Mac and cheese with beer uses indecent amounts of cheese to make the most sumptuous mac and cheese we’ve ever served. Full of umami deliciousness, the inspired crispy chili cracker crumb topping makes these noodles that much more, well, moreish.
Here is a dish inspired by a British pub hang, complete with ale and spicy, crunchy chili-flavored rice crackers, a classic bar snack. For the recipe itself, I was inspired by my friend Teresa, who makes a killer mac ’n’ cheese with bechamel sauce as a base, and my buddy Izy Hossack, who suggested I add mozzarella for its alluring stringy pull. Hat-tip to Teresa for her use of cavatappi as the pasta, rather than the staid elbow noodle. Trust me, once you go cavatappi, you won’t return. Its hollow, vivacious curves are ideal for holding the gooiness, and its length inspires a slurp of cheesy goodness. (Fun fact: Cavatappi is the Italian word for “corkscrew.”)
You start with a roux, which will be your base for the bechamel sauce (a term used whenever dairy is added to a roux), and I go an unconventional step further by adding a hefty swig of ale. The last move is to transform the bechamel into what’s called a Mornay sauce by mixing in shredded cheeses: Comte, a quality Cheddar, beautiful burnt-orange Red Leicester (or Colby), and some mozzarella. The nutritional yeast adds a touch of umami.–Katie Quinn
Mac and Cheese with Beer
- 3 1/2 tablespoons (1 3/4 oz) salted butter
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup ale or lager
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- coarse sea salt for the pasta water
- 16 ounces dried cavatappi pasta or other short pasta
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 2 cups shredded Comté cheese (or Gruyere or fontina)
- 2 cups shredded good-quality Cheddar cheese
- 2 cups shredded Red Leicester cheese (or Colby or Prairie Sunset)
- 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast* or grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- sweet chili rice crackers chips, or other crunchy sweet chili–flavored items, for garnish (optional)
- Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Have ready a 9-by 13-inch (23-by 33-cm) baking dish.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour to form a paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. The paste should just begin to bubble, but not brown.
- Slowly whisk in the ale, then, after about 30 seconds, add the milk. Bring to a simmer, stirring, then reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally to lift anything sticking to the bottom of the pan, for 15 minutes.
☞TESTER TIP: If you add liquid to the roux too quickly and it becomes lumpy, you can blitz it in a blender to smooth out the sauce.
- Meanwhile, fill a large pot three-quarters full of water and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt, then stir in the pasta and cook until al dente, according to the package directions. Drain the pasta in a colander and briefly rinse it under cold water to halt the cooking.
- Stir the fine sea salt, pepper, and paprika into the bechamel sauce. Add the Comte, Cheddar, Red Leicester, and mozzarella cheeses, and the nutritional yeast or grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Stir until all the cheeses have melted and everything is well combined, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir to coat, then dump the mixture into the baking dish.
- Bake until pasta has begun to get golden brown in some places and the sauce is bubbling, 10 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes to cool slightly.
- While the cheesy pasta cools, if using a topping, put a handful of rice crackers or chips in a zip-top bag and smash them with a rolling pin to break them into small chunks. Sprinkle the crushed rice crackers or chips evenly over the top of the cheesy pasta and enjoy!
*What is nutritional yeast?It's yeast but it's not live like baker's yeast is, and they can't be substituted for each other. Nutritional yeast is grown specifically to be used as a food product but the yeast cells are deactivated (killed, essentially) during the manufacturing process. It's made to be added to foods to impart a cheesy, nutty, or savory taste. It's used in a lot of vegan foods to add extra protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, as well as a heap of umami flavor.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
Macaroni and cheese is a favorite meal in our house. A go-to standard is cheddar cheese with bacon done in the slow cooker. This recipe for mac and cheese with beer makes an excellent mac ’n’ cheese! Know that it is a rich meal with all the wonderful cheese blended gooeyness—that's what makes it so good.
Adding beer was a new thing, and something I would do again in making the béchamel sauce. I like the added flavor the lager provided. Overall, this is an incredible recipe. Very easy to make (the hardest part was grating the cheeses) and comes together quickly. So, if you like mac ’n’ cheese, you won’t be disappointed in this recipe!
Do I need another way to make mac and cheese? The question really ought to be SHOULD I know how many wonderful ways there are, for different times and circumstances (yes!!), and this is one I definitely want to have again and again. I would be very pleased to have ordered this mac and cheese with a beer in a pub and would make this for dinner guests as well.
The combination of flavors you get with each of the cheeses, combined with a really great pasta form (cavatappi has been making regular appearances in our kitchen) and very decent ale was even better than I might have hoped. Also, having opened a tall bottle of La Fin du Monde, we also had the perfect ale accompaniment.
This is the recipe you make when you have a little time to enjoy the process, I hand-grated the cheeses but you absolutely could let your food processor speed up that task, leaving you to the pleasure of making a béchamel and then transforming it with the cheese. The two things that delayed this for me a day or two were trying to find some Red Leicester (usually seen, but I had to use Colby), and finding the chili rice crackers, which are a surprisingly wonderful addition.
The timing of most steps is pretty much spot on, with the one exception being the oven time in the end—that took longer (about 20 minutes), though maybe a slight bump in temp would work IF you keep your eye on it. You can easily divide the pasta for multiple or future meals prior to the point where it goes into the oven. Do be sure you don’t get aggressive with reheating it, keeping the temp at 350℉ and covered with foil for 40-45 minutes then remove. I used 10g of the crushed crackers for two servings of the pasta and it was plenty. The crackers are just spicy enough, yet the sweetness helps round the pepperiness.
This is a gastropub dinner menu item, sophisticated enough for adults but it won't scare adventurous kids if you're willing to share. We served it with arugula salad the first night and with ribs and greens the next day.
Originally published June 26, 2021