How-To: Chili Fries with Beer Cheese Sauce

It probably sounds strange to have chili fries for dinner, but that’s only because restaurant culture says that chili fries are an appetizer or side dish. But really, a hearty chili paired with a side of fries is a satisfying meal in itself.

This is more of a how-to, because the components of this meal are pretty straightforward. I just had never thought of putting them together quite like this. The chili here is my usual go-to chili: Rachael Ray’s Turkey Chipotle Chili with Pepper Jack Cheese Corn Cake Toppers (without the corn cakes). It’s a relatively fancy chili, not something you’d use to top fries with. I also like that it’s a turkey-based chili – it’s slightly less fatty than beef, so it gives that extra wiggle room on the cheese sauce. The only change I made to the recipe was making the sauce slightly thicker – I used only a cup of the chicken stock. I figured this would work better when combined with the fries and cheese sauce.

Because I made the cheese sauce from scratch, I decided to take a shortcut on the fries, by just using frozen fries from the supermarket. (I also had a couple of half-bags leftover, so this was an excuse to use them up.) If you had the time, though, I think it would be excellent to oven-roast your own potato wedges for this.

And that leaves the cheese sauce. Normally for chili-cheese fries you get an over-processed, Velveeta-style cheese sauce that oozes over the chili like a fatty, yellow lava flow. Instead of that, I decided to make a cheese sauce from scratch, pulling elements from both chili (cumin, chili powder) and fondue (beer). The recipe for the sauce is after the break.

In assembling this, I put some fries on the bottom, drizzled a bit of the cheese sauce on top, then a healthy serving of the chili, and then a bit more cheese sauce on top of that. Eat with a knife and fork. It was awesome.

Beer Cheese Sauce
This is your basic béchamel cheese sauce, but instead of using all milk, I used mostly beer and chicken stock. This method can be used to create cheese sauces for everything from nachos to lasagna to mac & cheese – just adjust the seasonings as appropriate.

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon paprika (preferably smoky, but sweet works too)
1 teaspoon chili powder (I used Penzeys’ Chili 9000)
1 teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup light-colored beer (lagers and IPAs work well)
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup milk
1-2 cups sharp cheddar cheese

In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until bubbling. Sprinkle the flour over top, and whisk until combined and not too lumpy. Let this cook for a minute. Sprinkle in the paprika, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper and whisk to combine.

While whisking, pour in the beer & stock, combining thoroughly until there are no signs of lumps. Bring the mixture up to a simmer. As you do so, the sauce will thicken considerably. Add the milk a bit at a time until you get the consistency you want – aim for something a little more liquidy than you’d like, as the cheese will thicken the sauce more.

Once the sauce is at a simmer, turn off the heat. Add the cheese a handful at a time, whisking thoroughly after each addition until it’s combined with the sauce. Repeat until the sauce is as thick and/or as cheesy as you’d like. Taste, and adjust the seasonings as necessary.

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