Every time I make a mac and cheese I declare it the best I’ve ever made. There’s a reason for that. I grew up hating mac and cheese (also lasagna) because my dad hated cheese. So if a friend’s mom made it for dinner, I’d move it around on my plate and feign a sudden bout of appendicitis. It wasn’t until I got older and started eating cheese with my cheese-loving friends that I came back around to mac. As I started making it myself, and understood what it really was–a white sauce with lots of cheese melted into it, spread over noodles and baked–I could appreciate it as a way to put obscene amounts of cheese on a plate and call it dinner. I’ve made many an obscene mac and cheese since then (one with three cups of cream, one with blue cheese, Gruyere and cheddar) but the most obscene–and delicious–of all may be the one I just made from my friend Garrett McCord’s new cookbook Melt. It’s a mac and cheese for the ages.
Not to gloat, but Garrett hand-delivered the book (which he co-authored with Stephanie Stiavetti) to me here in Atwater Village at the Village Bakery right before I left for Australia. Here’s the author himself with his magnum opus:
The book, which has an introduction by Michael Ruhlman, really is an impressive piece of work. In particular, I love how Stephanie and Garrett write their recipes around specific cheeses; so instead of cheddar, this particular recipe that I made (we’re getting to that in a second) calls for Lincolnshire Poacher (“a mellow, complex, and slightly grassy” cheese from England). Granted, I couldn’t find that specific cheese, but then Garrett and Stephanie offer alternatives. The specificity is what makes the book great.
And because of that specificity, I couldn’t really choose a recipe before going to the store, so I brought the book with me:
The recipe that caught my eye, more than any other (and it happens to be the recipe featured on the cover of the book) was the one with chorizo, Cojita and that Lincolnshire Poacher. At the store, I found chorizo (check!), Cotija (score!) but no Linconlshire. Luckily, Garrett and Stephanie say “any hard, well-aged Cheddar” will do, so I bought two pounds of these guys instead:
That Collier’s Powerful Welsh Cheddar had amazing flavor, it almost tasted like white chocolate. And the Barber’s leant everything a nice funkiness.
First step: brown the chorizo. The recipe calls for two links, but I decided to double everything because I was cooking for six people. Actually, I used all six links that came in the package of raw chorizo because I didn’t want to be wasteful. Nobody minded:
You drain that on paper towels, then grate your Cojita:
Reminiscent of ricotta salata, this cheese has a great salinity and milkiness that does wonders for your mac. It’s just the tip of the cheese iceberg, so to speak.
At this point, you boil penne until al dente in lots of salted water and toss it with the Cotija and chorizo in a buttered pan:
Then you get to the good stuff. First, you make a white sauce by heating milk and melting butter:
The butter gets cooked with an equal amount of flour until it’s toasty brown (this is called making a roux):
You add the warm milk to the roux, whisk and cook until you have a thick sauce. Oh and you add ground chipotle peppers and cumin here too, which is a nice, spicy touch:
You know your sauce is done when you can drag your finger down the spoon and the line stays:
Bring on the cheese! Again, I doubled the recipe so instead of one pound of cheddar I had two. Stir in most of it, leaving some to sprinkle on top:
Oh man, that sauce tasted so good. As a former-cheese hater, it’s significant that I put on a bathing suit to go swimming in it. A lesson learned: the better the cheddar, the better the mac.
So that gets poured over the pasta and chorizo and Cotija and you stir it all together.
You may have to steal a few noodles for yourself at this point, I won’t tell anyone. Then all of that gets topped with the rest of the cheese and some scallions:
And into a hot oven it goes. When it comes out?
Heaven. Look at my happy customers:
Look, if I say this is the best Mac and Cheese I’ve ever made, you’re going to roll your eyes and cry, “You say that every time!” Fine. But I think these pictures speak for themselves. If you need a new mac and cheese recipe, look no further. And buy a copy of Melt for many more just like it. Congrats, Garrett and Stephanie, on a brilliant book! And congrats to me for getting to eat this.
Recipe: Mac and Cheese with Chorizo, Cotija and Aged English Cheddar
Summary: From Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord’s Melt.
- 1/2 pound (2 large links) fresh Mexican chorizo
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 12 ounces penne rigate
- 4 ounces Cotija, shredded
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle peppers
- 1/8 teaspoon cumin
- 1 pound, 2 ounces Lincolnshire Poacher, shredded, divided (or use Montgomery’s Cheddar, Avalanche’s Clothbound Goat Cheddar, Fiscalini Bandage Wrapped Cheddar, or any hard, well-aged Cheddar)
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Two scallions, green parts only, minced
- Squeeze the chorizos out of their casings and break into bite size pieces. Place the olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat and cook the chorizo until well browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain the excess grease.
- Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain through a colander and set aside (do not rinse!).
- Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly butter a 9-inch-square or similar-sized baking dish. Toss together the pasta, chorizo, and Cotija in the baking dish.
- To prepare the mornay sauce, heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. As soon as the milk starts to steam and tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan, turn off the heat. Place the butter in a medium saucepan and melt over medium flame. Add the flour and stir with a flat-edge wooden paddle just until the roux begins to take on a light brown color, scraping the bottom to prevent burning, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the milk, chipotle peppers, and cumin, stirring (or whisking) constantly until the sauce thickens enough to evenly coat the back of a spoon–a finger drawn along the back of the spoon should leave a clear swath. (I like that word, “swath!”) Remove from heat and add most of the Lincolnshire Poacher to the sauce–reserve a handful or so for topping–and stir until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Be careful with the salt, as the cheese is already salty.
- Pour sauce over pasta and stir all around to coat. Top with the reserved Cheddar and green scallions. Bake for 25 minutes or until crispy brown on top. Allow the dish to cool for 5 minutes before serving, then garnish with a bit more freshly chopped scallion if desired.
I doubled this recipe and baked it in a 9 X 13 pan which worked great. You’ll want to have a lot of it.
Preparation time: 45 minute(s)
Cooking time: 25 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4