Cast Iron Therapy Note: Today’s post is brought to you by my good friend Martin, who I met initially through online gaming, but is also quite the aficionado of good food. You know your blog is successful when you’ve inspired someone like this to want to guest post on your site! With my last post being a while ago and the weather being suddenly cold and wet, it seems appropriate to have a friend’s home-style Mac and Cheese recipe gracing the blog. So without further ado, enjoy Martin’s guest post!
Have you seen the stuff this boy makes? Yakisoba bread? BLACK BEAN BROWNIES? Come on now, that is some crazy shit right there. Me, I don't cook like that; I keep it dumb in the kitchen, and I'm here to show you a delicious, basic dish you can get creative with. What's up to bat? MAC AND CHEESE.
This is a pretty different take on the soul food classic, and one that'll impress those yammering cunts at the next neighborhood house party (or wherever your frenemies dwell). It's different because the cheese sauce isn't saucy: it's fluffy. That's right, FLUFFY; no gooey molten cheese or drippy forkfuls. Blasphemy? Perhaps. Delicious? OF COURSE. Let's get to work.
This is a pretty flexible recipe, but the essentials are a pound of pasta, 8-12oz of a strong cheese, milk, butter, flour, pepper, onion, and Worcestershire. Extras you can use include bacon, other pig-meats, crème, fancy cheeses, and bread crumbs.
Start by boiling the pasta and preparing your ingredients.
Chop half an onion into fine bits. Then grate the cheese, unless you bought it pre-shredded: rich bastard. About 10oz of cheese is what you want (a small bowl). One great thing about mac and cheese is that you don't need to be exact about anything, so feel free to eyeball everything. I did!
Now, prepare to cook. First, start pre-heating the oven to 350. Now heat up a pan (or two if you're in a hurry) and fry up some delicious bacon. 4 strips is ideal; I'm making five because my bacon is really, really cheap and fatty, and I'm only going to use the meaty part.
Economy bacon's got fat for days.
Once the bacon is done, remove it to let it cool. Now clean off the pan with hot water and put 2 tablespoons of butter in (if you heated up a second pan do this next part simultaneous with the bacon). We gonna sauté some onions. The longer you sauté, the sweeter and softer the onions will get; we don't want to burn them though, so use your judgment.
Hold onto your shit for this next bit; we're adding flour! Add it in a spoonful at a time and stir it until all the butter is absorbed into a paste. It'll be very sticky, and the onion-butter-flour mix will form the basis for our unique sauce.
Next step is simple: pour in a cup or more of milk, a good amount of Worchester sauce (3 tbsp), and plenty of pepper. Stir it all together and heat it back up. The milk has the side effect of diluting other flavors, so err on the side of more seasoning. You can always dilute it back out.
Once the milk is hot, start adding most (80-90%) of the shredded cheese in slowly, stirring constantly. It can be a little slow to melt, so don't lose your cool if it takes a few minutes to homogenize. You can add more milk here if it gets really thick and difficult (it should be gooey by the end of this step) but go easy on it, for aforementioned flavor dilution is a threat.
Now take that bacon that's been sitting to the side, tear the fat off of it if necessary (very necessary with my bacon), and throw the meat in with the sauce. The fat tastes gross, and will make the whole package unpleasantly greasy. This is also why we want a clean, non-bacony pan for the onions in the sauté step.
Now your pasta will, at some point during this process, be done. Remove it from the stove and drain once it is al dente (even if you don't like al dente, do this. It will soften in the last step). Leave it until the sauce is ready.
Now pour the pasta into a casserole pan, then put the sauce on top. Mix it around, paying special attention to get sauce into the corners. Once that is done, sprinkle any remaining shredded cheese onto the top as well as bread crumbs (optional) to form an extra delicious top coat. Throw that mess into the now-heated oven for 20 minutes.
That's it; simple, easy to throw together, and something that will surprise people a little. The flavors here are massive: richness of the dairy, sweetness of onion, savoryness of Worcestershire, smokiness of black pepper, it has it all. And it is a little lighter on the palette thanks to the flour and baking time!
HOLIDAY VARIATION - Replace the milk with crème, use really good thick-cut bacon, a 50/50 mix of gouda and extra sharp cheddar cheese for the sauce, and cheddar and panko for the top.
I've made mac and cheese both ways, and the holiday variation is definitely most decadent. It is also much richer, and honestly, more tiring in large quantities. I prefer the normal-style for a typical dinner, but the holiday variation is perfect if you're making this a side dish in a potluck/kingly feast.