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Hog Mac 'n' Cheese From 'Pitt Cue and Co.: The Cookbook'

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[Photograph: Paul Winch-Furness]

I had to put on my elastic-waist-banded pants just to read the recipe for the Hog Mac 'n Cheese from Pitt Cue Co.: The Cookbook. There's over a pound of cheese in there, and I mean good, esoteric cheese that you could build a respectable cheese board around: Colston Bassett Stilton, Montgomery cheddar, and Ogleshield. I had to look them up just to make sure I was getting appropriate substitutions (Stilton, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Gruyère). There's whole milk and butter, of course. And then there's the hog: Cooked pork belly, cut into what they refer to as "quivering chunks," or, alternatively, cooked bacon (or any leftover smoked meat), tossed with the pasta and cheese sauce. The topping, in addition to bread crumbs and grated cheddar, includes a healthy(?) dose of their smoked bacon rub, which is appropriately smoky and bacon-y, and salty-sweet.

It all sounds amazing, if artery-clogging. And it almost was. But I found that the roux for the cheese sauce, made with a quarter-cup of butter and a half-cup of flour, was extremely thick, and the less than 3 cups of milk didn't do enough to thin it out. Because of this, the baked mac 'n' cheese ended up a bit dry and crumbly, despite allllll that fat in there. Perhaps quivering chunks of pork belly would have helped out, but I went the bacon route, and it just didn't have the same textural effect. The crunchy topping was tasty, if incongruously sweet, and while it would have been nice against a silkier mac 'n' cheese, here it just added to the drying effect. (And actually, it seemed a touch too much, anyway—it was hard to get any bites of unadulterated pasta and cheese, some of which I like.) The ideas are all spot-on, but it's like something got lost in translation. It's worth noting that this mac 'n' cheese is breaded, deep-fried, and used in a pulled pork sandwich, The Trailer Trash, that's also in the book. Might have to pull out my old maternity pants for that one.

Why I picked this recipe: Cheese! Cheese! And bacon!

What worked: It's so, so close to being over-the-top great. And, I have to say, I have a new bacon cooking technique, thanks to the instructions for the bacon rub. They sandwich the slices between two pieces of parchment paper and two baking pans, and bake at 350° until the bacon is brown and crispy. This resulted in the most evenly rendered, tender, perfectly brittle bacon ever. (I fried some of the same bacon in a pan, and it was uneven and tough, comparatively.)

What didn't: The bacon rub is one example of an oven recipe in which they call for using waxed paper; I'd play it safe and just stick to parchment. And I have to admit to being annoyed about the indicated amount of macaroni. One pound, 2 ounces? I have to open another pound of pasta and measure out just 2 ounces? I think it would be okay with just a pound. But the bigger problem: that darned cheese sauce. However, it should be an easy fix. Which brings us to...

Suggested tweaks: I would either reduce the flour to 1/4 cup, or add milk until smooth, creamy, and thick but pourable—around 3 1/2 cups total.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have 5 copies of Pitt Cue Co.: The Cookbook, to give away this week.

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