Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mac and Cheese

A good friend of mine with whom I used to work was famously known among us for being an amazing chef as he would routinely bring in superb dishes for our crew when we worked around the clock on a year long massive software project for a world-wide corporation. One thing I missed of his was his mac and cheese dish so before I departed the company a few years ago I made sure to ask him for the recipe as my wife is a huge mac'n'cheese fan and the crap you get in packages in the Safeway would never do it for her. Unfortunately I lost the recipe but recall his mentioning that it was loosely based on Alton Brown's Baked Macaroni and Cheese which is also available online at the Food Network site. Some day I will get back my friend's version but for now thought it would be good to take on Brown's recipe first as practice.
I finally got around to making this as a surprise dinner for my wife last week and here's how it went.

Minced onion
Elbow macaroni
Powdered mustard and all-purpose flour
Prep for the bechamel: first up the melted butter
Whisking in the mustard and flour for the base roux
Bechamel coming together with the milk
Shredded high-quality cheddar
Tra-la! The well-tempered egg
Sauce with the onion, egg, and cheese
Noodles folded into the sauce
Sautéing the panko 
The dish prior to oven with cheese and panko spread out on top

A couple of notes here:
A high quality cheddar makes a real difference in how this dish turns out. You can use a Kraft product or some such but you'll only get out of this meal what you put into it. Also make sure to use whole milk and powdered mustard for the sauce and temper the egg before adding it in unless you really are in the mood for a weird form of frittata here.

Ingredients:
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon powdered mustard
3 cups whole milk
1 small onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon pimenton
1 large egg
12 ounces high quality sharp cheddar, shredded
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly-cracked black pepper

Topping:
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep it moving for about five minutes to gently cook making sure to keep it free of lumps as you whisk. Stir in the milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika to combine. Simmer for ten minutes and remove the bay leaf.

Next, you want to temper the egg into the sauce. You do this by beating the egg in a small bowl then adding a bit of the sauce from the pot into the bowl with the egg a tablespoon or so at a time in order to combine and stabilize the temperature of the egg without allowing it to coagulate. Once you have it as a stable liquid, pour the egg liquid from the bowl into the pot with the sauce and combine.

Stir in 3/4 of the shredded cheese into the pot and season with salt and pepper. Fold the macaroni into the mix then pour into a 2-quart casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.

Melt the butter in a saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.

Voila from the oven - delish!

If you have leftovers, a great way to re-use them is by frying separate portions for subsequent meals.

Check this dish out and let us know how it goes with you!