Fried Mac & Cheese + How-to Video

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The first time I ever tried fried mac and cheese was at a Cheesecake Factory. I knew it would be a sin to see the words “fried” and “mac and cheese” beside one another in some sort of glorious partnership and not order it. It was like Marvel’s The Avengers, assembling history’s greatest heros (and hottest actors); you can’t not go witness such an epic assembly.

Turns out, The Cheesecake Factory makes some stellar FM&C, and by stellar I mean oh-my-god-I-must-be-dreaming-somebody-slap-me-this-is-so-darn-GOOD. If you ever go to Cheesecake Factory, you must get yourself some fried mac and cheese. Period.

With just one bite, my world was changed. I love deep-fried food, wrong and unhealthy as that love may be, and adding to that repertoire gave me joy. From that bite on, I wanted to try making my own at home. I’m the Smart Cookie Cook; I could make my own Fried Mac and Cheese as good as or better than the old CF.DSC_9826

And so, I did. My Fried Mac and Cheese is one of the best things to come out of my kitchen yet, and it is going to rock your culinary world. Why is it so awesome? Because you get my cheesy Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac and Cheese encased in a delicious, crunchy, golden brown breadcrumb shell; That’s like having 360 degrees of breadcrumb topping!

I specifically designed the mac and cheese filling to be extra creamy and saucy so you aren’t overwhelmed by pasta. Instead, there’s tons of molten, gooey cheese and just the right amount of pasta to compliment it. You can make a whole batch of my Mac & Cheese to fry, or even better yet, you can make it for dinner the night before and turn the leftovers into these incredible Fried Mac & Cheeses the next day.

If you’ve not tried Fried Mac & Cheese yet, now is the time. It’s crunchy, deep-fried, creamy, cheesy heaven, and it tastes like a dream come true. Everyone’s favorite comfort food just got a whole lot better.

 A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. As I noted in the recipe, box mac and cheeses (and most other mac and cheese recipes) will not work well for the filling because the sauce dries up a bit while frying, and you’ll wind up with a lot of pasta, and not much cheese. I specifically made my Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac and Cheese for the filling so that it would still be good and saucy after frying.
  2. The seasoned breadcrumbs add a lot of flavor here, so don’t replace them with plain breadcrumbs or Panko.
  3. You can make a whole batch of my Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac & Cheese for this like I did then chill it before frying, or you can make the mac and cheese for dinner one night, and fry the leftovers the next night. Just cut the frying ingredients in half.
  4. You MUST chill the mac and cheese until firm and solid or these will not hold together.DSC_9827-2

Fried Mac & Cheese
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Yield – about 2 dozen mac & cheese patties, the size of your palm (if you use the whole recipe of Mac  & Cheese)

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable or canola oil, for frying
  • 1 batch Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac & Cheese (recipe follows), chilled for at least 4 hours or overnight
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups seasoned breadcrumbs
  • Salt, for sprinkling
  • Optional: marinara sauce, for dipping

*I do not recommend using another recipe or boxed mac and cheese for this. I specifically designed that mac & cheese to be extra saucy so it won’t dry up when fried and isn’t too heavy on the pasta. Other recipes, and especially boxed mix, are likely to dry up and just be deep-fried noodles.

Directions:

  1. Make Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac & Cheese (recipe below). Let come to room temperature then cover and chill in fridge for at least 5 hours or overnight until firm and solid.
  2. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside. Line another baking sheet with a few layers of paper towels. Set aside.
  3. Pour oil into a deep frying pan so that it’s 2 inches deep. Bring to medium-high heat.
  4. Meanwhile, put the flour, milk + egg, and breadcrumbs into three separate bowls (one for each). Whisk the egg & milk mixture together.
  5. Take a generous scoop of the chilled mac and cheese (it should be nice and firm) and form into a patty. It should be about the size of your palm. Dip it first in the flour, flipping it so it gets completely covered, then into the milk/egg mixture, and finally the breadcrumbs. You should completely coat the patty with each layer; you should not be able to see any mac and cheese underneath.
  6. Drop one breaded patty into the oil carefully. If it sizzles, proceed to put a few more patties into the oil (about 4 or 5 per batch). If the oil does not sizzle, it’s not hot enough, and you need to wait a few more minutes.
  7. Allow patties to cook until the bottom is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes, then use a spatula to gently flip and let the other side brown. Once both sides of patty are browned and crisp, use a spatula to transfer to the paper towel-lined baking sheet to absorb excess oil. The patties are fragile, so be gentle.Once you have a batch completed, transfer to the aluminum foil-lined baking sheet and place in oven to keep warm while you finish the rest of the fried mac and cheeses.
  8. Sprinkle finished fried mac and cheeses with salt and serve immediately. Dip in marinara sauce, if you’d like.
    Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac & Cheese

