Perfect Quesadillas

I once worked as the chef for a sorority. I provided a short-order menu at lunchtime there every day, and one of the most popular items on said menu was the quesadilla. I kept diced chicken, sliced mushrooms, and chopped onions and peppers on-hand along with shredded cheddar so I could assemble them quickly. Sometimes I’d be asked to throw something else in there–the vegetarian “chicken” (that Morningstar Farms product, which is actually not half bad), or some turkey lunch meat, or some chopped tomatoes perhaps. I’d make at least 5 every day, so I got pretty good at assembling and making them properly.

My husband figured out at some point that he could come by the sorority house and nab one of these quesadillas for lunch.
Ever since then, he’s been bugging me about them–he misses his quesadilla fix.

I had some artisanal jack cheese sitting around post-holidays, so I grated it up and made some quesadillas recently. Here are my tips for reaching quesadilla nirvana:

Use flour tortillas. I know this one seems obvious to quesadillaphiles, but the corn ones just aren’t right for this job.

Put a tortilla on a work surface, sprinkle with cheese, then add fillings. Then, and this is important, add more cheese. Cap with a second tortilla. The cheese serves as glue to hold the fillings in. You really need two layers of it sandwiching the filling. You don’t need a huge amount of cheese (too much is gloppy anyway) but it has to be in two layers. Unless you’re making a quesadilla for your 21-month-old, in which case you’re making it with cheese only and don’t need to worry about the fillings.

Fillings need to be chopped down fairly small. Meat should be cooked. I like to use raw veg in my quesadillas, but something like spinach must be cooked and drained well before adding or the water will wash everything out.

Make sure your griddle or pan is hot but not too hot. Medium-low heat is best. I usually use pan spray to grease the pan lightly, put in the quesadilla, and then spritz the top with more pan spray. Both sides need a little sheen of fat to crisp properly.

Keep an eye on the heat and adjust as necessary. Ideally the tortillas will brown at about the same rate the cheese melts. I usually flip quesadillas twice. If your pan is too hot you can pull the quesadilla out and wait for it to cool, or flip it more often so the cheese can melt before the tortilla scorches.

Shredded iceberg lettuce is nice as a topping, with salsa and sour cream of course.


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