Saturday, February 14, 2009
Mr. Dave's Bacon Mac and Cheese. A Marginal Success.
So I keep seeing the commercials for Pizza Hut's "Tuscani" (I am sure that any Tuscan Gentleman would vomit at this use of their region's name) Pasta Bacon Mac and Cheese. I am kind of a mac and cheese purest. I don't like anything futzing around with the delicious harmony of béchamel, cheese, salt, pepper, and pasta so I was kind of suspicious of the concept. I figured that this might be the one exception to the "bacon improves all" doctrine. Of course, I had to formulate my own recipe which turned out OK. As often happens, some of the ideas I had I will glean from this experiment, but I was slightly disappointed with the results.
I started with a package worth of well done, very crispy bacon (cured and smoked).
Now, I wanted to infuse as much bacon flavor into the mix as I could. I went with a three stage bacon attack. First, I made a bacon/sourdough bread crumb topping for the mac and cheese by pulsing a handful of bacon and some fresh bread in my food processor.
Bacon Attack #2: I decided that instead of wasting the luscious grease of the gods left in my bacon cooking pan, I would incorporate it into the béchamel sauce. I melted a couple of tablespoons of butter in a couple of table spoons of bacon grease. This formed the basis for what I have named Bacon-chamel sauce.
I made a blond roux by throwing in an equal amount of flour into the grease. I let this go a little longer than I normally would to bring out some nutty undertones that I thought would accentuate the bacon flavors.
After adding the milk and allowing the sauce to thicken nicely I added the four cheeses that I selected. I used mozzarella (I love stringy goodness in me mac and cheese), good sharp New York aged cheddar (for New York patriotic reasons), Fontina (good mellow flavor should go good with bacon), and Velveeta (shut up in advance cheese snobs, Velveeta has a place in my heart).
This made a delicious, bubbling, cheesy sauce with a scent only slightly redolent of bacon.
It is always good to admit mistakes, so I think my major one here is the choice of pasta. I used largeish pasta shells. I thought that the shell shape would nicely scoop up a lot of cheese and sauce. I dumped the cheese sauce over the shells and at first it looked pretty damn good.
Bacon Attack #3: I mixed in the remaining bacon in bit form along with 1 egg plus 1 yolk.
I stirred the whole mess up nicely, topped with the bacon/bread crumb mixture, and threw it all into a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes. It came out of the oven looking very good and browned.
I had a few friends over that evening and we dug into the mac and cheese and immediately discovered that the bacon mac and cheese was very, very, rich. I think the large pasta shells scooped up a little too much sauce and good ol' fashioned elbow mac would have been the proper choice. As far as the flavor goes, it was little too smoky for my tastes, this could easily be remedied by using some cured but un-smoked bacon, dare I say pancetta would have been a better choice (pancetta is still bacon, right?)? The highlight of the dish in my humble opinion was the delicious bacon/bread crumb topping. I think using this on top of an otherwise normal mac and cheese would add enough bacony goodness in and of its self and this is how I may proceed in my bacon mac and cheese future. As always I chalk this all up as a learning experience.