Because you’ve gotta get started gaining the winter weight sooner or later, don’t you? Last night’s temperature drop after an unseasonably warm October here in Maine got me thinking wistfully about the Brown Ale and Cheddar Soup I made last year, a hearty, warming concoction of sharp cheddar cheese and nutty brown ale. Add a sprinkle of bacon, and it’s like a liquefied welsh rarebit. I couldn’t wait to eat it again.
In an effort to up the “comfort” quotient of this dish even further, I adapted the recipe to be served in macaroni and cheese form. Though this macaroni and cheese contains a half a pound of crumbled, crisp bacon, the real trick is using the rendered bacon fat (and all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan) to make the roux for your cheese sauce. That’s right. The whole shebiggle is based on liquefied bacon fat and melted butter, which imparts plenty of bacon flavor to the cheese sauce. The alcohol in the beer cooks off, leaving just the faintest flavor of brown ale, which pairs perfectly with the sharp cheddar. It’s insanely rich, comforting stuff, that will require you wear sweatpants the day after you eat it. Serve with a sprinkle of diced tomato.
Brown Ale, Cheddar, and Bacon Mac & Cheese
- 6 tablespoons salted butter, divided, plus more for dish
- 4 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4 to 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/2 pound bacon
- 1 small fresh jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups half and half (32 ounces)
- 12 ounces brown ale, such as Bass
- 1 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated and divided
- 1-lb penne or ziti pasta
Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside.
Place bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into the bowl with bread, and toss. Set bread crumbs aside.
Dice raw bacon and add to a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until bacon is brown and crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cooked bacon to paper towels to drain. Drain all but 1-2 tablespoons of bacon grease from pan, leaving all the brown crispy bits.
Heat half and half and beer in a separate saucepan over medium heat.
Add remaining four tablespoons butter to rendered bacon fat, and allow to melt. When butter bubbles, whisk in flour, scraping the bottom of the pan to release the brown crispy bits, and stir until combined, with no lumps remaining, about one minute.
While whisking, slowly pour in hot half-and-half and beer mixture. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick. Remove pan from heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, 3-1/2 cups cheddar cheese, jalapeno, and cooked bacon; set cheese sauce aside.
Fill a large saucepan with water; bring to a boil. Add pasta; cook 2 to 3 minutes less than manufacturer’s directions, until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions.)
Transfer pasta to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well.
Stir pasta into the reserved cheese sauce. Pour mixture into prepared dish. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheddar cheese and bread crumbs over top.
Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool 5 minutes; serve hot.