Meet the chef: Aaron Siegel
After graduating from the University of Georgia, Siegel trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He held positions in high-end kitchens in Atlanta and Colorado and spent four years as executive chef at Blossom in Charleston. He opened the first Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ in West Ashley in 2006. Its Sullivan’s Island counterpart debuted three years later, and a downtown locale followed in 2016. This winter, Home Team will expand to Aspen, Colorado.
(Yields 8-10 servings)
1 gal. water
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 lb. elbow macaroni
6 cups whole milk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups grated smoked Gouda cheese
2 cups grated white American cheese
1 Tbs. whole-grain mustard
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. black pepper
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Bring water and salt to a boil in a high-sided pot. Add pasta and stir constantly for eight to 10 minutes or until al dente. Strain pasta and rinse, then reserve and chill.
In a wide-bottom, medium-sided pan, heat milk over medium-low heat until it begins to steam. In a separate bowl, add the flour. Carefully whisk two cups of the steaming milk into the flour, then add the mixture into the rest of the steaming milk over medium-low heat. Continue to whisk the mixture for about five minutes, or until it begins to thicken. Whisk in the smoked Gouda and American cheeses, mustard, cayenne, and black pepper. Whisk until the entire mixture is smooth.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the milk and cheese base with the pasta. Transfer it to a 10-by-14-inch baking pan. Evenly distribute the cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese over the top of the noodle mixture. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the cheese is browned. Let it stand for 15 minutes, then serve.
■ Avoid clumps: Heating all the milk, mixing some of it into the flour, then adding that mixture back into the steaming milk prevents a lumpy base.
■ Choose the cheese: This is where experimentation can come in, says Siegel. “We picked the four cheeses we did because they’re on the creamy side. And the smoked Gouda pairs well with the whole-grain mustard to give each bite a little tang.” To try other cheeses, the chef recommends thinking about texture as well as flavor: “Fontina is a good high-moisture cheese that melts well and provides a light base flavor. You could pair it with sharp, harder cheeses, like Parmesan or pecorino.”
■ Add wisely: Adding extras to the casserole can be delicious. But before throwing all caution to the wind, think about those ingredients’ baking times. “If you fold in lobster and bake it in the mac and cheese for the full 45 minutes, it’ll be overcooked,” he warns. “Ingredients like pulled pork or collards that can withstand the long baking time are easier.” Tomatoes may be another popular choice, but adding them raw can make the dish too watery. “Roast them first to remove the moisture.”
■ Top it off: “Bacon’s another popular choice to mix in, but I’m not a big fan of the pork when it comes out soggy and flimsy,” says Siegel. “I much prefer using crispy, delicious bacon as a garnish.”