Monday, December 24, 2012

No Holds Barred Mac ‘n’ Cheeses

Mac and Cheese

We all know that Macaroni and Cheese is traditionally made with Elbow shaped pasta, but when you order it at your favorite gastro-pub it’s probably made with some other more trendy shape. There’s nothing really wrong with that, but don’t you secretly wish for at least some nod to convention? They, and we here, have already presented you with a dish as far removed from the little blue box of neon yellow cheesiness as can be. But why eradicate the last semblance of comfort from this, the quintessential comfort food?

Let’s stand up and demand our Elbow Macaroni, but no tantrums please and do remember to keep your elbows off the table!

No Holds Barred Mac ‘n’ Cheeses
Serves: 6-8     Total Time: 2 Hours + Marinating Time


• 1 Pound Large Elbow Pasta
• 1 Skinless, Boneless Chicken Breast
• ⅓ Cup Buffalo Hot Sauce
• ½ Pound Thick Cut Applewood Smoked Bacon
• ¼ Pound Unsalted Butter
• 6 Cloves Garlic, smashed and divided in half
• 1 Quart Milk
• 1 Cup Half & Half
• 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
• 1 Medium Onion, quartered
• 1 Bay Leaf
• 1 Sprig of Thyme
• 1 Teaspoon Dry Mustard
• 3 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
• 3 Cups Shredded Italian Cheese
• ¼ Cup freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
• 1 Cup Dry Bread Crumbs, crushed
• Kosher Salt
• Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Preparation Steps

Step 1. Cut the Chicken into ½” chunks and put into a zippered storage bag along with Buffalo Hot Sauce. Place the bag in a bowl to avoid accidental leaks and put in refrigerator for at least three hours or overnight.

Mac and Cheese Casserole
Step 2. Cut the Bacon into ½” pieces and cook in a skillet over medium-low heat until crisp, but not well done. Remove the Bacon to a paper towel to drain. Carefully pour off all of the Bacon drippings. Return the skillet to the stove top over medium heat.

Step 3. Retrieve the Chicken from the refrigerator and put into the skillet to cook stirring for 2 to 3 minutes until the Chicken is no longer pink inside. Remove from the heat, add the bacon, cover and set aside.

Step 4. Cook the Pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain, rinse and toss it with 1 tablespoon of the Butter and set aside.

Step 5. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Step 6. Use 1 tablespoon of the Butter to grease a large baking dish.

Step 7. In a 2½ quart saucepan add Milk, Half & Half, Worcestershire Sauce, Onion, 4 cloves of the Garlic, Bay Leaf, Thyme, and Dry Mustard. Cook, stirring over medium-low heat until the mixture begins to steam, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and let steep for at least 10 minutes.

Step 8. In a large wide pot over medium heat melt 3 tablespoons of the Butter and add the Flour. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly, to make a white roux.

Step 9. Use a mesh strainer to separate the Onion, Garlic and herbs from the Milk and Half & Half mixture. Discard the solids. Slowly add the strained mixture to the roux, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Increase heat to medium and cook whisking occasionally for about 5 minutes until the sauce has thickened some.

Step 10. Remove from the heat and slowly stir in the shredded cheeses until completely melted and smooth.

Step 11. Add Chicken and Bacon and liquid from skillet and stir to combine thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasoning with Kosher Salt and Ground Pepper and a few dashes of Buffalo Hot Sauce if desired. Fold the cooked macaroni into the cheese mixture and then pour into the prepared baking dish.

Step 12. In a small sauté pan, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of Butter over medium-low heat and add remaining 2 cloves of Garlic. Cook until the Garlic is beginning to color and then remove it from the pan and discard. Add the Breadcrumbs and stir to moisten. Remove from heat and add the Parmesan cheese stirring to combine thoroughly. Sprinkle the Breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top of the contents of the baking dish.

Step 13. Bake until the top is golden and crisp, about 30 minutes.

Mac and Cheese

Tips and Trending

~ Every ingredient in this dish is going to cook twice, so be careful not to overcook anything during the first cooking process. Overcooked pasta will break apart and turn to mush. Overcooked Bacon and Chicken will not share and absorb flavors; they’ll just sit there and dry out. Roux cooked longer than called for here has its place, but not in this recipe. Scalded dairy will impart more and different flavors than what you’re striving for. The cheeses may revolt and separate and overcooked Garlic is just plain nasty.

~  For convenience, go ahead and buy a prepackaged blend of shredded Italian Cheeses, they’re usually a combination of Mozzarella, Provolone, Parmesan, Asiago, Romano, and Fontina cheeses. Do this especially if the block cheeses you would buy and shred yourself are also prepackaged from the same producers of the prepackaged shreds. You’ll pay a little less by doing the work yourself, but flavor wise you gain nothing by shredding their cheese for them. If you really want to taste all those cheeses, buy a ¼ pound of each from your favorite cheese shop and do the work yourself. You’ll have a little bit of each cheese left over and you can really impress your guests, or your family, by putting very small pieces out for them to try before gobbling up this dish.

~  One of the delightful advantages of Mac & Cheese is that it can be made a day or three in advance, covered with foil and refrigerated uncooked until needed. Just take the dish out of the fridge about an hour in advance, heat the oven to 350º then bake, still foil covered for 45 minutes, removing foil for last 15 minutes of cooking.

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