    • About 12 oz. cavatappi or elbow pasta (use ¾ of a 16-oz. box, it doesn’t have to be exact)
    • 4 tbsp. butter
    • 1 tsp. minced garlic
    • 4 tsp. all-purpose flour
    • 3 – 4 cups heavy cream
    • 1 cup milk
    • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar
    • 2 cups shredded Muenster cheese
    • 1 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
    • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
    • ½ tsp. salt
    • ½ tsp. hot sauce
    1. In a large pot of salted boiling water over high heat, cook the pasta according to box directions. Drain.
    2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until translucent and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the flour so that it’s free of lumps and let cook for one minute, continuing to whisk.
    3. Whisk in 3 cups cream and all the milk until free of lumps. Cover and let simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Do not boil.
    4. Once sauce is thickened, whisk in all the cheeses, salt, and hot sauce until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Test taste to decide if you’d like any more cheese. If sauce is too thick for your liking, whisk in more cream, ¼ cup at a time.
    5. Turn off heat and immediately fold in pasta until well-coated. Enjoy some for dinner and cover and chill in fridge for frying the next day or cover and chill whole batch in fridge for 4 hours to overnight, until solid and firm. The longer you chill, the better off you’ll be.

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Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Stovetop Mac & Cheese

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There’s nothing more disappointing than a dry mac and cheese. On the list of Life’s Most Devastating Disappointments, dry mac is right up there with when the pizza you ordered doesn’t have enough cheese or getting a half-filled container of fries from the drive-thru. It’s like you were robbed of what you longed for and deserved.

In theory, pasta and cheese should always be a winning combination, but it’s not that simple. If the sauce is dry and crumbly, then all you’ve got is a flavorless pile of clumpy mush, and that ain’t appetizing.

I learned a long time ago that the best way to avoid Chronic Dry Mac & Cheese Disappointment Syndrome (CDMCD Syndrome) is to stop trusting restaurants’ macs or other people’s recipes. Occasionally, I find a good mac, but it’s not worth the 9 out of 10 times I don’t.

I specifically designed this Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Stovetop Mac & Cheese to be have a high sauce-to-pasta ratio, yielding a sea of super creamy, rich cheese sauce. I guarantee you’ve never had a mac this luscious in your life.DSC_9633

Here are the secrets to super sauciness: Firstly, I used an epic quantity of four kinds of cheese, each one specifically selected for its creamy meltibility (with the exception of the parmesan, which I chose for its strong flavor). Sharp cheddar is a must-have in a classic mac. Then we’ve got super smooth and soft Muenster and slightly tangy, crazy melty Monterey Jack. The complimentary quartet of cheese is then complimented by a secret ingredient: hot sauce. It doesn’t make it spicy; just a tiny touch adds a hint of something special to each bite.

My second secret to sauciness is making a slightly larger quantity of sauce than most mac and cheese recipes yield, so you get more creamy cheesiness for every noodle. I also used just a bit less than the whole box of noodles, unlike most recipes, so you again get more sauce per noodle.

The final secret is making the mac and cheese stovetop. Oven-baking is a common offender in drying out sauces or making them curdle, so we keep our sauce nice and velvety smooth on the stove. Best of all, this is a MAJOR time-saver, so you can have this indulgent, heavenly mac on the table in 30 minutes or less.

End result? Crazy creamy and gooey mac and cheese like you’ve only dreamed of, loaded with cheese and bursting with the perfect medley of flavors.

