7: Appetites — Macaroni and Cheese
“Quit dicking around, DeRuyck, and make with the recipes!”
Alright! Alright! Let’s get back into it!
This week’s recipe has sentimental value because the writer of this cookbook was a bit of a hero and idol of mine. He still is; I shouldn’t say was. But he recently left us all way too soon, and right now, of course, I’m talking about Anthony motherfucking Bourdain.
The Assignment: Macaroni and Cheese from Appetites: A Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, his first, was one of the reasons I really fell in love with reading cookbooks themselves outside of using them as a reference. I’d read his memoirs and loved every word, so when I got my hands on a copy of Les Halles — named after the now-shuttered NYC restaurant (which itself was named after the famous Parisian market) — I tore into it like I would any of his other tomes… and I was not disappointed.
Appetites follows suit, but in a much more personal way. These are recipes he made for his family and friends, with his family and friends. Their photos grace the pages of the book because they’re essential to the book’s core mission: make amazing food for the people you love. While Bourdain’s early years earned him his bad-boy persona, this book is a beautiful representation of how he loved people and food both fiercely and earnestly.
His passing hit me hard, like many of us. That night, I grabbed some In-N-Out Burger, since that was one of his LA faves. As I chomped my Animal Style Double-Double, scrolling through tributes, one of his other favorite foods I saw accounted was macaroni and cheese. So his elaborate mac recipe felt like the right way to dig into his second and final cookbook.
The Recipe (directly from the book, which you should buy):
This is no mere mac ‘n cheese. This is no-abbreviations Macaroni and Cheese. If there were a way to further elongate the words, it would be appropriate here. Macaronius and Cheeseophanes: A Drama in Four Cheeses. (10/10 would watch.)
But if you’re going to go balls-out on a cheesy pasta dish of this fortitude, you don’t just make it for yourself. You make it for as many people as you can. You might even make a triple batch and bring it to a season launch party for a theatre you’re a member of, looking to provide roughly 100 petite servings for the crowd. That’s pretty specific, but if you’re me, that’s what you’d do and what I did.
Things to Note About the Recipe:
Take another look at that cheese list. Look at the volume of milk called for. Triple those amounts. THAT’S A LOT OF CHEESE SAUCE, FOLKS. Tripling this recipe is not for the faint of freaking heart.
(Also, it is too much to fit into two half-tray chafing dish pans. If you want to make this amount, I’d recommend going with 2.5 batches rather than a full 3. I ended up shoveling roughly a cup of the cheesy macaroni straight into my mouth because it did not fit into the pans.)
I had a pretty good sense of the crazy volume of cheese I’d be using, since I did the math on it all before the cheese shopping, as I needed a fuckload. And since the gruyere options weren’t terrific where I was BUT fortunately Ralph’s had Murray’s Cheese Shop’s Fondue Blend in stock, I went with that in place of the plain gruyere. I also went with a cheaper shredded Parmesan to mix into the sauce and got the proper Parmigiano Reggiano for the top layer. (Check out my mise en place/cheese en place… Now, you’re right, I’ll show myself out. But in all seriousness: Having your ingredients prepped, measured, and ready to use is important for this recipe, since there’s a lot of adding-while-whisking.) I also ended up using a mix of soy sauce and coconut aminos in place of Worcestershire sauce, since I drained the last of mine the day before; additionally, I used maybe 1/3 of the cayenne called for, since I wanted more contrast between it and the pulled pork I was also making.
I did not, however, factor in how long it would take to thicken that amount of bechamel sauce. Since the triple batch required almost a goddamn gallon of milk, YEAH, it took a bit. That picture you’re looking at? It’s a soup pot. And it’s nearly fucking full. And it needed to be stirred constantly to keep the milk from scalding at the bottom. How long did it take? I honestly lost track of time. But long enough for me to get a little punchy.
Always have good tunes going while you cook. Because what do you do while you’re stuck stirring a gallon of goddamn bechamel? You entertain yourself.
Smash cut to 4 hours later. (The sauce didn’t take 4 hours; we’re just jumping ahead in the process.) I take the cooked and chilled saucy mac out of the fridge and peel off the lids. As I’m packing the final layer of Parmigiano Reggiano onto the top, it occurs to me that issues may arise, once I go to bake my pasta, from having packed these pans to the very top. Hmmm, very likely, but we’ve come too far to do anything about that now. I put a baking sheet at the bottom of the oven like I do when I bake pies, in order to catch drips, and into the oven it all goes. It’ll have to be good enough.
Things progress fine for a while.
Then the smoke begins.
The lesson here: Leave some room at the top of your baking dish, FFS.
Alas, there are no photographs of the finished macaroni. I blame it on the smoke and the fact that I was also working to finish and transport a double-batch of oven-roasted pulled pork and a quadruple batch of apple pie bars. But I fully forgot to snap a shot of the macaroni at any point in its completion. I served it all up to a bunch of enthusiastic theatre nerds who gobbled up every last morsel, many coming back for seconds, which just makes my feeder heart swell with pride.
(Photo credit: Matt Kamimura)
How did it taste?
Amazing. Here’s the thing: I didn’t really try the fully finished product. I had the unbaked pasta that didn’t fit into the pans, and I pulled a few of the baked-cheese crunchies off the edge of the empty pan; those were all amazing. But I’m gonna assume that the horde of people going nuts for the stuff are a pretty good vouchsafe.
Would I make this again?
Abso-goddamn-lutely. Would I make a triple batch of it? Probably the fuck not. (Unless someone was paying for it, in which case, yeah, sure, anytime.)
Do I recommend this cookbook?
Yes, motherfucker, YES. Get it, hold it in your arms, press it close to your heaving bosom, take it to bed with you, but — moreover — cook from it for people you love. Even if that means over a hundred people you love.
What’s the next recipe I want to make from this book?
Hmmm, I’m tempted by the Country Ham with Red-Eye Gravy and Biscuits. He’s also got a Chicken Pot Pie recipe, and I know I already said I wanted to make the chicken pot pie from another book so… we’ll see which I get to first.
Another one down, and another chapter closed for One Damn Recipe.