This is the ultimate Mac & Cheese makeover, just like in fashion, taking it from sweatpants to cocktail gown. A tribute to the old comfort food presenting it in an haute cuisine style. Adding sodium citrate which is a type of salt instead of making a roux will guarantee a perfect cheese sauce with smooth consistency in a quarter of the time.
To dress it up, I chose beef jerky (an everyday food item) as an accessory. It’s not unlike picking up a piece of costume jewelry and passing it off like it’s worth a million bucks. It’s not what you cook, it’s how you cook, right ? It was a bit of a challenge to decide how to incorporate it into the mac & cheese. Like great stylings, juxtaposition is what makes things interesting. The contrast of savoury and sweet. The beef jerky has a leathery, chewy texture with hints of sweetness and the cheese is salty, smooth & creamy. Drawing inspiration from the traditional dish, beef stroganoff I opted for pairing this beef & cheese assembly with horseradish to give it a kick and cut the richness. The roasted poblano peppers add a dimension of flavor that balances out all the three elements.
Modernist Mac ‘n’ Cheese
Servings: 4 to 5 individual rings
2 cups dry elbow macaroni
Water to boil
60 grams of original flavor beef jerky
Modernist Cheese Sauce
1 ⅛ cup Milk
7 grams of Sodium citrate
1 cup Sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup Havarti cheese, grated
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt / Pepper
Cayenne pepper powder
Dash of Dill Pollen (optional)
2 eggs, whisked
Reconstituted Beef jerky
Grated cheese blend (Sharp Cheddar, Havarti, Gruyere and Parmesan)
Oil for frying
Parmesan cheese tuile ( optional )
drops of horseradish sauce
Roast poblano pepper on flame of stovetop until it blisters. Scrape out seeds. Cut lengthwise, set aside.
Boil water for pasta, add jerky. Once boiling, add macaroni, take out jerky, drain and set aside. Cook macaroni for 5 mins, right before al dente.
Whisk/ dissolve sodium citrate in milk. Heat to simmer, drop finely grated cheese in 4 parts, whisk with immersion blender, heat until smooth. Add all seasoning and eggs . Pour macaroni into sauce, mix evenly, set aside.
Divide the jerky into two parts, julienne one half amount and leave the other amount whole.
Flash fry in hot oil.
Mix the julienned jerky with the remaining topping ingredients.
Pulverize the remaining half of jerky to create fine powder. Set aside for plating.
Pre-heat oven 375°. Line pan with parchment paper.
Using a baker's metal ring ( 3 ” diameter x 1.75” height ), line a layer of roasted pepper at the bottom and cut to fit in the circle, trimming excess .
Fill macaroni & cheese mixture up to the top. Add topping mixture to make crunchy top layer. Bake for 10 minutes.
Cool for an additional 7 minutes before pulling out metal ring.
Plate with jerky dust/ crumb and dollops of horseradish sauce.
Don't forget to wear your pearls when you eat this !
The key to extracting the jerky flavor is reconstitution, dropping them in boiling water to flavor the pasta. Once reconstituted, I chop the jerky into bits and flash fry it to create a crunchy topping. I sprinkle it throughout the mac & cheese to add texture, and use the rest as a plating accent, by pulverizing it into a fine powder. (jerky dust!) I love the dessert entremet concept. I wanted to break away from the casserole form and embrace the aesthetic of modern French pastries. I created a freestanding Mac & Cheese cylinder that displayed the layers and showcased the different colors & textures.
The roasted poblano peppers on the bottom served as a colorful and textured base that differentiated in taste but complimented the richness of the mac & cheese. The jerky topping adds another layer of texture and color as well.