Dry mac and cheese? Psh. Yeah right. DSC_9705

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Never made mac and cheese from scratch before? This recipe’s a great place to start.
  2. Get a visual on building the roux for the sauce with this quick video.
  3. You can switch out cheeses, but try to pick ones with good meltibility.
  4. Choose whatever pasta shape you like, but I highly recommend sticking to multigrain and whole wheat pastas. They have a more al dente texture, more protein and fiber, and personally, I think they taste better.
  5. Still want the breadcrumb topping you get with a baked mac and cheese? Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a small skillet. Stir in 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs and cook until toasted and brown. Sprinkle over the top of the mac!
  6. Need more awesome mac and cheeses? Try these:
  7. You’ll be surprised how much more delicious mac and cheese is when you don’t overcook pasta. People think you can boil it forever, but limp, mushy pasta is no good. Stop cooking when it has just a teeny bit of bite left in it; this is called al dente.DSC_9614

Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Stovetop Mac & Cheese
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • About 12 oz. cavatappi or elbow pasta (use ¾ of a 16-oz. box, it doesn’t have to be exact)
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 4 tsp. all-purpose flour
  • 3 – 4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar
  • 2 cups shredded Muenster cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. hot sauce

Directions:

  1. In a large pot of salted boiling water over high heat, cook the pasta according to box directions. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until translucent and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the flour so that it’s free of lumps and let cook for one minute, continuing to whisk.
  3. Whisk in 3 cups cream and all the milk until free of lumps. Cover and let simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Do not boil.
  4. Once sauce is thickened, whisk in all the cheeses, salt, and hot sauce until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Test taste to decide if you’d like any more cheese. If sauce is too thick for your liking, whisk in more cream, ¼ cup at a time.
  5. Turn off heat and immediately fold in pasta until well-coated. Serve immediately.DSC_9638

Stovetop 3-Cheese Brussels Sprout Mac & Cheese

When your kitchen is plagued with what Mother Cookie has coined “The Baby Barbie Oven,” cooking big meals can be a tricky task. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas in particular, we battle with how to cook the myriad of side dishes we decided would be a good idea to make. Even though we know we’ll never have enough room, there’s just too much good food we want to try to let our oven size limit our menu.

This past Thanksgiving, my mother and I planned ahead to try and avoid the annual oven fiasco. I decided what absolutely needed to be baked, and what could be done stovetop. I have always, always baked my mac & cheeses in the past, but I thought, why not just do it stovetop? Too often I’ve made what seems like the perfect saucy mac & cheese over the stove, only to transfer it to the oven to bake up golden brown and find that it has dried out too much inside.  But if I serve it straight from the pot, there’s no fear of a dry mac.

Stovetop cooking was the perfect method for my 3-Cheese Brussels Sprout Mac & Cheese. I made my creamiest mac ever with three decadent cheeses: Fontina, the queen of meltiness, sharp white cheddar, strong and robust, and my secret weapon: mascarpone, for one seriously indulgent and smooth sauce. The three in combination are the ultimate trio of cheeses, yielding a crazy creamy and cheesy sauce to submerge adorable bow tie pasta and fresh brussels sprouts in.

You’ve never had a sauce quite so creamy and rich. It’s divine, pure pasta heaven. Because we don’t bake it, there’s no fear it’ll dry up, or that there won’t be a good pasta-to-sauce ratio. There’s plenty of molten cheese to go around! And if you don’t like brussels sprouts, then don’t fear. I guarantee any sprout hater will change their tune when the sprouts are drowned in a decadent, garlicky 3-cheese sauce.

Even though this 5-star mac tastes fancy and supreme, you can have it to the table in under 30 minutes, whereas a baked mac and cheese could take over an hour. But you won’t know the difference; in fact, this is creamier than and just as flavorful as a baked mac.

You have no excuse not to make this cheese-covered dream. It’s quick, easy, and so very decadent.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. If you’re really completely 100% against brussels sprouts, just leave them out.
  2. Bacon would be a fantastic addition to this dish.
  3. Whole wheat or whole grain pasta is the way to go!
  4. Never made a roux? It’s just a fancy word for a stupidly simple step. Check out my how-to video if you don’t believe me!
  5. For a more Italian flavor, replace the white cheddar with parmesan cheese.
  6. Make sure you don’t over cook your brussels sprouts. Nobody likes soggy sprouts!

