Two nights ago I was seized by a ravenous craving for mac n’ cheese. Normally a healthy eater, every so often (about once a week) I have an attack of the must-have-something-gooey-and-cheesies. Saturday night’s attack was unlike any other. There was only one thing to be done: make a mac unlike any mac I’ve made before.
Driving home from work I did a mental inventory of our refrigerator back home: Heavy cream, leftover from some dessert creation from a few nights back, a can of Black on Black beer leftover from Luke’s men’s group, plenty of butter. With God as my witness, all three would be making an appearance in my mac n’ cheese. But cheese. Cheese we were lacking.
Overly eager, I lurched into Whole Foods, my car wheels screeching into the turn. Things were about to get dangerous. Shopping here tonight was not in my budget, but then, it never is. Foreseeing the pitfalls of my plan, I beelined it for the door without so much as a glance at the shopping carts and baskets. This would be an in-and-out trip. No basket. I’d only buy what I could carry. Mac n’ cheese awaited.
At the cheese counter, I grabbed a hunk of Gouda I knew would melt perfectly into my cream sauce. Meanwhile, a familiar face appeared behind the deli counter. She saw me, smiled and reached for a half round of waxed cheese from the cooler.
“Searching for something in particular today?” she asked as she shaved off a slice and handed it to me on the end of a toothpick.
“I’m making a decadent mac n’ cheese tonight,” I said, dislodging the cheese. “I’m thinking Gouda and a strong cheddar of some sort.”
I popped the pillowy cheese into my mouth and let it melt on my tongue. It melted quickly, releasing its sugars and a mild creamy flavor.
“That’s the Royal Addition Cheddar we have on promotion in honor of the royal baby.”
Not too pungent, an ideal melting cheese, high fat content. On sale? Even better.
“It’s perfect,” I said. “I’ll take half a pound.”
Can I admit that the whole William & Kate Royal Addition part barely registered with me at this point? I had my cheese blinders on and I wasn’t going to be diverted. Which I guess speaks well of the actual cheese inside the royal crest-embossed packaging. Opportunistic marketing ploy? Definitely. Delicious cheese? Happily, yes.
You know, of course, that a good mac n’ cheese requires a minimum of one pound of cheese? That was one of my grandmother’s rules and she made the best mac n’ cheese around. (But doesn’t everyone’s grandma?) Though I diverged from my gran’s recipe this go ’round, I honored the one pound rule.
My grandmother’s recipe is traditionally old school southern in the sense that you don’t make a cheese sauce. Rather you layer cooked noodles, grated cheese, and an egg-evaporated milk mixture. It’s flawless. Substantial, gooey, oozing baked cheese. But ever since I came into the world and experienced other (ahem, inferior) mac n’ cheeses, usually boasting a cheese sauce a la Kraft Easy Mac, I’ve entertained this heretical question: cheese sauce or baked, what’s the big deal? Why not combine the two?
And so I did.
‘Fit for a King’ Macaroni and Cheese
1 Ib good cheese, grated: any combination of Cheddar, Gouda, Gruyere, Jack will work. I used Westminster Royal Addition Cheddar and Smith’s Farmstead Gouda.
4 Tbl salted butter
4 Tbl flour
1 cup thereabouts Heavy Cream (You can substitute whole or evaporated milk, but the result will be less kingly and more civilian, if you know what I mean. Also, why?)
1/2 cup thereabouts Beer (I went with Black on Black from 21st Amendment because it’s bold and dark and rich in flavor, without being overpowering. Mellow finish, you know.
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup Fire Roasted Red Peppers, chopped
1 16oz box Conchiglie (or pasta of your choice)
1-2 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp spicy paprika
Black Pepper and salt to taste
Cook your pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente (not as long as the box tells you). Strain and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat your heavy cream on med-high until almost simmering. Remove from heat. In a heavy bottomed pan, melt your butter. Once melted and frothy, add your flour a bit at a time. Whisk constantly until sludgy and thick.
Pour in about half a cup of heavy cream, stirring constantly. Then add a bit of beer. Keep stirring. Alternate adding more of the scalded cream and then the beer. Keep stirring until the flour is absorbed and the sauce has thickened. It it’s too thick, add more cream. Once it’s the right, creamy consistency, add your mustard powder, black pepper, salt (if needed) and chopped red peppers.
Take the sauce off the heat and scoop out about 1/2 cup of the mixture and add it to the beaten egg. Mix quickly so as not to cook the egg. Then pour it slowly back into the white sauce, stirring constantly. Now add half of your grated cheese. Stir until the fully incorporated. Finally, pour the pasta into your cheese sauce and stir until coated.
Pour half of your pasta/cheese sauce combo into a buttered casserole dish. Spread it out evenly with a spoon and then sprinkle with half the remaining grated cheese. Pour the rest of pasta mixture on top. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Dust the top of your casserole with a bit of spicy paprika.
Cook in the over for about 25 minutes until golden and bubbly.
What would royal mac n’ cheese be without a little (faux) bubbly? Cheers!