Few menu items are as closely associated with comfort food as macaroni and cheese. It is a staple in stereotypical American homes. Quick, easy, and enjoyed by the fussiest children, it's a side item that's sure to please and one that can be a served as a meal should the meatloaf prove unpalatable. And while Kraft's Macaroni and Cheese dinner is certainly the most common choice when it comes to the stuff, there's no reason you should have to stick to yellow powder when there are freshly grated cheddar and parmesan cheeses waiting in your refrigerator. And if there aren't, why not go make some?
Macaroni and Cheese
- 1 lb dry elbow macaroni
- 1 table spoon butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup milk (use 2% at least)
- 1/2 lb cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped elephant garlic (or other flavoring agents*)
- *Macaroni and cheese is like a blank culinary canvas. It's waiting for you to fill it in with your own favorite flavors. I sautéd minced elephant garlic, but you could use any number of things: jalapeño pepper, paprika, truffle oil, oregano--you could even use milder cheeses and shave in dark chocolate for a more desserty approach.
- Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste (unless you're doing the chocolate thing)
Cook the macaroni according to the directions on the box, though err on the side of under-done. You can always soften it up by heating in the oven or microwave, but over-done will end up rubbery.
The cheese sauce:
- Heat the butter over medium-high heat in a large pot
- Sauté the elephant garlic (1 - 2 minutes)
- Slowly add the flour, whisking while you do so (this will make your roux, which will thicken the sauce)
- Add the milk, and let the heat come back up
- Slowly add the cheeses, continuing to whisk
- Once the cheeses have melted, you can pour the sauce over the pasta and stir together
- Garnish with finely chopped oregano
But what if you want more? What if you've bored with plain macaroni and cheese and all its endless variety? What if the chocolate shavings didn't work out as well as you'd hoped?
Well, you could always fry it.
Fried Mac & Cheese
First, if that macaroni and cheese is fresh off the cooktop, forget about it. To fry it up, you need to let it chill. In the refrigerator, preferably overnight. Then you'll need a batter.
A simple beer batter:
- 1 12-once can (or bottle) of light beer (I used Amstel; it worked fine)
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp dried oregano (or other flavoring agents)
- 1 additional cup flour
(You will keep the additional flour off to the side for dredging)
Put about three inches of canola or vegetable oil n a large, heavy, high-sided pot (you could also use peanut oil as it has a high smoke point, but it will lend flavor to your food, and you might not want that)
Heat the oil over medium-high heat to about 375 degrees (f)
While the oil's heating up,
- Mix 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 tsp salt and flavoring agents in a large bowl
- Slowly--slowly!--whisk in the beer. It'll bubble and foam, but just keep working it slowly. Eventually the ingredients will combine.
- Cut the chilled mac & cheese into bite-sized pieces and set them up, assembly line style
- First, dust the mac & cheese bites in the flour, then dunk into the batter, coating evenly
- Gently ease the coated pieces into the oil and let them sizzle and fry to a delicious, golden brown
- Remove from oil and let dry on paper towels or some kind of rack
While the beer batter worked very well (and was wonderful for frying up some yucca fries), I would probably go with a breadcrumb dredge in the future:
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 cup breadcrumbs (I'm a huge fan of panko, Japanese breadcrumbs, which are usually available in the ethnic food isle of your local grocery store)
- 1 teaspoon oregano (or, again, other flavoring agents--garlic powder, cayenne pepper, paprika--whatever suits your flavor sensibilities)
- Season the flour with the salt, pepper and flavoring agents
- Beat together the egg and water
- Dredge each mac & cheese piece through the flour and sake gently to remove any excess flour
- Dip into the egg wash and then coat with the breadcrumbs
- Set the dredged pieces on a plat and let them rest for about five minutes so the crust has time to set up a bit
- Gently ease the pieces into the oil, a few at a time and fry until golden brown
- Let drain on a rack or paper towels
What to pair it with:
You have to be kidding, right? Actually, the wine pairing for fried macaroni and cheese--like normal, un-abominated mac & cheese--will depend heavily on your flavoring agents. Paprika or hot sauce calls for a beer, I would think. But with garlic and oregano, you could go in almost any direction. One recommendation I might make is the 2004 Barnwood Tempranillo.
Tempranillo is one of my favoriate varietals, and while this varietal from San Luis Opispo County in California lacked some of the minerality and subtleties normally associated with old-world wines, it was still a nice representation of the Spanish grape
Color: a deep, deep inky red, barely lightening at the edges
Nose: A massive wine with red fruits, blackberry and other berries, currants (?) and a cocoa spiciness
Palate: A bold wine, but with nice structure, good tannins and acidity, and fruit flavors that are not unsurprising
Finish: A long finish, but one that surprisingly understated. The tannins and acidity balance nicely with the fruits and leave the palate prepped and ready for another mouthful of delicious food.