There’s probably an argument to be made that mac n’ cheese doesn’t need pimping. It’s a dish that essentially comes pre-pimped. Its DNA is 94% cheese for God’s sake. If mac n’ cheese was an animal, it would have been hunted to extinction long ago. Why bother adding extra toppings? Whatever happened to the concept of ‘less is more’?
We’ll tell you what happened. If less is more, just imagine how much more MORE will be. Mac n’ cheese makes an excellent flavour foundation, and it turns out there are 101 ways to style it. We decided to test drive 12 of the best. Some are classic, others risky...and a few resulted in the discovery of elements unknown to terrestrial science.
Here are 12 ways to pimp your mac n’ cheese.
1. Kraft Mac n’ Cheese Flavouring
If you’ve ever tried to create homemade mac n’ cheese, you’ll know that $40 and 2-hours of patient and meticulous cooking still somehow (SOMEHOW) does not produce a result as good as the chemical-loaded crack they inject into Kraft Mac n’ Cheese packs. But here’s the thing. If you want to give your homemade mac n’ cheese a kick, cook it from the finest Petite Comté and cloth-bound cheddar, and THEN stir through a sachet of Kraft mix, right at the end. The result is part Marco Pierre White...with just a dash of Coles, aisle six. Gives it a wonderful zing.
2. Cheezel Dust
Most restaurants cover their mac n’ cheese with panko breadcrumbs or other such gourmet toppings. But if you really want to amp up the wow factor—and the potential for a coronary incident—grab a box of Cheezels and spread a handful on some baking paper. Wrap it up, then bash with a rolling pin to create Cheezel Dust, which is a little like pixie dust, except not. The length of bashing determines the coarseness of the dust, so adjust to suit your style. Cook mac n’ cheese like normal, then Salt Bae-sprinkle a pinch of Cheezel Dust over the top.
The God Condiment. This thing was always gonna be on the list. There’s no big mystery here: prepare your mac n’ cheese like normal, and then slather on an appropriate amount of Sriracha. The chilli cuts through the creaminess of the mac n’ cheese, which actually helps with the whole post-mac-feeling-gross-and-groaning period. If you want to take it to the next level, try a boutique local hot sauce. We’ve rounded up our favs over here, but anything from Changz will do the trick.
4. Garlic & Parsley
Some of you will see where we’re going with this. Garlic Bread Mac n’ Cheese. That’s right, baby. Why the hell not. Cook mac n’ cheese like normal, and in another pan, gently fry up some minced garlic (a low-fat option is roasting a whole garlic bulb in tin foil and then squeezing the garlic cloves one by one to extract the buttery essence). Add your garlic to the mac, a little at a time to avoid going OTT, plus a tablespoon of finely chopped parsley. Top with crusty breadcrumbs.
Broccoli in mac n’ cheese? What kind of flower power nonsense is this? Well for all you sceptics, get along down to Silverlake Social and give this thing a try, THEN tell us we’re crazy. Silverlake have built their mac n’ cheese with jalapenos, chopped spring onion and blanched broccoli florets. Apart from making the dish look vaguely like a salad, the broccoli adds a fantastic textural crunch, plus a bit of mouth relief. Makes it easier to power through and eat the whole bowl yourself. Not that that’s usually a huge problem.
6. Ham Hock
Because you’ve probably got one lying around, right? Jaime Oliver swears by this recipe (on a side note: if anyone has been able to make one of Jaime’s 15-Minute Meals in under half an hour, please PM us and explain how you altered the fabric of time and space). Here’s how to do the whole ham hock thing: slow cook your hock, and fork the meat away from the bone. It should look like pulled pork. Stir this through your mac n’ cheese with a tablespoon of hot English mustard (or wimpy Dijon, if that’s more your speed). It’s expensive but surprisingly good.
While we’re talking expensive, we may as well add lobster to the list, right? If you’ve ever tried a lobster croquette, you’ll know this one’s a no brainer. The rich, meaty lobster flesh combines with the cheese sauce to create a culinary fusion that will short-circuit the pleasure centre of your brain. Poach the lobster and remove the tail meat. Roughly dice, then stir through your mac n’ cheese. Cover with more cheese, then bake in a skillet, so it comes out hissing and spluttering. We first tried this combo at Meatmaiden, and it’s stayed with us ever since (mostly on our thighs).
This is one of those life hacks, and it works best with the above-mentioned Kraft Mac n’ Cheese. Either add some milk to the water when you’re cooking (let’s face it: microwaving) your mac n’ cheese, or stir through a splash of milk at the end, when it’s hot and runny and delicious. Adds a level of creaminess that you don’t get from a straight-up water mac.
You might be tempted to reach for the spice rack when baking your mac, and there are a few seasonings that work really well. Cayenne pepper and chilli flakes are both excellent. Even cinnamon can work (although you’ll start to feel queasy after the fifth spoonful). Our pick? Good old-fashioned paprika. Gives the mac a fantastic colour, and the smoky capsicum really compliments the cheese. You can use fresh paprika, but the smoked stuff adds more depth of flavour.
No muss, no fuss, and the easiest way to get some greens in there. Cardinal rule of pea boiling: don’t overdo it. You want those guys to pop in your mouth like little drops of sunshine, not smoosh and disintegrate. Remember, they’ll keep cooking a little when you bake the mac. Pro tip: when you strain the cooked peas, season with salt, butter and a little lemon juice. Really wakes them up.
This one all comes down to the cheese you pick. Most gourmet mac n’ cheeses swear by some combination of gruyere, cheddar, parmesan, Monterey Jack or gouda. You can even get a little crazy and carve off wodges of Brie or Camembert (works especially well for baked mac n’ cheese—the Brie creates little melt pockets inside the dish). But for a stringy, fondue-style cheese, it’s got to be Fontina, an Italian cow’s milk cheese that’s basically made to melt. Mix grated Fontina and cheddar, and melt them into a mix of milk, cream and flour over a pan of simmering water, stirring often. It’s the stringiest combo we’ve found.
12. One word: Doughnuts
We don’t mean you should plop a big doughnut into your mac n’ cheese (although, now we think about it...) We’re talking mac n’ cheese doughnuts, which are becoming a bit of a thing. You make a mac n’ cheese mix like normal (although for obvious reasons, your batter needs to hold its shape pretty well. Cooling it in a fridge usually helps this process). Then batter, coat with breadcrumbs, and deep fry. The best we’ve found are either at Saint Lucia (their jalapenos-cheese dipping sauce is out of this world) or That Burger Joint in St Kilda.
You've pimped your mac, but have you tried doing it with Mee Gee?
Image credit: Griffin Simm | Silverlake Social