Mac and Cheese is perhaps the quintessential kids food, but for me, my first experience with the iconic blue and orange box was after leaving home for college. The college years are a time for experimentation for most kids, and for me, I delved into the world of frozen dinners and sugary snacks that my mother would never buy. It didn’t take long for me to realize most of these things didn’t taste all that great, but Mac and Cheese was one of the things that stuck with me.
Perhaps it was this late exposure that led to this idea of a grown-up mac and cheese. Loaded with bacon and spiked with bourbon, this ain’t for the kiddoes, but the contrast of the salty bacon, sharp cheddar and smoky bourbon make for a tasty surprise with each bite.
I use my cheater cheese sauce for this (as well as most things that call for a cheese sauce) because it’s not only easier, it also tends to be a lot more stable than a traditional bechamel sauce. The trick is in coating the cheese with potato starch, before adding it to the cream. This not only thickens the sauce, it also acts as a stabilizer, preventing the oil from separating. While I only used cheddar, this is also really good blended with other cheeses such as Gruyere, Gouda or Gorgonzola.
Bourbon Mac and Cheese
- 6 ounces (170 grams) elbow macaroni
- 4.6 ounces (130 grams) white cheddar (shredded)
- 2 teaspoons potato starch
- 1.8 ounces (50 grams, about 2 slices) thick-cut bacon (roughly chopped)
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
- 3/4 cup half and half
- black pepper
- Boil the macaroni for one minute less than what the package directions say.
- In a bowl, toss the cheese with the potato starch to coat evenly.
- Add the bacon to a pan and fry over medium heat until it just starts to brown (but it is not yet crisp).
- Add 1 tablespoon of bourbon to deglaze the pan and then add the half and half.
- Heat the mixture until small bubbles form around the edges (but it is not boiling). Add half the cheese, whisking continuously to incorporate until melted. Add the other half of the cheese and whisk until your sauce is smooth.
- Keep the sauce warm over low heat until your macaroni is done. Do not let the sauce boil, or it will separate.
- When the macaroni is done, drain it well (you'll need to toss it around a bit to get the water out of the elbows. Add the drained macaroni to the cheese sauce along with the remaining 1 tablespoon of bourbon. Stir to coat evenly.
- Serve and garnish with some fresh cracked black pepper.
Yield: 2 servings
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.