I love bacon. I’m not even sure “love” is the right word. Bacon is the number one reason I could never be a full vegetarian. There’s a reason they call it the “gateway meat.” Heck, I just ate a ton of bacon yesterday, and writing this post today, I’m craving more bacon. I really do believe bacon is the route to enlightenment.
We held our first LAN party of the new year yesterday, and for the event I wanted to use my new triple crock warmer to feed the group. I went to Trader Joe’s and got a couple of bags of frozen meat balls and BBQ sauce, and a couple of bags of their orange chicken. But for the third crock, I wanted to make bacon mac and cheese.
I was cooking while watching the Saints play the 49ers, so I had to wear my Saints apron and hat, just to show some support. I’m not really a Saints fan. Well, really, I’m not a football fan. But since my mom is a Saints fan, if I had to pick a team, I’d pick them.
The first step to making bacon mac and cheese is to cook the bacon. I have a great cast iron griddle, and I use it so often that it pretty much just sits on the stove top all the time.
Draining the fat off the bacon. It was really difficult to keep the boys (and me) from nibbling on bacon all morning.
Starting on the mac and cheese part, I put the noodles on to boil. There’s no trick there, just boil them until they’re al dente. You don’t want them to be too mushy, and they’ll soften up some more when you back the whole thing. To stop the hot noodles from cooking after you drain them, rinse them in cold water, and then set them aside.
The first step of making a Bechemel sauce (a creamy cheese sauce) is to make a roux. To make a roux, you melt some fat in a wide pan. I used butter this time, but I’ve also been known to use vegetable oil.
Once the butter has melted and stopped foaming, add the flour and stir it in until it’s completely integrated.
When the flour was incorporated, I added a bit of the still-warm bacon fat, just to give the roux some extra bacon flavor.
Many people complain that homemade mac and cheese is lacking in flavor. Likely, they’re not cooking the roux long enough. By constantly stirring the roux over a low heat, you’ll eventually watch it turn from light to dark. When it’s a caramel color, it’s perfect, and has a delicious nutty complex flavor.
Once the roux is done, it’s time to add the milk and cheese to turn it into a Bechemel sauce. I add the milk first, and bring it to a quick boil. Some recipes call for a mixture of milk and cream, but I figure with all the cheese and bacon and bacon fat, this is already going to be very oily, so I went for all milk this time.
I usually enlist Eric to shred the cheese, but he was busy setting up computers for the party. So I pulled out the food processor. It seems a bit wasteful for me to dirty up the entire food processor, which takes up so much room in the dishwasher, but it’s so fast and easy to grate a whole block of cheese. In this case, I used a cheese blend of cheddar and Gruyere. I like the way the flavor of the Gruyere goes so well with bacon.
Add the cheese into the roux a little at a time. Make sure it’s fully melted before.
When all the cheese is melted in, I add the bacon, after chopping it into about 1/2″ pieces.
Then, add the noodles into the sauce. It’s easier to mix it up so that everything gets nicely coated.
Pour the mixture into the backing dish and then spread more shredded cheese on top. For the topping, I used extra sharp cheddar. I like the tanginess of it, and it melts so nicely and browns so deliciously! Pop it in the oven at about 400 degrees F, and let it cook for about 20 minutes, or until the Bechemel sauce is bubbling and the cheese on top is golden.
Oh my! Look at this. At about this point, I had a bunch of gamer dudes in the kitchen, sniffing around.
It didn’t last long.
Maybe I need another three crock warmer! 😉
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1 pound bacon
1 pound noodles (I used pennette this time, because that’s what I could find)
2 pounds cheese, grated (I used 1 block of cheddar/Gruyere blend, and 1 block of sharp cheddar)
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup bacon fat
2 cups milk