Recipe by Sarah Phillips; Photos by Sarah Phillips © 9-12-2013 Sarah Phillips CraftyBaking.com
Chef Carmen Q. at the Union Square Greenmarket, NYC
This is a classic mac n' cheese recipe with a twist: it blends together fresh crab with a peppery béchamel cheese sauce. I was fortunate to witness the preparation of and taste the result of this decadent, flavor-packed recipe while attending a Morning Market Meeting with restaurateur Danny Meyer at his flagship restaurant, Union Square Cafe (USC) in New York City. The morning began at 8:00 AM with coffee, juice, pastries and a welcome from Danny Meyer, USC founder. He introduced us to his Executive Chef and Partner, Carmen Quagliata, and speaker of the morning, Tim Stark, founder and owner of Eckerton Hill Farm, one of the forerunners for growing heirloom tomatoes. Eckerton Hill Farm are known for their more than 100 varieties of juicy heirloom tomatoes and fiery seasoning peppers of every shape and hue. Chef Q gave us a cooking demo of this incredible recipe, which I have adapted, using Eckerton peppers, and after an ample taste-test of the finished dish, guided us through a tour of the nearby Union Square Greenmarket, where Eckerton Hill Farm also sells its delicious produce.
See my notes below to make this a gluten-free recipe!
Heirloom tomatoes at Eckerton Hill Farm, Union Square Greenmarket, NYC
Chocolate habanero and other seasoning peppers at Eckerton Hill Farm, Union Square Greenmarket, NYC
You can use polenta (cornmeal) instead of all-purpose four for a gluten-free version of this recipe.
After buttering a baking dish, smash a piece of garlic clove, with a large knife, on a cutting board, and then rub over the buttered baking dish for more flavor. Discard the garlic clove.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 Aji Dulce peppers, diced
1 Grenada pepper, diced
1 scallion, sliced
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour or 1/3 cup polenta, for gluten-free version
4 cups whole or 2% milk, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound tubular pasta
3 to 4 quarts of boiling water
1 heaping teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 dashes Tabasco
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 ounce Smoked Gouda, coarsely grated
2 ounces Havarti, coarsely grated
3 ounces Monterey Jack, coarsely ground
10 ounces jumbo lump Blue Crab meat, picked over for shells
2/3 cup sour cream
2 ounces French Brie, optional
1/2 round of Boursin, optional
Seasoned bread crumbs
2 tablespoons julienned pickled seasoning peppers or jarred peppers or garlic pickles
1. Butter a 13- x 9-inch buttered baking dish or casserole. Set aside until needed.
2. Place the extra-virgin olive oil in a 6-quart sauce pot. Set over medium heat, sauté the peppers and scallion for 30 seconds. Remove to a plate and set aside.
3. To the same pot, add the butter. When the butter melts and turns frothy, but not dark in color, whisk in the flour to make a roux or a thick paste.
Cook under fairly high heat, while stirring with a wooden spoon, only for about two minutes, until the raw flour smell/ taste is gone and the roux is still pale yellow in color.
SARAH SAYS: This is called a white roux and is used in béchamel sauce.
A blond roux, used in white velouté sauces, needs to be a bit darker, so it's cooked a minute or two longer.
A brown roux, used in brown sauces, is the darkest roux, and it's cooked for the longest amount of time. For that reason, you should cook it over a lower heat so that you don't burn it. You can even brown the flour in the oven before adding it to the butter.
4. Slowly whisk in 2 cups milk and salt, keeping the heat fairly high. Then once added, whisk very quickly, scraping the sides and bottom of the pot, and to blend in any roux chunks.
5. Lower the heat to medium, and bring to boil, whisking constantly. Make sure the mixture does not burn on the bottom of the pot.
6. Once the mixture boils and thickens to a smooth paste, add the remaining 2 cups milk at once, and cook, whisking frequently, until it boils, again.
7. Reduce the heat to low, and cook for 30 minutes, whisking occasionally until the mixture thickens.
8. While the béchamel sauce is cooking, place oven shelf to the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in 3 to 4 quarts of boiling water with a heaping teaspoon of salt. When the paste is al dente, drain and place in a large stainless steel bowl to cool to room temperature.
SARAH SAYS: When making baked mac ‘n cheese, your pasta cooks twice, once in the water, once in the pan, so cook it to al dente in the water because it will soften some in the final recipe.
9. Remove the béchamel from the heat and immediately whisk in the heavy cream, lemon juice, Dijon, Tabasco, Worcestershire, and Old Bay seasoning.
10. Pour the béchamel mixture over the pasta in the large bowl. Add in the sautéed peppers and scallions, and grated cheeses. With a large spoon, combine.
Add in the crab meat, and then, gently combine with a large spoon.
11. Place the crab mac n’ cheese in the prepared baking dish. Dab the top of the mac n’ cheese with sour cream, and optionally with Brie and Boursin. Sprinkle with seasoned bread crumbs.
12. Bake on a foil-lined sheet pan for 50 to 60 minutes, until the mac n' cheese is bubbling around the edges and the top is starting to lightly brown in splotchy patches.
SARAH SAYS: If using, remove the top of the casserole for the last ten minutes of baking to brown the bread crumbs.
Let the mac n’ cheese rest on a wire cake rack for 15 minutes and garnish with seasoning peppers before serving.
The baked mac n' cheese will keep in the refrigerator, well-wrapped, for a day or two. It can be frozen for a month or more.
Reheat in a microwave for best results, or in an oven, in a covered dish, set at 350 degrees F.