The tree across the street lights up like a red flame every time I open the door--especially on dark, gray, and gloomy days like today. The temperature has a bit of an edge, but the cold hasn't really set in yet. Still, it was a nice day for some rich ooey gooey comfort food like lobster mac and cheese. Of course, lobster is a luxury ingredient, but every once in a while, it's nice to splurge. This mac and cheese is almost as comforting without the lobster, or you can add some cooked, crumbled bacon and peas to replace it. (I confess I belong to that tribe of people who nearly worship bacon.)
Baked mac and cheese comprises three main parts: the pasta, the cheese sauce, and the crumbly topping. The pasta is easy enough--just read the package instructions. The cheese sauce is basically a Mornay sauce (or a Bechamel sauce with cheese in it), and the crumbly topping is a crispy mix of fresh bread crumbs, garlic, and parsley. Diving into this dish is something like opening a surprise gift: First there is the crispy golden-brown crust. Break through that, and you find a warm, silky, cheesy pasta center. Yum.
So, here's how to make it.
Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees.
Part 1: The Pasta and the Lobster
- Cook 1 lb of macaroni (any shape you like, but small, chunky shapes seem to work best) according to package instructions. Drain and set it aside.
- Pick over 1 lb of thawed lobster (or fresh if you have it) to remove any pieces of shell. Chop the meat into bite size pieces.
Part 2: The Cheese Sauce
- 4 cups of shredded cheese (a blend of Gruyere and Cheddar is nice)
- 4 Tbsp butter
- 4 Tbsp AP flour
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed
- 2 cups whole milk
- salt (to taste)
- 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
- dash grated nutmeg
- Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. (Don't burn or brown the butter.)
- Whisk the flour into the butter. Let the butter-flour mix simmer gently for a few minutes (don't let it brown). By the way, this is called a roux.
- Vigorously whisk the butter-flour mix, while adding the milk slowly. Add the garlic pieces. Stirring steadily, let the sauce simmer and thicken for five to 10 minutes.
- Remove the garlic pieces and discard them. Add the cheese to the sauce one small handful at a time. (If you dump it all in at once, a big ole glob of cheese will sink to the bottom of your milk sauce, kerthud, and you won't be able to fix it, so take your time).
- When all the cheese has melted evenly into the sauce, add salt (taste it, the levels of salt in cheese can vary a lot) starting with half a teaspoon at a time, white pepper, and nutmeg. Leave the sauce over low heat while you prepare the rest of the dish.
- 2 slices of bread, torn into pieces
- 1 small garlic clove
- 1 Tbsp dried parsley (fresh would be better, but you have to make do sometimes)
Now, here's how to put it all together:
- Butter a baking dish. Add the pasta to the baking dish.
- Add the sauce to the pasta and stir.
- Add the lobster pieces (and any juices).
- Mix all the stuff together in the baking dish; make sure the sauce, the lobster, and the pasta are evenly distributed.
- Sprinkle the crumb topping over the mix.
- Slide the baking dish into a 350-degree oven and let it cook for 50 minutes until you have a golden-brown dish of deliciousness. As for me, I think it may just be time for seconds...