Boot Camp is a back-to-basics series focusing on some classic easy-cooking staples. If you would describe your cooking ability as “my-easy mac-is-on-fire,” then this is a great place to start, and if you’re more of a veteran, we hope you’ll pick up on some new ideas and add advice of your own as a comment. If you’re only interested in how to sous vide heirloom romanesco, you might want to move on.
Quesadillas. What can I say? A great quesadilla is revelatory, while a bad one is like a cold knife to the heart.
Ok, maybe that’s a little extreme, but I remember college dining hall quesadillas that dripped with grease and were filled with uncooked onions and unmelted cheese product. I’ve had quesadillas served to me in restaurants that were less like quesadillas and more like two-pound chicken breast wearing a tortilla as a hat. And, as I’ve played around with technique, I’ve made some godawful quesadillas myself.
Point being, there are a lot of bad quesadillas out there, and bad quesadillas make me sad. So after the jump you’ll find my tips for avoiding some of the most common quesadilla mishaps.
Quesadilla-making is not complicated, but I think I’ve figured out a few things that really make for a
As a general rule, the more aged the cheese, the worse it is for melting. Young Gruyere = good. 3-year cheddar = bad. Any cheese is worth experimenting with, but this is a good principle to keep in mind.
For a “standard” quesadilla, I’ve gotten the best results using pre-shredded “Mexican” cheese blends, which usually feature Monterey Jack, cheddar, queso blanco, and the like. These are a little more processed than I’d like them to be, but they melt really well and are the perfect sharp-mild balance for your standard quesadilla. Cheddar alone does not melt well (see above), while queso blanco is pretty bland and can be hard to find. Jack is probably your best bet if you want to avoid the bagged stuff.
The most pernicious quesadilla problem is sogginess, which results from either undercooking or overgreasing. I make my quesadillas in a non-stick skillet without any fat at all. Tortillas suck up oil like a sponge and get soggy and gross quite easily, so I’ve found they brown and get crisp more easily in an ungreased pan.
Heat a pan over medium heat and slap a tortilla in there. Layer cheese thinly and evenly across the whole surface and then cover the pan. This will make sure the cheese melts before the tortilla burns. Once the cheese is melted (it should only take about a minute), spread your filling (see below) out on one half of the quesadilla. Don’t overfill.
Use a rubber spatula to fold the the tortilla in half over the filling, then press the quesadilla flat. Saute the quesadilla until it’s browned to your liking on both sides, flipping as necessary.
You can make a larger quesadilla, by placing filling on the whole tortilla and then adding another tortilla on top. These are harder to flip, but not too bad with a little practice.
So what is that filling? A quesadilla can of course contain nothing aside from the eponymous queso, but adding something a little more substantive turns a cheap snack into an inexpensive meal. My go-to quesadilla is black bean and corn:
Heat oil in a skillet and add one small diced onion. Drain one can of black beans in a colander, and add in about half a bag of frozen corn. (Corn kernels, like peas, take quite well to freezing, and a bag of corn in the freezer is not a bad step toward building a better kitchen.) Once the onions soft and beginning to brown, toss in the beans and corn, and add about a tablespoon of cumin and a pinch of salt. The beans and corn are already cooked, so you just need to make sure everything is warmed through.
Starting with warm filling makes the quesadilla process easier, as you can just brown the quesadilla without worrying about whether the center is warm enough. Even if I’m using leftovers, I heat them up in a skillet or the microwave first.
This recipe makes enough for five or six small quesadillas and keeps extremely well in the fridge, as do tortillas, which is makes quesadillas a good stanby meal to keep on hand.
No, I’m not suggesting you stack your quesadillas up into some kind of fancy tower, but I had two miscellaneous thoughts that didn’t fit under another heading:
1. Let your quesadilla cool for a minute before slicing it. This lets the interior congeal, for lack of a less gross word, and prevents your filling from going everywhere when you try to cut it.
2. Quesadillas go well with salsa, sour cream, and/or guacamole. I usually have salsa in my fridge, but sour cream is not something I have a lot of call for. I’ve found, though, that as a garnish, yogurt really works just as well as sour cream. It doesn’t pack quite the caloric punch of sour cream, but provides the same tang. Try it. If you have guacamole around, more power to you.
Once you have a bag of tortillas in your fridge, you’re going to start scheming about what you can stuff them with. Below are a few ideas from me and from others, but I hope you’ll add some of your favorites in the comments below.
- Peaches and Manchego a la Wills
- Last night’s dinner (Really, whatever it was. Ok, maybe not soup.)
- Figs and brie
- Roast beef and blue cheese
- Roasted peppers and goat cheese
- The Elvis – peanut butter, bananas, and honey