Bourbon & Bacon White Cheddar Mac and Cheese
Is there really any other way to start this post? This recipe is SO major you guys, I’m practically squealing from joy. Yes, I put bourbon in mac and cheese and YES!! It’s totally the best decision ever.
Also? There’s bacon.
Is this completely over the top? Without question. But seeing as that Super Bowl ditty is happening in just a few days, I figured it was time to go BIG. And since I already gave you a healthy little dip in our last rendezvous, I rationalized that something utterly insane was the only way to wrap up the week.
Ya know, balance and all that.
The truth is I’ve been saving this recipe for months, and the suspense has slowly been killing me. I concocted it well before my September wedding (I swear I will post pictures at some point) but between gettin’ hitched, having a honeymoon, and returning to real life, this recipe got lost along the way. But as I plotted out my posting schedule a few weeks back, I realized that the Super Bowl would be the perfect of time to debut this bubbly beauty.
So, here we are! And now we feast.
What exactly possessed me to combine bourbon and cheese? Turns out I’ve got quite the bourbon obsession, which you can read all about here and here. Bourbon brings such a unique, awesome flavor to food, I can’t believe how much I love working with it. I wish I could describe the taste in detail, but it’s SO hard to pinpoint. It’s basically a little oaky, a little smokey, and there are hints of vanilla and molasses, so I hope that’s mildly helpful. But the biggest thing I’ve found is that bourbon really plays off other flavors, so depending on what you’re making it with different aspects of it shine. And for this recipe, that special smokiness definitely came through, and it was truly beyond delicious.
Adding bacon here was kind of a no-brainer, seeing as bourbon and bacon might be THE most American combo ever. I chopped it into bits before crisping it up and adding to my mac and cheese, and if you want to make dicing bacon easy, freeze it! A reader brought this to my attention a few months ago and it is the best suggestion. Frozen bacon slices super neatly whether you use a knife or kitchen scissors (I prefer a knife) so 100% freeze that ‘ish up before you chop away.
And the cheese? THE CHEESE.
I’ve had the pleasure of getting my hands on a slew of yummy Cabot cheeses, and each is seriously more tasty than the next. I’ve tried sooo many of their cheddars (the variety they have is amazing) but my favorite thus far is definitely the artisan reserve. It’s aged for 36 months and tastes downright incredible. With a creamy texture, sharp flavor, and subtle hint of sweetness, it’s a perfectly balanced cheddar, and that made it the ideal choice for this mac and cheese.
The prep for this mac and chee is pretty standard, so I think you’ll be happily surprised with how easy this is. You start by creating a basic roux, then build on your roux with heavy cream and bourbon. Next you start adding in your cheese, alternating between handfuls of cheddar and pours of skim milk. I enlisted skim milk because I didn’t want this to be sooo heavy – Given the richness of the cheddar, the bourbon, and the bacon, I figured this already had enough going on that two cups of heavy cream seemed excessive. So I lightened things up with a dose of skim milk, which turned out to be the perfect switcharoo. It thinned out the sauce into a thick but not too-thick texture, and yes I obviously had a few raw spoonfuls. (duh)
And lastly? For extra texture and crunch I toasted up some panko crumbs to sprinkle on top, and it was so worth the extra step. I mean, just looking at my crunchy, crispy, golden confection had me completely giddy, but when I tasted it? Heaven peeps!
A few notes:
Want to make this without bourbon? Do your thang honey, just use a little extra heavy cream to compensate (eye-ball it for best results).
Not a fan of bacon? (…is that a thing?) Just leave it out and follow the recipe as is!
Looking to swap beer for bourbon? Use 1/2 a cup of light/amber beer and knock down the skim milk by a 1/4 cup to compensate.
Wishing you could eat this all by yourself? GO FOR IT. Serving it for the Super Bowl is merely a suggestion 🙂
Bourbon & Bacon White Cheddar Mac and Cheese
- 8 oz Bacon, Frozen
- 1/2 cup Whole Wheat Panko Crumbs
- 1 – 2 tsps Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 lb Medium Pasta Shells
- 2 tbsps Salted Butter
- 2 tbsps Flour, Sifted
- 1 cup Heavy Cream
- 1/4 cup Good Quality Bourbon
- 3 cups Shredded White Cheddar Cheese (I used Cabot Artisan Reserve)
- 3/4 cup Skim Milk
- 1/4 tsp Smoked Paprika
- 1/4 tsp Coarse Black Peppercorn – approx
- pinch of Sea Salt
- Fresh basil to garnish (optional)
- Using a sharp knife or kitchen scissors, chop bacon into chunks. Next, cook bacon in ungreased skillet over medium-high heat until browned and crisp, ~10 minutes. Drain as much fat from skillet as possible, then transfer bacon to paper towel lined bowl to cool.
- While bacon cooks, in another skillet brown panko crumbs in EVOO over medium flame, tossing as needed. Set aside.
- Boil large pot of salted water and prepare pasta as directed until al dente, ~8 minutes. Drain then return to pot.
- Preheat oven to 375F.
- In large saucepan melt butter over medium flame before stirring in sifted flour to create a roux. Add heavy cream and bourbon to the roux, whisking until well combined. Next begin adding cheddar cheese and skim milk to the pan in alternating doses, about 1/2 cup cheese and a few tablespoons milk at a time. Do this until all ingredients are incorporated and a thick, creamy sauce has formed.* Lastly stir in paprika, black pepper, and salt.
- Pour cheese sauce over cooked and drained shells, then add in bacon before lightly tossing all ingredients until evenly mixed. Transfer pasta to oven-safe casserole dish, then top with toasted panko crumbs (and additional cheese, if you’d like) and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until golden and bubbly. Cool slightly, then serve!
*If your sauce begins to seize while cooking, don’t fret! Just give it a good whisk and it will even out once more.