Shellfish mac and cheese – baked macaroni in a super silky sauce laced with flecks of sweet crab and succulent prawns.
Macaroni and cheese has been popular ever since Kraft put it in a box and sold it as a convenience product in 1937. It was around long before that though. Its roots are Italian and date back to the 14th century where recipes for pasta casseroles can be found in cookbooks written in latin.
We might never have heard of mac and cheese if not for American president Thomas Jefferson. Apparently he fell in love with the dish while traveling in northern Italy at the beginning of the 19th century and brought the recipe home with him.
Friends in the U.S tell me that as kids they grew up on mac and cheese. Not so here in Ireland. I can remember as a young lad hearing references to it on the T.V and never really knowing what it was. I grew up on spuds, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The only pasta I was familiar with as a kid were the spaghetti hoops that came from a can.
This isn’t much of a surprise given the fact we only really started eating pasta in any significant quantities here in the early 90’s. Tagliatelle, penne, and rigatoni where all unheard of in this part of the world before than. Foreign foods whose names we had trouble pronouncing let alone eating.
My how things have changed. I bet pasta is eaten in most households at least once a week if not more. It’s so quick and handy when you’re hungry and need some food on the table a.s.a.p. Pass the dolmio.
Mac and cheese still isn’t as popular here as other pasta dishes like Carbonara or Bolognese. The best thing about the classic mac and cheese is that you can customise it to your own needs. You could do a veggie version with whatever’s in season. Or a meaty one with smoked chicken, pancetta, or chorizo.
My own favourite way to do a mac and cheese is to infuse a classic bechamel with english mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and chives. Than toss in the pasta along with a couple of handfuls of tender young baby spinach leaves, crumble over some ripe Roquefort, and caramelize the whole concoction under a hot grill for a bowl of gooey goodness. Ideal when you’re craving comfort food.
Here I’m doing something a little different. Instead of using milk in my sauce I’ve used a mixture of shellfish stock and cream. Shellfish stock has a unique flavour that captures the essence of the sea, while the cream gives the sauce a silky richness.
You can than add any crustaceans you like to your intensely flavoured sauce. I opted for crab (both the claws and some meat) and Dublin bay prawns for the most expensive mac and cheese I’ve ever made. If you wanted to push the boat out further and your wallet can take the pressure than scallops or lobster would be a tasty addition.
The dish is finished by adding in the cooked pasta and a generous grating of parmesan before being baked in a hot oven. You could use cheddar, mozzarella, or Gruyère. All work well in mac and cheese but parmesan inherent saltiness works best with sweet shellfish.
Whats your favourite way to devour mac and cheese?
If you’ve got no shellfish stock than use fish or a light chicken stock. Failing that just use milk.
25g / 1oz butter.
25g / 1oz flour.
275ml / half pint shellfish stock.
275ml / half pint of cream.
250g / 9oz macaroni.
150g / 5oz crab meat. (picked through and any shell removed)
125g / 4.5 oz crab claws.
125g / 4.5 oz prawns.
110g / 4 oz parmesan cheese. (finely grated)
Pre-heat your oven to 180c / 350f.
In a saucepan mix together the shellfish stock and cream. Bring the mixture to the boil and set aside.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the flour. Mix the roux together and cook on a low heat for 2 minutes.
Slowly add the hot liquid to the roux little by little stirring your sauce continuously to avoid getting any lumps.
Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer then add the prawns, crab meat, and most of the claws. Keep a few back to stick in the top of the mac and cheese for garnish. Set aside while you cook the pasta.
Bring another pot of salted water a rolling boil and toss in your macaroni. Cook for about 5 minutes making sure the pasta doesn’t over cook. You want it fairly al dente because it will cook a bit more in the oven.
Drain the pasta well and then add it to your sauce followed by 2/3 of the parmesan cheese. Season with black pepper and taste it to see if it needs any salt. It might not need any because both the shellfish stock and the cheese contain quite a bit.
Transfer the mac and cheese to an ovenproof dish, sprinkle over the rest of the cheese, and stick the rest of the crab claws in the top of the macaroni for garnish.
Bake your mac and cheese in the hot oven for 30 minutes till golden brown and bubbling.
Alternative fish – Any crustaceans. Smoked haddock or cod would also work well.
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