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Monday, September 28, 2009
Birthdays only roll around once a year and regardless of how you choose to celebrate it, I believe on the day of your birth you should have a special meal. It doesn't have to be at restaurant and it doesn't have to be fancy, but it should be something special.
For my birthday this year, I had a real longing for mac and cheese, not the instant, out of the box kind but the al dente pasta smothered in a sharp but creamy cheese sauce with a crusty, crisp exterior. I have been craving it for months but couldn't really justify the calories except on this day. Since it was a birthday meal, I decided to go all out by creating something rather splendid, full fat flavour to be enjoyed hungrily without a moment’s regret. A meal that I could recall throughout the rest of the year and think to myself, "Now, that was dinner!" It had to be a version of macaroni and cheese that was not just indulgent but also exquisite.
The "something" I added to this mac and cheese for my birthday meal was lobster. It isn't something I get to eat very often and its inclusion really brings something special to this humble dish. If you don't want to use lobster, I think this would work well with lump crab meat, or bay scallops. (Or no seafood at all! It's still delicious!)
There are two secrets to a good mac and cheese. The first key to success is using the right cheese for this dish… I pondered what might pair well with lobster, and I thought a nice sharp white cheddar might fare well, and perhaps some nuttiness from a Gruyere topped with some Reggiano Parmesan.
The second key is just the right amount of time in the oven to deliver a creamy, smooth interior with a crunchy, crisp exterior. To achieve this, sprinkle with panko flakes (beautiful Japanese breadcrumbs)on top and bake in a large shallow pan for maximum crust. A fifteen minute bake finished with a little broiler time yields this is perfect balance. But if you prefer a firmer mac and cheese, you could leave it in the oven for a little while longer.
Lobster Mac n' Cheese
200 grams small pasta - such as shells or macaroni
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp all-purpose flour
4 c whole milk
2 c shredded 2 year old Cheddar
2 c shredded Gruyere
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1.5 tbsp finely chopped dill
salt & pepper
2 lbs lobster
1 tbsp butter
1/2 c panko
1/2 c grated Reggiano Parmesan
1. Heat water for pasta. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Heat water for lobster. Once boiling, add lobster. Cook for a minute until the shell turns bright red. Pull lobsters out and dunk in an ice water bath. Once cool enough to handle, remove meat. Chop roughly into bite size pieces and set aside. The lobster will still be uncooked - which is fine as it will continue to cook in the oven.
3. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium high heat. Sprinkle flour over melted butter and whisk. Allow flour to cook, turn down heat to avoid burning, if necessary. Add 1 c of milk and whisk well. When fully incorporated and thickened, add a second cup. Repeat with the remaining two cups.
4. Once milk is fully incorporated, add 1 c of cheese at a time. Continue to whisk until all the cheese is melted and fully incorporated. Add nutmeg & paprika (use freshly grated nutmeg if you can), and salt & pepper to taste.
5. Add pasta to water and stir. Cook until about 2 or 3 minutes away from being al dente. (It continues to cook in the oven so we want this nearly cooked not perfectly cooked.) Drain and return pasta to pot. In the same pot which is now off heat, stir in lobster chunks and dill. Pour sauce on top and stir to mix.
6. In a large buttered casserole dish, add the pasta and lobster mixture. Sprinkle panko and Parmesan on top.
7. Bake in oven for fifteen minutes. Move to the top rack and brown top.
8. Allow the casserole to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.