Fox News anchor Dana Perino became a social media punchline faster than it took Velveeta to melt. On Super Bowl Sunday, Perino posted a picture of her slow cooker, filled with a foaming brickish-brown substance under the caption: “I made queso.”
The reaction was swift and hilarious, with Vox calling it “the breakout meme of the Super Bowl.” If there’s a crime, it’s the unappealing photo. Perhaps it was labelling it queso, when it should’ve been chili cheese dip. But then came a second wave of snark, when an enterprising Twitterer unearthed a queso recipe that Perino posted in 2016:
The cream of mushroom soup should’ve come with a trigger warning—its inclusion drew befuddlement from much of the Twitterati and outrage from native Texans.
I will admit: I stayed off the internet on Super Bowl Sunday. I didn’t watch one second of the game. It wasn’t until The Takeout’s morning meeting on Monday that I learned about the “I made queso” meme. Even amongst our staff, the kneejerk reaction was “Ewww gross.” That was the most intriguing part to me—our instant averse reaction, even though we published a recipe called “Garbage Chicken.”
One thing I’ve learned from this job is one person’s bizarre food could be another person’s daily bread. When the Mississippi Roast became a viral recipe, people thought pot roast + butter + pepperoncini + ranch dressing powder was beneath their dignity—until they tried it themselves. The New York Times published a guacamole recipe in 2015 that used green peas, earning The Gray Lady a fair bit of mockery, even from President Obama himself. I made it; it wasn’t all bad.
So who are we to mock a recipe, without trying it first? I was willing to give Dana Perino’s queso the benefit of the doubt.
Here I was at the grocery store Monday night. Perino didn’t include a recipe, just a list of ingredients from that 2016 tweet. I had to use intuit the ratios and directions—luckily, this was queso, not rocket science.
I first sautéed diced bacon (about four strips) and spicy Italian sausage (about 1/2 pound) without oil, along with one seeded and diced jalapeno pepper. Perhaps it was impatience, but I could’ve benefitted from a few extra minutes of browning before adding the condensed cream of mushroom mix. In any case, the creamed soup quickly integrated with the meats and peppers. I quickly added 1/2 cup of heavy cream and half a block of cream cheese. In went the can of Rotel and a whole block of Velveeta. Within three minutes, my pot took on that unmistakable orange-yellow hue of queso, with festive accents of red and green plus browned sausage and bacon throughout. It sure didn’t look like Perino’s photo (though there’s doubt whether that photo was actually of that 2016 recipe she tweeted out). My wife took one look at the simmering pot and declared: “That looks delicious.”
A garnish of chopped fresh tomatoes and cilantro, et voila, Dana Perino’s maligned queso. This is what it looks like.
But what will the purists say?
There’s smoky bacon and crumbled hot sausage! There’s hot cheese (two kinds) and squishy tomatoes—both freshly diced and Rotel. And the canned mushroom soup? If you consider most of it dissolved into the cheese liquid, what’s left are a few scant bits of mushroom. And if you’ve ever had queso fundido with roasted crimini, you’ll realize that flavor combination isn’t so strange. That photo Perino posted was hideous, to be sure. But cream of mushroom and bacon? Call this queso or not, but it’s inarguably delicious. Internet: let’s simmer down now.