top with Pico de Gallo. Serve immediately with tortilla chips.
- 4 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 1 small onion, diced
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 jalapeños, seeded and diced
- Juice from 1 lime
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Ground black pepper, to taste
- In a large bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, cilantro, jalapeño, and lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.