The Most Pretentious Mac & Cheese Ever


It is undeniably fashionable, these days, for an upscale restaurant to serve “their take” on macaroni and cheese.  I’ve seen it prepared at least a dozen ways: with wild mushrooms, with truffles, with bleu cheese, with cave-aged gruyere, in mini-cocottes, on oversized platters, broiled, baked, and deep fried.  For the record, there’s nothing wrong with any of these preparations.  In fact, we served a wild mushroom and truffle oil mac & cheese at my wedding!  However, I wanted to take the concept to the extreme and produce the most hyperbolic, modernist version of the dish I could… just to see what happened.  The result: maltodextrin-powdered Beecher’s cheese with a tableside hot cream to make an “instant” sauce.

I originally thought I’d post my results as a joke – an over-the-top preparation that was to comfort food what the Dyson Air Multiplier is to climate control.  However, I was delightfully surprised to find out that this mac & cheese actually tasted fantastic!  The flavors are extremely pure and the consistency of the instant sauce was perfect.  Watch out, Kraft… you’ve got competition.

Makes: 2 snobby servings
Total kitchen time: 4 hours (45 minutes working time)

For the Powdered Cheese:

  1. Preheat your oven to its lowest setting (180-220°F).
  2. Combine the cheese, water and sodium citrate in a small saucepan.  Heat on low until completely melted.  Stir to ensure evenness.
  3. Transfer the cheese mixture to a small food processor and add 200g of tapioca maltodextrin and process until it forms a paste.  If you can’t fit all of the tapioca maltodextrin at once, add half and process, then add the remainder.
  4. Spread the paste in a thin, even layer onto a silicone baking sheet.  Bake until dry and brittle, 2-3 hours. 
  5. Crumble the cheese mixture into a food processor, or preferably a clean, electric coffee grinder.  Process until the mixture becomes a fine powder.  If necessary, add an additional 15g of tapioca maltodextrin.  The mixture should have the same texture as the powdered cheese in instant macaroni and cheese.

For the dish:

  • 1 cup pipe rigate (or any other type of macaroni you’d like)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Hawaiian black lava salt
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  1. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the heavy cream to a simmer.  Just before serving, divide the cream into two mini sauce pots (I used glass port sippers, shown in the photo).
  3. To plate, sprinkle a two tablespoons of the cheese powder into a small bowl.  Top with pasta, sprinkle with a pinch of black lava salt, and garnish with thyme.  To finish the dish tableside, pour over the hot cream and stir well to make the cheese sauce. 

I owe a big thanks to Maxime Bilet (author of Modernist Cuisine) for giving me a hand with the powdered cheese recipe.  If you aren’t up for ordering a pound of maltodextrin online, you can also use my simplified powdered cheese recipe from the Beecher’s Cheddar Cheetos article I wrote for Seattle Weekly.  However, tapioca maltodextrin (N-Zorbit) is pretty handy stuff for turning liquids into powders, and is a staple in modernist kitchens.

Savage Crab Orzo ‘N Cheese

savage claw 
Who doesn’t love mac and cheese?  Ok, now what if you added lobster to the mac and cheese – oh that would be delicious.  Wait, what if instead of Velveeta we used Mascarpone?  So awesome.  White mac and cheese with lobster.  Sounds great, but let’s substitute fresh king crab for the lobster because it’s a little more hearty and a third the price.  Cool, I’m with you.  Oh, and let’s also use a tricolor orzo instead of macaroni.  Wait, what?  Yeah, orzo, you know the little pasta nibblets?  But why?  Stop asking questions and take a bite.   

Oh, now I totally get it.  Mmmmm…crab orzo and cheese

Total kitchen time: 1 hr (less if you start with lump crab meat)
Makes: 6 people less crabby, paradoxically

Shopping list:

  • 2 lbs. king crab pieces (claws and legs) OR 1.5 lbs. picked lump crab meat
  • 2 cups orzo
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 cups Mascarpone cheese
  • 3 tbsp. crème fraîche
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • sea salt, to taste
  • 3 tbsp. chives, finely chopped
  1. If you’re starting with crab pieces in the shell, the first (and messiest step) is to remove the meat.  I recommend using a pair of kitchen shears to cut through the shell.  Exercise caution, as crabs are sharp and you’ll likely get frustrated at the little crustaceans’ unwillingness to cooperate.  Break the crab meat up into about 1 inch pieces.  Set aside in the refrigerator.

    Note: unless you are pulling the crabs out of the water yourself, they will
    almost certainly be pre-cooked.  This is because uncooked crab meat has a very short shelf life.  If you are, in fact, starting with raw meat, steam the crabs whole, then pick the meat out yourself.  If, for some bizarre reason, you have a live King crab, you will first need to kill it using any method featured in Starship Troopers.

  2. Cook the orzo until tender in a large pot of boiling water.  Drain thoroughly and return to the pot.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the mascarpone, crème fraîche, white pepper, lemon juice and sea salt in a small saucepan over low heat.  Stir occasionally until the cheese has melted into a smooth white sauce.
  4. Melt the butter in a large non-stick skillet until foamy.  Add the crab and toss to coat in the butter.  You really just want to heat up the crab here, so be brief. 
  5. Plate the orzo, then top with a tablespoon or so of the mascarpone sauce.  Top with a bit of crab meat and garnish with chives.

You have tamed the savage ocean crab.  Now, relish in the delight of victory with another spoonful of cheesy pasta!  May I recommend celebrating with a bottle of Vigonier?