Stovetop 3-Cheese Brussels Sprout Mac & Cheese
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. farfalle (bow tie) pasta, or another short-cut pasta like shells or cavatappi
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 4 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup shredded white cheddar cheese
  • 8 oz. (1 cup) shredded fontina cheese
  • 4 oz. (1/2 cup) mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 2 cups fresh brussels sprouts, cooked & drained

Directions:

  1. In a large pot of salted boiling water over high heat, cook the pasta according to box directions until al dente. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add shallots and garlic and saute until translucent and aromatic, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the flour and let cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in milk until free of lumps then cover and let simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.
  3. Whisk in all the cheeses, salt, and pepper until smooth and melted. Taste test to decide if you’d like more cheese. If sauce is too thick for your liking, add more milk 1/4 cup at a time. Fold in brussel sprouts followed by pasta until well-coated. Serve immediately.

Nacho Mac & Cheese


Mac & cheese is one of what I consider to be my “ultimate weaknesses,” along with french fries, pizza, and basically any dessert. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t resist a good mac. It’s not one of those situations where I can just be like, “Oh, I’ll just eat a little bit.” No, if I’m going to eat mac and cheese, then you can bet your sticky buns that I’ll eat enough of it to feed an entire fleet of hungry vikings.

Achieving what is deemed as “good” mac and cheese, one that’s worth filling all six of my stomachs with, is easier said than done. Actually, scratch that. I’ve made a multitude of magnificent macs, none of which were that complicated. However, it seems other people really struggle with the concept. Finding a good mac an cheese at a restaurant, for example, can be downright impossible. Some are watery and flavorless, others dry as a bone. A good mac should be just the opposite.

This Nacho Mac & Cheese is exemplary of everything good macs represent. I tweaked my go-to mac & cheese base to be extra saucy and beyond creamy, every noodle crevice coated in cheesy, flavorful heaven. It’s mac & cheese perfection, taken to the next level with a nacho twist.

This mac has every component and every flavor characteristic of nachos, fused into its creamy pasta goodness. The sauce is made with sharp cheddar & Monterey Jack, two ideal nacho cheeses. Then, we crank up the heat with Rotel, chunky diced tomatoes and spicy chiles, giving the sauce a queso-like flavor. It really tastes like nacho sauce, only much better because it’s homemade and there’s no gross artificial ingredients. The icing on the cake is an extra blanket of gooey cheese and a layer of crispy-crunchy tortilla chips. The chips take the place of a traditional breadcrumb topping, making this really feel like a mac-nacho hybrid. It’s almost freaky how well both foods are represented. Freaky…but unbelievably delicious and comforting.

This Nacho Mac & Cheese has no shortage of rich, cheesy sauce, and it sure as sugar ain’t lacking in the flavor department. If you’re ready to spice up a world of blah mac and cheeses, this is the dish that will do it. It may be my favorite mac & cheese I’ve made to date!

Who said you can’t make a meal out of nachos?

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. If you want extra kick, switch out the Monterey Jack for pepper jack.
  2. Use whole-grain or whole-wheat noodles. They’re heartier & better for you!
  3. Make sure you only boil the pasta until al dente, meaning it still has a bit of bite left in it, because it will continue to cook when you bake it.
  4. Don’t over-bake! You’ll dry your mac right out.
  5. This makes a big pan of mac & cheese, so you can serve a lot of cheese lovers!

Nacho Mac & Cheese
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. rotini or shell pasta, preferably whole wheat or whole grain
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 a medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup cheesy taco seasoning, or 3 tbsp. regular taco seasoning
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, plus 1 cup more for topping
  • 1 cup shredded sharp Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 cans Rotel Original Diced Tomatoes & Green Chiles, drained
  • 2 cups chopped tortilla chips

Directions:

  1. In a large pot of boiling salted water over medium heat, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray set aside.
  3. In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter. Add the onions and saute until fragrant and translucent, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the flour and taco seasoning until free of lumps. Let cook, continuing to whisk, for another minute. Whisk in the milk and cream until completely free of lumps. Cover and let simmer until thickened, 10-15 minutes. Whisk in the cheeses until completely melted. Remove from heat and turn off stove. Stir in the salt and Rotel until well-combined.
  4. Transfer cooked pasta back to large pot. If you want your pasta extra saucy, reserve about 1 cup of the pasta. Pour the sauce into the pot with the pasta and stir until well-coated. Pour into baking dish and top with remaining 1 cup cheddar and tortilla chips. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until hot, golden brown, and bubbly. If chips brown too much, cover with aluminum foil until finished. Make sure you pull the mac as soon as a knife inserted in the center comes out hot to the touch. If you over-bake it, it will dry out.
  5. Let sit for 2 minutes then enjoy!


