Everybody has their own mac n cheese recipe and in my opinion your crazy if you don’t try as many of them as you can. This is my recipe that I have two secret ingredients and one secret technique that gives these a taste all their own.
Now by now means this is not a light healthy meal it is heavy filling comfort food at its finest. It starts with 1 lb of bacon, 1lb of cheese and 1lb of pasta and 1/4 lb of butter.
The first thing I do is get 3 cups of milk and sit it on the counter top to give it time to warm up so when I pour it into my roux it doesn’t seize up.
I start off with getting the bacon first. I like applewood smoked thick cut bacon. The main reason I like the thick cut is because you get that nice slightly crunchy and slightly chewy bits of bacon. I also cook the bacon in the oven. believe it or not it took me a long time to come around to cooking oven in the oven. I was of the old school where it had to be fried on the stovetop and if you weren’t dodging splattering popping bacon grease you weren’t cooking bacon.
For the mac n cheese I like to cook the bacon on a foil lined cookie sheet, if I were going for more crispy than chewy I would cook it on the broiler pan, but because the bacon goes back in the oven once it is combined with the mac n cheese I aim for more chewy in the oven. Set the oven to 400 and on a foil lined sheet pan lay out you bacon it may take 2 pans to get the whole pound of bacon in the oven if so do it in two batches. I cook the bacon for 12 minutes at 400 but start keeping an eye on it around the 9 minute mark because time will vary depending on your oven. When the bacon is done remove from the oven and pour the rendered bacon fat off into a vessel that you can store and save the fat for use in other recipes, or for greasing the griddle when making pancakes.
While the bacon is cooking I grate my cheese. I use a combination of 1/2 lb mild cheddar and 1/2 lb of sharp cheddar. Yes I grate my own cheese the packaged grated cheeses are mixed with potato starch to act as an anti clumping agent.
Next get the water ready for your pasta. Once the water gets boiling add a bit of salt the dump in 1 lb of pasta I like rotini because the corkscrew pattern holds onto the cheese nicely.
Cook the pasta to al dente the strain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking of the pasta.
Then I begin with making my roux by placing my dutch oven on the stove and melting 1 stick of butter or 1/2 cup. Once the butter melts slowly add in 6 tablespoons of flour while whisking as you add the flour. I go with a light roux but if you want a nuttier flavor let the roux go a bit longer and get a bit darker.
Slowly pour in 3 cups of warm milk and continue to whisk. Beware do not add cold milk or your roux will seize. Once the milk and roux are combined begin to slowly add your mixture of mild and sharp cheeses but only add 3/4 of the cheese reserve the 1/4 lb of the cheese mixture for the top. Continue stirring until the cheese is melted. Now comes the first secret ingredient. Add about 1 and 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme and garlic powder.
Add the pasta and chop up the bacon into slightly smaller than bit size pieces and add it all to the cheese sauce and stir to get all of it integrated together.
Now is the second secret ingredient. Take some white cheddar flavored crackers and crush them up to breadcrumb size and top the mac n cheese. Next take the remaining 1/4 lb of mild and sharp cheddar and top the cracker topping. Place the dutch oven into a preheated oven at 325. It doesn’t have to cook long really it just has to cook long enough to melt the cheese topping.
Once the cheese topping melts comes my secret step that my wife says makes all the difference. I turn the oven over to broil and up the temp to 425 and keep a close eye on it, you just want to get the cheese slightly browned.
Another good idea is to slice up a tomato and place it on top of the mac n cheese after the cracker crumb topping and then add the last layer of cheese.
1 lb rotini pasta
1/2 lb mild cheddar cheese
1/2 lb sharp cheddar cheese
1 lb applewood smoked thick cut bacon
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
3 cups milk
6 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
white cheddar flavored crackers crushed to crumbs