Recipe development takes a lot of time, patience, research, willing taste-testers, and a gym membership. My Jalapeño Popper Mac and Cheese is no exception to this, especially gym membership part – this stuff is cheesy and fattening and delicious. You’ll love it.
First, a story of this dish’s conception…
Last spring I met my boyfriend’s family for the first time. At the time, I think the only things they really knew about me were that I’m from the Bay Area and I cook – a lot. I suppose these are two very good things to know about me.
We were asked to bring an appetizer to a family gathering, and as much as I love cooking, I was a little nervous. His family means the WORLD to him, and I wanted to make a good impression of both myself and my skills in the kitchen.
I ended up bringing a bacon jalapeño popper dip and crackers, which was quickly devoured and has been requested at family gatherings a handful of times since then.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago when we were eating bacon mac and cheese for dinner. Somehow our conversation turned to the dip I made so many months ago, and a thought occurred: how amazing would it be if that dip and this mac and cheese had a beautiful lovechild?!?
Jalapeño Popper Mac and Cheese was born!
This stuff is addicting. It’s spicy and salty and cheesy and creamy and… you just have to try it for yourself. But first, some important things to keep in mind before trying his recipe:
- Choose a sturdy noodle. I like penne, but gemelli, elbow, and medium shells are also good choices. Stay away from shapes that are too long, thin, or intricate.
- Use the sharpest cheese! I know sharp and extra sharp cheddar mean extra money, but it’s worth it. Skimping on the cheese means skimping on the flavor. Do yourself a favor and splurge a little. It will be worth it.
- Cook the onions in the bacon fat. I recommend not cleaning the pan after pouring out the bacon fat and instead sautéing the onion and garlic in the bit of grease that remains. This gets you the most bacon-y deliciousness possible.
- Make the bacon extra crispy. The bacon is going to be mixed into the cheese mixture and, depending on how may people you are feeding, leftovers may go into the fridge. Flimsy bacon will get flimsier. Crisp it up a little more than you think you want it. And while you’re at it, make sure you pat off as much grease as you can before chopping and adding to the mac.
- Adjust the pepper heat, if needed. You can dial up the heat by choosing hotter peppers or adding more. Not big on heat? Scale back with mild peppers or by putting less in. I like a mild heat, but using ½ cup of hot peppers was nowhere near too spicy for me. It was just the right amount of kick.
My recipe is a little more complicated than the blue-box variety mac and cheese, but it’s also a flavor you won’t get from any box! It’s the perfect component to ribs and an ice-cold beer… and a salad… if you’re into that kind of thing.