How Rotel became a crucial queso ingredient and gave hope to lazy cooks everywhere

Three cans of RO*TEL
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I’m not a Texan, but I am the daughter of a Texan and friend to many Texans. That’s how I know about Texas queso, that most sacred and musky of cheesy dips that combines Velveeta, peppers, spices, tomatoes, and a can of Rotel. The indoctrinated know that Rotel is a fairly simple canned mix of diced tomatoes and fire-roasted green chilies. But, as Eater recently pointed out, it wasn’t always so ubiquitous on the queso scene.

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According to Eater, Rotel dates back to 1943, when it originated in Elsa, Texas thanks to a veggie canner named Carl Roettele. For years, Texans had been adapting chile con queso, which originated in 19th-century Mexico. But the traditional recipe involved roasting, peeling, and chopping chilies before sautéing them with the other ingredients. Sounds exhausting, no? Instead, Roettele came up with a grand idea: combining chiles and tomatoes in a ready-made can. He named his invention “RO*TEL,” a phonetic pronounciation of his name and a huge power move that I unequivocally support.

Rotel quickly became an essential queso ingredient, rearing its beautiful, pepper-laden head at football games and family holidays. The brand started officially marketing itself as a queso ingredient in 1949. Fast forward to 2002, when ConAgra Foods acquired the brand; then, in 2005, Rotel and Velveeta officially became partners. The beautiful marriage allowed Rotel to reach the Northeastern and Midwestern markets, where you can find it on most store shelves.

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Today, Rotel remains relatively unchanged. It’s still a simple canned mix of diced tomatoes and fire-roasted green chiles. It packs a little heat, as indicated by the packaging, which boasts a “zesty” and “distinctly regional” flavor. And it’s an essential item in many Texan pantries, thanks to the ingenuity of one humble veggie canner. Read the whole article, which is a delight. Personally, I’ll never look at a bubbling vat of queso quite the same way.

Staff writer @ The Takeout. Pork shoulder princess @ Chicago.

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DISCUSSION

Indispensable ingredient in my pantry, so many uses and difficult to use poorly.