There’s not a whole lot of high-end culinary wizardry involved in typical Super Bowl party foods. But since it’s easy to end up with a bland batch of chili, soggy nachos and brown guacamole, we wondered if there were simple tricks to avoiding these common problems.
So we reached out to Chris Kimball, publisher of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, and food scientist Harold McGee for advice on how to improve our culinary gameplay for the big day. Here’s what we learned.
You’ll find plenty of mediocre wings in the grocer’s freezers. Forget them, says Kimball. Instead, make your own and start with top-quality chicken for a juicier wing.
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“A lot of problems with chicken is that you are getting things that are mass produced stuff,” he said. “Definitely look at the brand.”
Chicken wings usually are deep-fried. “Fried foods are easy to get wrong,” says McGee said.
“If you cook them at too low a temperature they absorb a lot of grease,” he says. “The same sort of thing happens if you don’t shake or blot them after, because the oil is at its least viscous when it is hot.”
To get it right, be sure to dry the wings with paper towels before frying (dry chicken equals crispy chicken), and be sure to let them come to room temperature. Cold wings will cool the oil, which results in poor frying.
The goal is to maintain a constant oil temperature of 350 F, says McGee. When they are done, pull the wings out using a slotted spoon and give them a good shake over the pan to remove as much of the oil as possible before transferring them to a paper towel-lined plate.
Kimball says the main problems with nachos rest with ratio and the way the cheese is applied.
Don’t just dump ingredients on, he says. Think about the ratio of cheese to chips to jalapenos to sour cream to diced tomato to guacamole to... You get the idea. Consider how much of each flavor your want and how they work together before adding anything.
As for the cheese, just sprinkling the cheese on top leaves you with what Kimball calls a “cheese hat” while the other ingredients pile up underneath and make your chips soggy.
The solution: layering the chips, cheese and other ingredients instead of carpet-bombing the top. Use a rimmed baking sheet and arrange a single layer of tortilla chips. Top them with a bit of each ingredient, including the cheese, then add another layer of chips over that and repeat the process.
When you’ve got everything assembled, 7 to 10 minutes in the oven at 400 F will do nicely.
The problem with guacamole is that when air hits avocado, it browns. And to end any debate on the matter, adding the pit to guacamole does not solve the problem.
“It’s true for the part of the guacamole that is under the pit,” McGee says. “You could do the same by adding a lightbulb.”
What causes the discoloration is the same thing that happens with apples or potatoes once they are peeled — oxygen in the air oxidizes the top layer of the dip.
The best bet is to make small batches of guacamole just before serving it. McGee says that as long as there is consistent dipping, browning shouldn’t be a problem. If you do make it in advance, cover it with plastic wrap pressed onto the surface of the guacamole.
It also doesn’t hurt to add a bit of acid, such as lime juice, which can slow the oxidation and enhances the flavor.
And in case you were wondering if double-dipping results in germs? It’s true, McGee says.
“Basically if you bite a chip and you do dip again you are sharing whatever is there with anybody else.”
His solution: serve smaller chips.
This is the easiest. Want a better chili?
Make it a day ahead. Just about any chili will improve with age.