I think I have a gift for finding fabulous recipes. I suppose “gift” might not be the right word, since it implies an innate talent, without practice or effort. Given the amount of time I spend sifting through recipes, I suppose I can’t exactly classify my recipe-finding talent as naturally occurring. Regardless of this silly semantic argument, I knew I had found a crowd-pleaser when I came across a recipe entitled “buffalo chicken mac and cheese.” If this doesn’t make your stomach grumble, you must be my oldest brother, who won’t eat cheese, or someone who shouldn’t be reading this comfort-food-laden blog.
Honestly, this concept may just qualify as the Holy Grail of comfort food. The idea is ingenious, and the preparation does not waste any of the abundant conceptual potential. The recipe has quite a few steps, but it is entirely manageable, even for a novice cook, with a little motivation and organization.
First, chicken breasts are marinated in pool of Frank’s Red Hot, then roasted, shredded, and mixed with even more Frank’s. Second, carrots, celery, onion, and garlic are sautéed, which provide the dish with flavor and texture, and another philosophical nod to buffalo wings. Third, a simple cheese sauce is made with a roux, milk, a few dried herbs, and buckets of cheese. Then all of the previously mentioned components are mixed together with some elbow macaroni, piled into baking dishes, topped with extra cheese/bread crumbs, and baked. I know; there are a lot of steps, but it’s worth it. And note that I said this masterpiece is piled into baking dishes, as in more than one, because it makes an obscene amount of food. I supposed you could cut the recipe in half, but you might regret it. Or, you could prepare the whole recipe, which would make some hungry friends really happy, and you would still manage to have leftovers for some significantly above average lunches.
Based on the reactions of two very tall boys, my cousin, and myself, I can say that this dish is indeed a crowd-pleaser. This mac surpassed expectations regarding the cheesiness factor, and general flavor. In hindsight, I was hoping it would be a little saucier, and spicier. The texture wasn’t exactly a bad thing; it was just different than my expectations. For ultimate buffalo satisfaction, be sure to bring the Frank’s (or hot sauce of choice) to the table.
Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese (from Choosy Beggars)
1-1½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
¼ cup Frank’s Red Hot sauce, plus 3 tablespoons, plus more for garnish
1 lb. elbow macaroni, or other small, cut pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper (Be easy with the salt. Frank’s is very salty)
3 ribs celery, small diced
3 small carrots, small diced
½ onion, small diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 cups milk (I used 1% lowfat)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1 pound cheddar, shredded (I used a combination of extra sharp and sharp)
½ pound Parmesan or Pecorino, shredded (it will make a huge difference if you buy a chunk, and shred it yourself)
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 cup panko bread crumbs
· Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and marinate chicken in ¼ cup Frank’s hot sauce for at least an hour (or all day), flipping them occasionally.
· In an oven preheated to 400 degrees, roast chicken breasts for about 25 minutes, or until cooked through. Set aside to cool, then shred or chop meat, and toss with remaining 3 tablespoons of Frank’s. Reduce the oven to 375 degrees.
· Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil, on high heat. When boiling, add macaroni, and cook a few minutes less than the instructions indicate. Drain and rinse (yes, I said rinse the pasta, and no, you’ll probably never hear me say it again). Set aside.
· In the meantime, add the olive oil to a medium saucepan over medium to medium-high heat. Add celery, carrot, onion, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and sauté for 8-10 minutes, or until softened, but not mushy. Set vegetables aside.
· Add the butter to the same pan, and heat until foamy. Stirring with a whisk, add the flour, and whisk until well incorporated. Cook the flour and butter, whisking frequently, for about two minutes (this is a roux). Then whisk in the Dijon mustard.
· Add the milk, about ½ to ¾ cup at time, whisking constantly. Proceed until all milk is incorporated, then add basil, oregano, hot pepper flakes, and black pepper.
· Cook the sauce over medium-low heat, whisking frequently, for 5-8 minutes, or until it thickens to the point of coating a spoon (see photo). Add all of the cheese except 1 to 1¼ cups. Stir to combine.
· In a large pot or bowl, combine pasta, chicken, vegetables, cheese sauce, and parsley. Stir to combine and then distribute between two casserole dishes, coated with cooking spray (I used one 9x13 and one 8x8 casserole dish. It may have fit in the 9x13, but I was scared).
· Top with extra cheese, then panko breadcrumbs. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.