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Bar food is a thing of beauty. Burgers, fries, nachos, pretzels, mac & cheese, hot wings… they’re like old, reliable friends that you never tire of seeing.
My favorite? It’s a tossup. The creamy, cheesy goodness of macaroni and cheese always satisfies; it’s nostalgia at its finest. And the spicy, buttery sauciness of hot wings, well, I can’t say no. So when I couldn’t make up my mind on which to make, I opted to combine the two. Best decision ever. They’re a match made in heaven – hot sauce and pale ale help to cut through the creamy, rich cheddar cheese sauce that’s studded with tender pieces of buffalo style chicken and complimented by a crunchy panko crust studded with bits of blue cheese. It’s the perfect companion for those pints you’re about to down while watching the World Series or Sunday Night Football, no pairing required (although it will go particularly well with a hoppy craft ale – just sayin’). Oh and, GO GIANTS!! San Francisco, of course.
Makes: 6 to 8 servings
Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 90 minutes
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
+ more for preparing baking dish
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 cup pale ale
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk
16 ounces white sharp cheddar cheese, grated
8 ounces pepper jack cheese, grated
1 cup sour cream
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
1/2 teaspoon paprika ground
1/4 cup hot sauce (such as Crystal or Frank’s)
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9×13″ baking dish; set aside.
Pasta – Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot; add pasta and cook, stirring occassionally, until al dente, 5 to 7 minutes depending on the brand. Drain and set aside.
Chicken – Melt 3 tablepoons butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Season chicken breast with salt and paprika. Add to hot skillet and cook gently until just cooked through; remove from skillet. When cool enough to handle, use two forks (or clean hands) to shred chicken into bite size pieces.
Using the same skillet, cook onion in remaining butter over medium heat util soft, about 5 minutes; add garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes until fragrant. Return chicken to skillet and add hot sauce. Simmer until thickened.
Sauce – Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once butter begins to bubble, add flour and cayenne, stirring until smooth. Slowly pour in heavy cream, milk, and beer while whisking; continue whisking until mixture thickens and begins to bubble, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Whisk in cheese, followed by sour cream, continuing to whisk until smooth and creamy*. Remove from heat. Season to taste with salt then add pasta and stir to coat.
*For mac and cheese with a kick, add 1/4 cup hot sauce to cheese sauce prior to mixing with pasta.
Topping – Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter; toss wtih panko, blue cheese, and chopped parsley.
Assembly – Fill prepared baking dish with half of the macaroni and cheese mixture; top with chicken mixture. Cover with remaining macaroni and cheese then sprinkle with panko and blue cheese topping. Bake golden brown and bubbling, 30 to 40 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes prior to serving.
Serve with additional hot sauce, if desired, and, of course, a beer (or two).