The greatest single sports event of the year is almost here. 'The big game' as many local television networks will call it, likely in fear of a hypothetical lawsuit from the evil three-letter pro-football empire I will hypocritically not name. Sunday is a day of celebration regardless of whether or not you care who is playing, and like every American holiday we join close friends and family to overeat and drink. A super poll was taken recently which polled a few hundred thousand millennials for their reasons to attend a big ole' game party.
Hungry hippos eked out the commercial loving pink hats by a margin of 32% to 28%, with a small group of football fan rounding out 22% of pollsters. The silent but sometimes loud minority of 4% were attending gatherings for the potential drunken post game coitus from their partner(s). Approximately 9% of people were searching for some form of social acceptance with the occasional snapbook/instaface and not feeling left out of the lunch room conversations. Alcoholic made up about 5% of this poll which corresponds nicely with a previous poll conducted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
As a football fan it is my civic duty to feed the hungry 10-15 attendees of the 1st Annual Defunct Man Not-Hosting-But-Still-Sponsoring Big Game Party.
- 3lbs. of grated cheddar cheese (2 to 1 ratio of sharp versus regular cheddar)
- 1lb. grated pecorino romano cheese
- 8oz. crumbled blue cheese
- 3 sticks of salted butter
- 2 boxes of elbow macaroni
- 2 sleeves of original Ritz crackers
- 1/2 gallon of whole milk (I used half of this but depending on your cheese you may need more)
- 1 cup Frank's Redhot Wing Sauce (simply the best, use whatever you want but nothing beats this)
- 12 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
- 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
- 1 small red onion
- 3 large stalks of celery
- extra virgin olive oil
Roasting Chicken Thighs
Preheat the oven to 400° F, while your oven heats up place your chicken thighs skin up on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil. Salt liberally on all surfaces and let stand for about 20 minutes. Assuming your oven takes less than 20 minutes to heat up, place your chicken in the oven for 45 minutes or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165° F.
Don't worry if the skin isn't very crispy, we left this on to keep the chicken moist and will remove before eating (confession, my dog and I ate the skin for dinner). Let the chicken cool down off to the side for another 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes the chicken thighs should be cool enough to start to pull apart. Use your hands to break the chicken down to small bite sized pieces. Make sure you leave any excess fat, cartilage, bones and skin behind.
*You can use chicken breast here, but if you have read previous blogs we now #respekthebreasts.
How to Boil Pasta
Boil the elbow macaroni slightly before it is al dente enough to eat, the box said 6 minutes so I cooked it for about 5 minutes at a full boil. After 4 minutes I kept tasting the noodles waiting for it to be cooked through but slightly chewy and underdone.
Spread it out over a large surface area to let cool (sheet pans work best). Make sure to use a few tablespoons of olive oil and move the noodles around frequently to avoid sticky and expedite the cooling process.
If you're thinking, 'but Mr. Leahy even my adult cousin that still lives at home can cook pasta'. I would let you know this is THE most important part of mac and cheese, overcooking the pasta now won't help when you again bake the mac & cheese in the oven to finish. Cooking the pasta paste al dente will leave you with salty texture-less mush that you might as well feed to a group of stray cats over people you respect.
Sautéed Onion & Celery (Optional)
Finely chop your onion and celery, add salt and sautée for 5-10 minutes or until vegetables turn slightly translucent. When done, set aside to cool.
This was a game-time decision / addition. After making this recipe a half a dozen time there was always something missing, a little texture and mixing in a major food group other than dairy. When I think Buffalo chicken wings I always think celery, and if you think carrots you're a liability.
Now you have prepared the three tenets of Buffalo mac and cheese you are now ready for the chosen item that completes this bountiful dish.
Cheese Sauce 101
Here is where the fork in the road leads; you can either take the road to the bullshit vertical video recipe or the road less traveled (with significantly more effort). We could now toss together all the ingredients and have a half decent mac and cheese. Or we could do things the way God intended. By god I mean basic French cooking techniques.
And here you have what the French call a roux. A roux is a mixture of equal parts fat and flour which thicken just about any sauce. We are going to use this to thicken our cheese sauce and avoid runny/liquid/cheese water.
Mix together a half cup of all-purpose flour and a stick of salted butter. Mix together over low-medium heat until bubbles start to form and it turns into a paste. If you keep this over the heat you will start to see it turn darker, this is applicable in other recipes. However, our taste in roux's right now is a light blonde with not a lot going on, maybe if it was different we would go a little darker but that's just not what we are looking for right now. And no, I am not projecting.
Empty half your 1/2 gallon of whole milk into a DEEP pot and let come up to temperature. Start off at low and as time goes by increase the temperature. Watch this closely and feel free turning the temperature down if needed to avoid curdling.
*I have made the mistake in the past on going with 2% milk here. If you're going to make this don't try and cut calories, think again. Go big or be left with a watery mix of melted cheese.
The Cheese Sauce
Once your milk is to temperature, add in your roux and a small sprinkle of cheese. Whisk constantly. As the cheese melts add more, and more until all the grated cheese is gone. If you have friend(s) employ them to help you whisk because this is a serious bitch. The worst part is as you get closer to the end it gets harder to whisk, add in splashes of milk if the mixture becomes too thick.
There is no perfect science to this (I am sure there is but I am not aware of it), every single cheese has different moisture content and will require more or less milk. I ended up using about 60% of the 1/2 gallon jug, in the past I have used less. Having an eye for the correct mixture comes with repeating this recipe over and over, and of course will require you to discover your preference.
When your grated cheese bucket is empty, add in a cup (or more) of hot sauce. The white cheese mixture will turn orange in color, the closer it resembles the skin color of our President the hotter it will be. Dump in all the cooled ingredients (macaroni, chicken, onion and celery) and mix lightly without breaking up the noodles.
Dump all your ingredients into a 2"-4" pan and smooth the top to ready to receiving of the crust mixture. Break up two (2) sleeve of Ritz crackers into two (2) sticks of melted salted butter. Once the crackers soak up all the butter your are ready for the final step, sprinkle the entire tub of crumbled blue cheese and the butter soaked crackers over the top.
This isn't the lightest meal you'll ever have but it should soak up the half dozen beers you'll have before kickoff. Don't be shy with adding hot sauce either. Place in the oven for 20-30 minutes at 400° F, use a larger sheet pan under your dish to avoid spillover and smelling burnt cheese at the base of your oven until St. Patrick's Day.
Making this in advance wouldn't be a bad ideal (wink wink, nod nod) and will stay 'fresh' for a little over a week.
And I already have to poop...