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, 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, Guyère). 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 incongruently sweet, and I think it would have been nice against a silkier mac 'n' cheese, but it just added to the drying effect. (And actually, it seemed a touch too much, anyway&mdashit 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. Don't know if that was a mistake/mis-translation, but I'd 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&mdashprobably around 3 1/2 cups total.
- Yield:Serves 6
- Active time: 50 minutes
- Total time:1 hour 10 minutes
- 1 pound 2 ounces dried elbow macaroni
- 7 ounces cooked bacon or pork belly (or any leftover smoked meat), cut into chunks
- 2 cups bread crumbs
- 3 1/2 tablespoons Smoked Bacon Rub
- 3 1/2 ounces cheddar, grated
- Cheese Sauce
- Generous 2½ cups whole milk
- 1/2 stick butter
- 2 shallots, minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 1/2 ounces Colston Bassett Stilton or Stichelton cheese, grated
- 4 1/2 ounces Montgomery cheddar cheese, grated
- 4 1/2 ounces Ogleshield (or Gruyère) cheese, grated
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, then refresh in cold water and drain again. Put into a large bowl and add the cooked bacon or pork belly.
To make the cheese sauce, put the milk into a medium pan, bring to a foamy boil, then reduce the heat to low and keep warm.
In another pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots, garlic, and thyme leaves, and cook for 10 minutes, or until the onions and garlic are just caramelizing and soft.
Whisk in the flour and continue to cook until a pale "roux" has formed. Then, whisking steadily, ladle the hot milk into the roux a cupful at a time, completely incorporating each amount before adding the next. After all the milk has been added, continue to whisk until the sauce thickens and bubbles gently (about 2 minutes).
Add the stilton, cheddar, Ogleshield (or Gruyère), salt, and pepper, and stir until completely melted.
Heat the oven to 350°F.
Stir three-quarters of the cheese sauce into the cooked pasta and bacon. Layer the pasta in a large ovenproof gratin dish and spread the rest of the cheese sauce evenly over the top. Lightly toast the bread crumbs and mix with the bacon rub and grated cheddar, then scatter evenly over the top layer of cheese sauce.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.