I’ve never really been one to fall all over myself at the mere mention of lobster mac and cheese. First, I’m not crazy about shellfish and cream sauce. Maine lobster doesn’t really need much to dress it up or improve on its flavor, and the combination of lobster, clams, or oysters with cheese isn’t automatically appealing to me. Mainly, though, it just seems too excessive, too decadent, like too much; rich chunks of sweet lobster meat, covered in a heavy, sticky, gluey cheese sauce. Often, combining lobster with mac & cheese is to the benefit of neither dish; the flavor of the lobster meat gets masked by thick cheese, while the simple comfort of mac & cheese becomes overly fussified with lobster meat.
After a weekend hosting family from out of town, we found ourselves with a surplus of leftover lobster meat, chilling in the refrigerator. What’s more, after a spectacular Labor Day weekend, the remnants of a hurricane came to town, turning the week cool, grey, and rainy. This abundance of inexpensive ingredients combined with cooler weather made this week seem like the perfect occasion to cook a decadent macaroni and cheese with plenty of big chunks of lobster.
I don’t experiment much with macaroni and cheese. I have my favorite recipe, which I return to again and again, every time the urge strikes. This go-to recipe, which uses a combination of sharp cheddar and gruyere, wouldn’t do for making a lobster mac & cheese, though.Those strong cheeses would bury the flavor of the lobster, and the sauce is just too heavy.
I eventually settled on a combination of white cheddar, fontina, and mascarpone. The fontina melts so beautifully, and has a mild flavor that doesn’t compete with the lobster. The mascarpone adds a silkiness, and just the lightest touch of sweetness. Finally, finishing the mac and cheese with lots of big buttery fresh breadcrumbs and another layer of cheese ensures I get lots of golden brown crunchy bits after baking. The resulting lobster mac and cheese is light, creamy, and allows the flavor of the lobster to shine through, just as it should. It’s one of the best I’ve ever made.
Lobster Macaroni and Cheese
- 16 ounces cavatappi pasta
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 4 slices white sandwich bread
- 1⁄4 cup flour
- 4 cups milk
- 8 ounces fontina cheese, shredded
- 4 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded
- 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
- 3 tablespoons brandy or cognac
- 1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 16 ounces cooked lobster meat, cut into 1″ chunks (meat from approximately 5 1-1/4 pound lobsters)
- 3 tablespoons chives, minced
- 2 scallions, sliced
Preheat oven to 375°. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, cutting cooking time on package in half. Drain pasta and set aside.
Combine shredded cheeses in a bowl, and toss well to combine. Set aside.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in microwave or in a pan over low heat. Remove crusts from bread and discard. Tear remaining bread into tiny bits, and place in a small bowl. Add melted butter, and toss to coat breadcrumbs evenly. Set aside.
In a large saucepan or stock pot, melt remaining butter over medium heat.
Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until flour mixture is smooth and just starting to darken.
Slowly whisk in milk and simmer, whisking frequently, until sauce has thickened, about ten minutes.
Remove pan from heat, and stir in 2-1/2 cups of the shredded cheese mixture, the mascarpone, and the brandy.
Add cayenne and nutmeg. Stir until cheese is melted and incorporated, and adjust salt and pepper, as needed.
Add half of the lobster.
Add cooked pasta to cheese sauce.
Add half of the chives, and half of the scallions. Stir well to combine.
Transfer mixture to a 9 x 13 baking dish.
Sprinkle with fresh breadcrumbs and the remaining shredded cheese mixture. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, and finish with a sprinkle of the remaining lobster, chives and scallions.