It is fine to to be skeptical if you are reading the title and thinking, “Yeah, I’ve heard it all. Mac and cheese. There’s nothing to it. Best ever? OK.” You would be correct by saying there is nothing to it, so ditch the boxed Kraft mac and other types of off-the-shelf fake cheese pasta, and make it from scratch. It really doesn’t take all that much time, and it is oh so rewarding.
First things first, I have to pose a question: asides from bacon-wrapped cheese stuffed jalapeno peppers, is there any side dish that is better than macaroni and cheese, particularly for a barbecue? I don’t think so. If you disagree, let me know your thoughts in the comments so that I can test out your counter recommendation. Mac and cheese is an almighty comfort food that warms the hearts of many people, including mine. My recipe is not particularly unique, but it is a formidable one that I believe you should give a chance. It is caloric dense due to the fatty nature of it, but hey, it is mac and cheese. There is no rhyme or reason to skimp on the ingredients. Go big or go home.
First things first, the main tool used as well as the ingredients:
— 6 quart Dutch oven
— A whisk
— 1 lb. of pasta (elbows)
— 20 oz. of sharp cheddar cheese (cubed or grated)
— 4 cups of milk
— 1 stick of salted butter
— half a cup or a touch more of flour
— Liberal sprinkle of smoked paprika (optional)
— Shredded Fiesta blend (Monterey Jack, cheddar, queso quesadilla and asadero cheese — optional)
Before I continue, I urge you to check out the video posted above. Check out the crust as well as the sound of the bubbling of the rendered fat from the cheese. If that doesn’t make you hungry, I don’t want to meet you.
Cook the pasta in a separate pot other than the Dutch oven. This is fairly cut and dry. Follow the ingredients on the back of the box. Drain.
— Heat a Dutch oven over medium low heat and add the stick of butter
— Once the stick of butter is melted, crank up the heat to medium high
— Add the flour and whisk it with the butter until it browns to your liking, clearing any clumps, creating a roux
— Reduce heat to medium/medium-low and add the milk
— Sprinkle in the smoked paprika (again, optional)
— Allow the mixture to thicken as it simmers for five to seven minutes.
Important step regarding the cheese: I used two 16oz. ‘blocks’ of sharp cheddar cheese (only 4oz. of the second block) that I bought from a local grocery store. Rather than shredding it with a grater, I cut it up into tiny cubes. It doesn’t take very long, and it accomplishes the same job as grating it, as it will melt just fine when cooked. This is my personal method.
— Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
— Add a handful of cheese on top of the roux’n’milk in the Dutch oven
— Begin folding in the pasta into the Dutch oven in layers. What I did was, I added some of the pasta before adding more cheese and so on and so forth
— Save a few cubes of cheese to top the pasta after you add in all of the pasta
— Top with a big ol’ handful of Fiesta blend cheese
— Add the Dutch oven into, well, your oven and allow it to cook for 18 to 25 minutes until golden brown and bubbly on top
Some people like to top their mac and cheese with breadcrumbs prior to cooking it in the oven. I’ve never tried it that way, because I love browning the cheese for a perfectly brown crust.
I like to top my mac and cheese with Flatiron Pepper Company’s Hatch Valley Green blend of crushed pepper. It adds an incredible depth of flavor on top of what is already a karate chop to the tastebuds.
If you give this a go, let me know what you think. I ate this mac and cheese as a side item to some Nashville hot fried chicken.