Tuesday, November 30, 2010

2010 Challenge: Cracklin Crusted Mac n Cheese

This post needs nothing else - the title says it all. But here is the back story.

"The best mac 'n cheese in the city is at Cochon Butcher. This is not open for debate," Lindsay said the other week.

I am inclined to agree with her. The Butcher mac 'n cheese is rich and decadent, slightly soupy and thick with cheese. Often times the dish is enhanced like a Bravo housewife with pancetta or country ham. But what really sets it apart is the topping. You see each sphere of goodness is encrusted with finely ground bread crumbs, herbs, and a good amount of butter. So after it bakes, you get this crackly, vibrant crust and then the silky texture of the mac 'n cheese. It is like pasta creme brulee.

Last week, real job had me in Baton Moulin Rouge. I needed andouille and tasso for a variety of Thanksgiving related projects. Luckily on the ride home the car miraculously found itself parked outside of Bailey's Andouille in LaPlace. I had forgotten to eat lunch and there was a bag of cracklins on the counter. While riding back to New Orleans on Airline Highway with an open bag of rapidly depleting cracklins, an angel from heaven descended.

"Yes, that would be a good idea. Grind the cracklins with some bread crumbs to create a crust for mac 'n cheese. But no, I do not have any cash for a donation to your religion as my High Holy Day is this week," I told the Angel.

Cracklin Crusted Mac 'n Cheese

Look, you have a recipe for mac 'n cheese. Shoot, pressed for time? Just use the stuff in the blue box. To make the crust combine a half cup of cracklins with a half cup of day old bread (or jarred bread crumbs). Place into mortar and pestle or food processor and beat or pulse into a fine paste. I added a teaspoon of dried oregano and one garlic clove to this mix. Heat your oven to 350 degrees or thereabouts. Place mac 'n cheese in dish, cover with bread crumb mixture, top with butter or drizzle with olive oil, and bake for about 25 minutes. Then turn on broiler and cook for another 3 minutes or until the mixture is a mahogany and you can hear the mac n cheese bubbling. Allow to cool briefly, then serve.

One note of caution. If you are not familiar with cracklins, they can have some hard bits. So expect a crunch every now and then.


Matt said...

That's a good idea. I think I'm going to have to try it.

Wang said...

Definitely an idea whose time should have come along time ago, but nobody noticed until Rene. I'll be trying that next time I find myself in possession of some Real™ cracklins.

Meantime, confession: My favorite mac & cheese remains Mom™ Style. No mornay, no creaminess, no truffles, no herbs, no frills. The kind where you slice a square from the Pyrex dish. Boiled macaroni, milk, pats of butter, salt & pepper and a ton of grated plain ole store brand sharp cheddar. Mixed at room temp and baked into a big ole freakin' slab.

Not that it's the ONLY kind I like. (Hubert Keller's from the "cook in a dorm room" episode of TCM... *drool*) Pretty sure though that any mac & cheese recipe would be embiggened by the addition of a cracklin crust. Damn sure couldn't hurt.

Peter said...

Utterly brilliant idea - now how do I get my ascetic parents to go for the idea at the next holiday get-together?