Before picking up Ellen Brown's Mac & Cheese, I assumed all fried macaroni and cheese must be breaded and deep-fried a la Paula Deen. But the Skillet-Fried Cheddar Mac and Cheese, adapted from Zingerman's Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, is a far more delicate affair. The sauce is made exclusively with raw-milk cheddar, and the final fry is in a tablespoon, rather than a couple quarts, of oil. This step exists for the sole purpose of creating large crispy pieces of cheese akin to Italian frico. It certainly takes a leap of faith to dump a pot of cheesy pasta into a skillet of hot oil, but this dish is totally worth the jump.
Why I picked this recipe: The promise of caramelized crunchy bites of cheese and the drama of frying what many assume shouldn't be fried drew me in.
What worked: I had my doubts when I dumped the macaroni and sauce into a skillet of hot oil, and they increased when the cheese appeared just to boil and ooze for what seemed like and eternity. But have faith—this actually works, and the crispy frico-like pieces of cheese are straight-up awesome.
What didn't: Be sure to fry the mac and cheese in a ripping hot skillet; I was a little timid at first, but shouldn't've have been. The cheese needs the heat to crisp properly.
Suggested tweaks: The Zingerman's menu lists a number of variations; the pimento bacon macaroni and shiitake mushroom macaroni sound particularly good.
Reprinted with permission from Mac & Cheese by Ellen Brown. Copyright 2012. Published by Running Press. Available wherever books are sold. All rights reserved.
- 1/2 pound macaroni
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons chopped onion
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup whole milk, warmed
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream, warmed
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 8 ounces raw milk cheddar, grated
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain the pasta, run it under cold water, and return it to the pot.
Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and bay leaf, and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the onion softens. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute, or until the mixture turns slightly beige, is bubbly, and appears to have grown in volume. Increase the heat to medium, and slowly whisk in the warm milk and cream. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Reduce the heat to low, stir in the mustard, and simmer the sauce for 2 minutes.
Add the cheese to the sauce by 1/2-cup measure, stirring until the cheese melts before making another addition. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Pour the sauce over the pasta, and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat until it is very hot. Add the olive oil, swirling to coat. Add the macaroni, and allow it to cook for 3 minutes, or until a crust forms. Scrape the bottom of the crust with a metal spoon, and cook for another 3 minutes. Do not stir often. Cook until about 15 to 20 percent of the mixture is golden brown. Serve hot.