Fried Mac & Cheese Ravioli (or any flavor ravioli you wish)

Before you jump to conclusions about this being a really complicated recipe, I have to confess that I cheated a little bit. Remember those Mac & Cheese Raviolis from Wegmans that I flipped my lid over a little while ago? Well, I took them to the next level by breading them in a delicious, crispy coating then deep-frying ’em good. But if you don’t have access to a Wegmans, and therefore can’t get your hungry paws on Mac & Cheese Ravioli, then you need not fear. You can use any kind of ravioli in this recipe, whether it be stuffed with ricotta, spinach, four cheeses, chicken, or even nutella. Just pick up a bag of ravioli from the grocery store, and you’re halfway to crispy, crunchy, deep-fried ravioli heaven.

If you’ve never had fried ravioli, you’re missing out. These tender pockets of pasta are wrapped in the most perfectly crisp, golden-brown breading then lightly seasoned. Once you bite through the crunchy, fried glory of that breadcrumb armor, the ravioli gives way to a creamy, cheesy filling. It’s pure delight in every poppable bite. Don’t be surprise when a dozen of these cheese-stuffed pockets disappear.

It’s the kind of snack you inhale like a hungry, hungry hippo-vacuum hybrid.

The best part of these fried ravies is that you don’t need a deep-fryer. I know a lot of people are intimidated by the deep-fryer, and quite honestly, I am too sometimes. Instead, these raviolis take a hot bath in a pan of golden oil atop the stove. Pan on stove top = much less intimidating than a deep fryer.

I highly recommend snagging a bag of Mac & Cheese Ravioli from Wegman’s because they are insanely delectable. Their creamy cheddar cheese filling really makes ’em taste like mac & cheese. Essentially, it is mac & cheese, but inside-out. However, as I said, any kind of ravioli will work deliciously with this recipe. So go get you deep-fried Italian on!

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Pick any ravioli flavor you like best.
  2. You can make these in the deep fryer if you prefer.
  3. You can add grated parmesan to the breading for an extra cheesy kick!
  4. I served these with marinara sauce, but you could also serve them with a blush sauce or tomato soup.

Fried Mac & Cheese Ravioli (or any flavor Fried Ravioli)
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 16-oz. package Mac & Cheese Ravioli, or flavor of you choice
  • 2 cups seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • vegetable oil, for frying
  • marinara sauce, for dipping

Directions:

  1. In a large pot of boiling salted water over high heat, cook raviolis according to package directions. It will only take a couple minutes. Make sure they are al dente, not soggy. Drain and let cool enough to work with. Pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Pour the flour into a large bowl. Pour the breadcrumbs into another large bowl. Then whisk together the eggs and milk in one more large bowl.
  3. Use a fork to dunk each ravioli into the flour and coat evenly. Next, dunk the ravioli into the milk/egg mixture, soaking both sides. Finish with the breadcrumbs, making sure to coat the entire ravioli. To repeat, the order is: flour, milk/egg mixture, breadcrumbs.
  4. Once all the raviolis are breaded, Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick spray. Set aside. Line another baking sheet with paper towels. Set aside.
  5. Pour olive oil into a large, deep nonstick skillet, filling it 1-inch deep. Bring to medium-high heat. Once oil starts to smoke and bubble, add about 6-8 raviolis to the pan. If they do not sizzle when you put them in, the oil is not hot enough.
  6. Fry each side of the ravioli until golden brown, flipping in between. Set finished raviolis on the paper towel-lined tray to soak up extra oil. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Then transfer raviolis to aluminum-lined tray and keep warm in oven while you finish the remaining batches. Serve with marinara sauce for dipping.