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Monday, June 20, 2016

Wolfgang's Cut Steakhouse Macaroni and Cheese

From: ArcaMax Publishing's "Wolfgang Puck, Tribune Content Agency" (3/4/2015)


Notes from Wolfgang: How to make macaroni and cheese that's a 'cut' above the rest!

Just in case you hadn't noticed, comfort foods are very popular these days. Not just for home cooking but also in restaurants, ranging from the most casual spots to the finest dining rooms.

At the same time that food lovers everywhere are growing more aware by the second of distant cuisines, unusual ingredients and very particular ways of cooking, I see them also feeling freer to celebrate good, simple cooking and the foods they loved in their childhoods. In short, the foods that give them comfort. Chefs are responding by making greater and greater efforts to prepare those comfort foods in ways that are the very best of their kind.

I see that every day in my own gourmet steakhouse, CUT, from the original location in Beverly Hills -- just a few blocks from Spago -- to its other outposts in Las Vegas, London, Singapore, Dubai and Bahrain. Whatever the location, one of the most popular items on the menu to enjoy as a side dish along with our steaks, as well as with our poultry and seafood main courses, is our macaroni and cheese.

At face value, this mac and cheese isn't very radically different from what our guests ate as kids. That is, of course, provided their moms made it from scratch rather than out of a box. It's still, basically, cooked tubes of pasta combined with a cheese sauce and then baked in the oven until bubbling, golden and crusty on top.

At CUT, we make a special effort every step of the way so this version the best it could possibly be. That starts with the pasta (cavatappi, a spiral-shaped, ridged tube available in well-stocked markets and Italian delis that provides lots of textured surface area for the sauce to cling to).

As for the sauce itself, we make it extra creamy and a bit tangy by adding some creme fraiche -- the thick, slightly soured French cream you can find in the deli or cheese department of well-stocked markets -- and a mixture of freshly shredded aged cheddar and mozzarella cheeses that add extra complexity of flavor and texture to the sauce.

As a final touch before baking, we top the mixture with a little extra cheese and some fresh, rich brioche breadcrumbs, which add wonderful crunch to the golden topping. The results are irresistible, and I'm not surprised when some guests order the dish as a main course for themselves.

So, I hope you'll try my extra-special approach to this classic comfort food. Feel free to vary the pasta or cheeses as long as you always make a high-quality choice. You'll discover that comfort food can be gourmet food, too.

Wolfgang's Cut Steakhouse Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 8 to 10


1 lb (455 g) dried cavatappi pasta, or other bite-sized pasta tubes
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) (90 ml) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
6 tablespoons (90 ml) all-purpose flour
1 bay leaf
4 cups (1 L) milk
1 1/4 cups (310 ml) creme fraiche
1 1/2 teaspoons (7 ml) sea salt, plus extra as needed
3 3/4 cups (925 ml) freshly shredded mozzarella cheese
1 3/4 cups (425 ml) freshly shredded aged cheddar cheese
freshly ground white pepper
3/4 cup (175 ml) fresh brioche breadcrumbs


1. First, cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice cubes and water and place it near the sink. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente (tender but still chewy), following the manufacturer's suggested cooking time. Drain the pasta and immediately add it to the ice water, stirring until cooled, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain well and set aside.

2. Preheat an oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Butter a 3-to-4 quart (3-to-4 L) square baking dish. Set aside.

3. In a 4 quart (4 L) saucepan over medium heat, melt the 6 tablespoons butter. Stirring continuously with a wire whisk, sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the bay leaf and, whisking continuously, slowly pour in the milk until smooth. Simmer, whisking occasionally, until the mixture has thickened, for 14 to 16 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Whisk in the crème fraîche and the 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and bring the mixture to a simmer.

4. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1 1/4 cups (310 ml) each of the mozzarella and cheddar until melted. Season to taste with some salt and white pepper.

5. In a large mixing bowl, combine the pasta and cheese sauce. Stir in 2 cups (500 ml) more of the mozzarella. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish, spreading it evenly. Evenly sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Cheddar over the top, and then sprinkle with the breadcrumbs.

6. Bake in the preheated oven until the mixture is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are golden brown (about 30 minutes). Remove from the oven and leave to settle at room temperature for 10 minutes before scooping and serving.

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