In our most recent post, we discussed the basics of a roux and the history surrounding this seemingly mysterious sauce. A roux is nothing to be afraid of and is in fact a key component in a quality mac n cheese recipe. Without the roux, your mac n cheese will look more like a yellow glob of space junk as opposed to a creamy, smooth macaroni casserole. With that said, we like to take standard dishes and spice them up a bit to bring them to a new level that will both please the family and wow your guests.
All of these recipes start with our basic mac n cheese recipe that requires the following (recipe at end of post).
- 1 lb pasta (elbow noodles, or something very similar)
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp flour
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 lb sharp cheddar cheese
To make the sauce, whisk the butter and the flour together over medium heat in a large saucepan until smooth and slightly browned. Then, add the milk, cream, cayenne, oregano, and a dash of salt and pepper. Whisk until the sauce comes together and reduces by about 1/4. Then, add the cheese (grated of course) and whisk again until all of the cheese has melted. Let the sauce simmer for 10-15 minutes. In the meantime, prepared the pasta according to the package directions. Then, drain the pasta and fold the sauce in with the pasta. For a standar mac n cheese casserole, mix 2 tbsp melted butter with a cup of panko bread crumbs. Place the mac n cheese in a sturdy baking dish and spread the bread crumb mixture over the top. Then place in a 400 degree over for 15-20 minutes, or until the top is browned. If you want to be adventurous and try one of our top 6 variations, skip the last part and just follow the directions below!
Here our our top 6 ways to spice up that old Mac n Cheese recipe:
- Cajun Mac n Cheese
Spice up the sauce with a heaping tablespoon of chili powder and a dash of cayenne. To make it even more unique saute some small shrimp in a bit of butter and boil some crayfish to mix in with the cheese sauce just before serving!
- Blue Mac n Cheese
Instead of using just a standard sharp cheddar cheese, replace 1/4 to 1/2 of the cheese with a nice crumbly blue cheese. This will surely give your sauce a more robust taste that will keep your guests begging for more.
- Italian Mac n Cheese
This one is super easy. All you have to do is dice up 2 or 3 very ripe roma tomatoes, being sure to remove the seeds and the icky liquid inside and mix with a dash of salt a pepper. Throw the tomatoes on top of each serving of the mac n cheese. You can even replace 1/2 of the cheddar with provolone or mozzarella (be prepared, this one is going to be very stringy . . . but you know what they say, the messier the better!). If you want a very unique flavor, use a smoked mozzarella or smoked provolone. This will wow everyone! Don’t forget a light bread crumb topping for a contrast in texture.
- All-American Mac n Cheese
This one screams “USA”. Instead of making the roux with butter (or oil), render down a half pound of thick-cut bacon. Carefully remove the crispy bacon pieces from the pan and set aside. Use the bacon fat to make the roux (just eye-ball the amount of bacon fat in the pan to figure out how much flour to add for the roux). Once you have added the cheese (go ahead and use american cheese for 1/2 to 3/4 of the cheese . . . after all, this is the all-american mac n cheese) and the sauce is nice and smooth, add the bacon to the sauce and stir to evenly distribute the bacon pieces.
- Under the Sea Mac n Cheese
While the name may cause you to break out singing the song “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid”, it is really not the purpose of this take on the classic macaroni and cheese. This one is pretty easy though since all you have to do is take your favorite sea critters (we like to use little shrimp and bay scallops) and just pan fry them in a little butter. Then, when your sauce comes together and is nice and smooth, fold in the sea critters!
- Mac n Cheese Balls
This one is sort of a preview of a soon to come recipe here on cookingandbeer.com. Here, we will stick with the standard version that is super easy to make. After your mac n cheese is fully prepared and cooled (just stick in the fridge over night), take 3 dishes and fill one with flour, one with whisked eggs and another with bread crumbs (panko would be nice). Then, take the cooled macaroni and cheese and form it into 1/4 cup balls. Then roll them in the flour, then into the egg yolks and then finally into the bread crumbs. Lastly, just submerge them in hot vegetable oil (or peanut if you have it) at 375 degrees. Let them cook for about 5 minutes or until they are nicely browned and crispy! Serve to your guests and the will be coming back for more.