Do you remember the blue-and-yellow box? The Kraft one, the one that your parents opened up to make your favorite dinner— mac and cheese, of course. A pile of skinny macaroni and a packet of yellow cheesy powder.
That was one of my favorite dinners. A rare meal in our home, where every meal was prepared lovingly from scratch by my mom.
It was Kraft that taught me to love mac and cheese, but it was only after I tried a from-scratch recipe that I realized how good the stuff could be.
This, my friends, is real mac and cheese. It starts with a béchamel sauce and some large elbow macaroni. A good helping of cheese goes in the pot. A couple of roasted and diced jalapeños get thrown in. Everything is stirred together and placed under the broiler until browned. Crispy panko breadcrumb are toasted in a sauté pan until perfectly golden, and sprinkled on top just before serving.
Don’t be intimidated by the number of steps in this recipe. It’s not that hard, and a dish this good is worth the extra effort.
If you’re looking to save a little time, I imagine you could substitute pickled jalapeños or canned chipotle peppers instead. (I haven’t tried it myself, but it sounds tasty.)
I remember how I graduated from Kraft boxes of mac, to stirring pasta and sliced cheese together in a bowl in the microwave, to making a full-on, from-scratch mac and cheese in my oven. The first day I made real mac and cheese was the first day I made a béchamel sauce from scratch. It was one of the most beautiful things to come out of my kitchen, and I was hooked. On cooking, on macaroni, on giant piles of shredded cheddar.
The true stuff beats out any boxed mac and cheese you’ve ever had. It’s far better than what they dished out at your school cafeteria. It’s even better than what most restaurants will serve you, depending on where you’re going.
Speaking of restaurants, Homeroom in Oakland serves up a dozen kinds of mac and cheese every day. Every. Single. Day. The menu had everything from sriracha mac to a black truffle gouda version. There’s even a list of sides to match, from minty buttered peas to spicy roasted cauliflower to round out the meal. I’ve heard their food is downright magical.
A whole restaurant dedicated to mac and cheese.
I haven’t made a pilgrimage to Homeroom just yet, but I will report back when I do.
In the meanwhile, I’ll be making another pan of this stuff.
Jalapeno Cheddar Mac and Cheese
- 2 jalapeños
- vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (or other neutral flavored oil)
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 4 cups dry large elbow macaroni
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 shallot, minced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1 3/4 cup milk
- 1/2 lb cheddar cheese, cubed or shredded (about 2 cups shredded cheese)
- 2 jalapeños, roasted and diced
- Place the peppers on a foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle with a few drops of vegetable oil. Rub the oil all over the skin of the peppers.
- Place the peppers under a preheated broiler for 5-10 minutes, checking every couple of minutes for doneness. Once blistered on one side, the peppers should be flipped and returned to the broiler.
- Once blackened or blistered on all sides, remove the peppers from the oven, place in a paper bag, and fold the bag closed. Let rest 5 minutes to steam.
- Working carefully, remove the jalapeños from the paper bag. You may choose to use gloves for this step. (If not using gloves, wash your hands thoroughly several times before proceeding.)
- Over a cutting board, use your hands to peel the skin off of the peppers. Slice each pepper in half down the middle, cutting off the stems and removing the seeds. Dice into small, 1/4 inch squares.
- Pour the oil into a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and mix to distribute the oil evenly. Toast the breadcrumbs until they are golden brown, stirring occasionally to ensure even browning.
- Boil the macaroni in a pot of salted water until al dente, as per package instructions. Drain and set aside.
- Melt the butter over low heat. Add the oil. Add the shallots, garlic, and salt. Cook 2-5 minutes, or until the shallots are translucent.
- Add the flour and whisk gently, until the mixture is light brown and gives off a nutty aroma.
- Whisk in the milk 1/4 cup at a time, whisking until no clumps remain after each addition. Continue until all of the milk is incorporated.
- Continue to whisk the milk and flour mixture over medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes, until thickened. Keep the mixture just below a simmer. The sauce is ready for the next stage when it is smooth, thick, and glossy.
- Add the diced jalapeños and whisk into the sauce.
- Whisk in the cheddar cheese a little at a time, mixing until the sauce is smooth between each addition. Continue until all of the cheese is added.
- Remove the sauce from heat and stir in the cooked macaroni. Pour the mac and cheese into an oven safe dish.
- Place the dish under a preheated broiler until the mac and cheese is browned and bubbling. Check the mac and cheese every 1-2 minutes to ensure that the cheese is browned but not burned.
- Just before serving, sprinkle the toasted breadcrumbs over the mac and cheese.