If last week’s post was all about pure decadence, this week’s post is all about simple comfort food with one of the most beloved side dishes of all time: macaroni and cheese. Ok, so I added some duck confit to it for just a teensy touch of decadence. But if you’ve been following this blog long enough you know I rarely just do the regular stuff.
So why duck confit? Mostly because I had some in the fridge but also because there are places here in Chicago which will offer additions to their mac n’ cheese like the smoked brisket burnt ends or…duck confit. On its own macaroni and cheese is delicious but throw in either one of those and you’ve got more than just a side dish, you’ve pretty much got a casserole which can stand alone for dinner. Even a Sunday dinner. Now of course, leaving out the duck confit from this recipe still gives you a fantastic macaroni and cheese and there’s nothing wrong with that.
One characteristic of a good macaroni and cheese is the amount of creaminess in the dish. You want the macaroni to be coated with a nice cheese sauce. Sometimes there’s not enough sauce and a dried out mac n’ cheese is not very good. The best way to keep things moist is to make a cheese sauce using béchamel, the French ‘mother sauce.’ Make a roux, whisk in hot milk, then add some cheese.
In addition to the béchamel you need to make sure you don’t use too much macaroni. Most recipes will call for using a pound of dried pasta (so does mine) but if you want to keep everything creamy I’ve found I need around 7/8 of the cooked pasta with about a handful left over. Any more than that and the pasta seems to suck up the sauce leaving a much, much, drier macaroni and cheese. I can honestly report, three reheats later this mac n’ cheese is still creamy; never had to do the ‘add some milk’ trick in order to make it creamy again (that’s what you do with dried out mac n’ cheese!). You could just make more sauce too, but knocking back on the macaroni works just fine and it’s good to have some leftover pasta to ‘clean out’ the pot with after mixing everything together.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with the macaroni either. Elbows are the classic but I really like using celentani which is a hollow corkscrew shaped pasta, about the length of penne, but any type of short shaped pasta should work.
Macaroni and Cheese with Duck Confit
- 1 lb dried pasta shapes, (celentani, cavatappi, penne, shells, elbows)
- 2 duck confit legs
- 4 Tbs unsalted butter
- 6 Tbs flour
- 4 C milk
- 1 lb grated cheese (a good meltable one like gruyere, comte, fontina)
- Bread crumbs (I like to use panko bread crumbs, very crunchy and hold up well in the oven!)
Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.
In a large pot bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add your pasta and cook per the instructions, 10-12 minutes, until tender. Drain and set aside.
Place the duck confit in a baking dish in the oven and warm up until they start to crisp a little. Flip over and crisp the other side. Remove and allow to cool.
Place the milk in a large saucepan and heat over low heat on the stove. You need the milk to be hot, but just below boiling.
Dry out your pasta pot and set over med-high heat. Add the butter and melt, when it stops foaming add the flour and vigorously whisk into the butter mixing well. Once your roux look like wet sand add your heated milk and continue whisking/stirring until the sauce thickens. Should be around 5 minutes if you’re using hot milk.
Add ½ of your grated cheese to the béchamel sauce and stir in. Mix well until the cheese has been incorporated (melted) into the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (If you have some truffle gatherer’s sauce add about half to a full tsp here depending on your taste to make it even better.)
Add ¾ of the drained pasta into the cheese sauce and mix well making sure all of the pasta is coated. If Slowly add some of the remaining pasta until you have the amount of sauce you want. I usually end up putting in all but about a handful of pasta. Too much and your macaroni and cheese will end up dry.
Take the cooled duck legs and shred the meat. Mix with the pasta and cheese sauce.
Pour the macaroni and cheese into a large buttered baking dish (8×12 or 9×13). Spread the remaining grated cheese on top. Finish with a layer of bread crumbs.
Bake uncovered in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the top is browned.