As promised – because I’m all about fulfilling promises – I’m about to give you the keys to the gates of culinary paradise. A recipe so profound, so life-changing that I had to translate the recipe into English from the very alphabet of the Heavenly Angels. A recipe that is the actual Platonic ideal of macaroni and cheese. A recipe that epitomizes everything that is good about pasta, bourbon, cheese and bacon by mixing them together.
Everything starts somewhere, and I’m definitely a “building off the work of others” kind of girl. I knew I wanted an alcohol infused mac and cheese recipe, but I needed a place to start – and this Jack Daniels Mac and Cheese was the London Heathrow to my nonstop flight anywhere I wanted to go.
My first change was bourbon for the JD. We had cheap bourbon on hand, and my husband wanted me to use that up before we touched anything that price dictates I buy at the Duty Free.
STEP ONE: Marinate the Bacon in Bourbon – because we love the taste of bourbon. Also, bourbon makes bacon taste better.
So, there’s a few things going on here. First, although the initial recipe called for 10 slices of bacon, I just used a whole pack. And then I added a pack of what is called “bacon rashers” here – basically HUGE FAT PIECES OF BACON. Bacon rashers are one of nature’s wondrous bountiful gifts, and I am forever grateful for them.
Anyway, it’s a lot of bacon. But we love bacon.
Second, the amount of bourbon is “whatever we had left in the bottle”. And the bourbon is used in the cooking after the marinating.
I realize I should be a lot more specific on this, but I’m not very good at that part.
STEP TWO: Make the Caramelization Mix
I actually did follow the recipe for the caramelization mixture, as it was something I’d never done before. We used 1 cup of brown sugar to 1 tsp of cayenne pepper. And may I just say, when you mix these together and smell them, it just smells like it’s telling you that it needs to decorate bacon. I’m not even kidding. This mixture’s sole purpose in the universe is to make bacon taste amazing.
STEP THREE: After the bacon marinated for about two hours, poured the bourbon off into a large mug – and by large, I mean:
I then poured off a bit of bourbon at a time into the brown sugar/cayenne mixture until it created a thick and syrupy paste. A thick, syrupy, wonderful smelling paste that was reaching out its arms for its bacon soul mate.
After lining a cookie sheet with foil, I used a silicone pastry brush to spread the caramelization mix over the bottom of the pan, then I laid out the bacon over the top of it. I brushed the rest of the mixture over the top of the bacon and stuck it in the oven at 200 degrees C (roughly 400 degrees fahrenheit) for seven minutes.
At seven minutes I flipped the bacon over and cooked it another five minutes. When the time was up, everything went on paper plates in order to thicken up and drain a bit. It looked fantastic, and it is only because people were watching me that it didn’t just get eaten then and there.
While the bacon cooled down enough to cut into chunks, I got to work making the macaroni.
STEP FIVE: Create the Mac and Cheese
Four tbs of butter (I use salted butter, because I like salt in my butter. You don’t have to like salt in your butter. You can use margarine if that is what floats your boat. I’m not going to judge you) and about 1/3 to 1/2 cup flour. Melt the butter, stir in the flour until it’s a paste.
Add 2 cups pouring cream (I have no idea what this would be in the US, but it isn’t whipping cream and it is definitely some kind of cream) a bit at a time using a whisk to get everything all mixy-mixy, then when the mixture starts to bubble lightly begin adding the shredded cheddar cheese a handful at a time, whisking until it is melted.
SIDE STEP: You shredded some cheddar, right? I hope so. I meant to tell you to shred cheddar cheese. I also meant to tell you to boil water for the pasta noodles of your choice (we went with spiral). I hope you don’t have to start back from the beginning. I probably would have remembered to tell you this thing, but I repeated step four a few times. Also, I actually did step four before step one.
STEP SIX: Stir in two generous pinches of paprika and 1/3 cup of bourbon. Use less bourbon if you don’t like bourbon very much. Don’t use more bourbon, it makes the cheese sauce weird. Add salt and pepper if you think they are necessary.
STEP SEVEN: Stir the cut up bacon into the cheese sauce, then stir the cheese sauce into the strained and cooked noodles. Dump everything into a casserole dish and bake at 180 degrees celsius (roughly 350 degrees fahrenheit) for about 12 minutes.
Top with crispy onions if you wish.
Be happy. Be very, very happy. Because this is happy food.
BOURBON AND BACON MAC AND CHEESE RECIPE
**1 package streaky bacon (regular American bacon) plus 1 package bacon rashers (huge fat bacon) **At least 1 cup of cheap bourbon ** 1 cup brown sugar ** 1 tsp cayenne pepper ** 1 pound pasta of your choice ** 4 tbs butter or butter product ** 1/3 to 1/2 cup flour ** 2 cups cream – add a bit more if sauce seems “grainy”, or less if sauce is too thin ** 3 – 4 cups shredded mature cheddar cheese ** 2 big ol’ finger-pinches of paprika ** The obligatory salt and pepper if you feel the need
- Marinate the bacon in bourbon for a few hours. Longer if you want, as the bacon soaks up the flavor SUPER well.
- Mix the brown sugar and cayenne pepper. After bacon has finished marinating, add enough bourbon from the marinating bowl to make a thick and grainy syrup. Spread this syrup on the bottom of a foil lined cookie sheet, then layer bacon over it. Brush the remainder of the syrup over the top of the bacon.
- Cook bacon at 400 degrees for seven minutes. Turn the bacon over, cook an additional five minutes. Place the caramelized bacon on a paper plate in order to drain a bit and get all shiny-looking.
- While bacon is cooking, boil pasta
- Melt 4 tbs butter and add flour until a thick paste is created. Slowly add cream to the paste with a whisk until mixture is soupy and you have a few bubbles that make that blooping noise when they pop – but don’t boil it any harder than that!
- Stir in paprika and pepper
- Add shredded cheddar to the bloopy-noise boiling cream/flour/butter mixture a handful at a time and whisk while it melts. If the mixture seems grainy, add more cream and allow it to warm back up again before you finish off the cheese.
- Take the cheese mixture off the stove and add chopped up bacon. Stir well.
- Add cheese and bacon sauce to the strained noodles. Stir well, and plop everything into a casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees fahrenheit for about 12 minutes, or until the top has some brownish and slightly crunchy parts.
- Top with crunchy onions if you wish
SIDE NOTE: The caramelized bacon is also delicious with eggs at breakfast time, plus you can put two pieces of caramelized bacon under some lovely scrambled eggs topped with mushrooms and onions, and you look like a fancy chef to whomever is visiting that morning. They don’t even have to know how easy it is to caramelize bacon with booze.