By Rob Corliss
February 28, 2022
Mac and cheese is a perennial menu favorite, thanks to its secure positioning as familiar comfort food. And of course, chefs keep it relevant and interesting with trend-forward culinary touches. Introducing creative elements of heat is a way to dial up the crave factor and appeal to a broad swath of consumers who seek it out regularly. Mac and cheese’s creamy profile acts as a soothing counter to everything from prickly to scorching heat, served up in modern sauce builds, intriguing garnishes, signature dusts and seasonings in crusts, and so on.
Here are five flavor strategies that factor modern heat into the mac and cheese equation.
- 1SPICY CHEESE SPREADS
Pimento cheese is getting a lot of menu play today, with consumers loving its rich, tangy, homey profile. Moving it into the creamy “sauce” that coats the pasta gives it a new spin on menus. Dialing up the heat makes it memorable.
Angry Pimento Mac and Cheese: Rigatoni pasta tossed with creamy habanero pimento cheese sauce and charred Vidalia onions, topped with crispy bites of Buffalo-candied smoked bacon
- 2TRIPLE DOWN ON FLAVORFUL HEAT
Building layers of heat with varying degrees of flavor, acidity and texture not only tantalizes tastebuds, but it also elevates the mac and cheese experience.
Green Chile Queso Mac: Cavatappi pasta enveloped in creamy white queso studded with fire-roasted Hatch chiles, roasted garlic and chopped pickled banana peppers, topped with a sprinkling of Texas Pete Original Dust Dry Seasoning
- 3GLOBAL COMFORT
The safe and trusted appeal of mac and cheese is an ideal vehicle for worldly flavor discoveries, directly targeting adventurous heat seekers.
Moroccan Mac Bites: Bite-size crispy baked miniature appetizers of elbow noodles tossed with harissa, goat cheese sauce and seasoned ground lamb
- 4HEALTHFUL PREMIUM
Appeal to health-conscious patrons with premium lighter versions. A smart play is to boost the comfort of mac and cheese primarily via spice/heat introductions versus the reliance on heavy cheese sauce.
Boosted Mac: Chickpea penne tossed with sautéed tri-color bell peppers and a grated Mexican-style four-cheese blend, swirled with ancho chile pepper crunch
- 5NEW DISCOVERY
Engage and educate guests with flavor stories of specific chile peppers, demonstrating how these new discoveries take mac and cheese expectations to new levels, creating memorable food moments.
Pub Mac: Orecchiette tossed with Fontina beer cheese sauce, topped with toasted pretzel bread crumbles and Aleppo pepper flakes
ON THE MENU:
Trend-forward examples from restaurants across the country
Jalapeño Popper: Classic mac infused with jalapeño oil and topped with house-fried jalapeño popper dip and potato chip-panko crunch
Mac Mart, Philadelphia
Jerk Chicken Mac & Cheese: Five-cheese mac and cheese with grilled jerk chicken, jerk alfredo sauce, topped with mozzarella cheese, breadcrumbs; baked until golden brown
House of Mac, Miami
Short Rib Mac & Cheese: Rigatoni in a short rib- and jalapeño-infused béchamel with Gruyère, aged Gouda and Havarti, then topped with a pickled jalapeño-herb cornbread crust
Beauty & Essex, Las Vegas
Mac n Queso: Cavatappi pasta tossed with a cheese sauce made with sautéed onions, garlic, roasted green chiles, coriander, cumin, oregano, Monterey Jack, Cotija and white melting cheese, then topped with Cotija, cilantro and crushed spicy tortilla chips
Huahua’s Taqueria, Miami
Macaroni and Cheese: Elbow macaroni with sharp white cheddar, milk, cream, onion, garlic and hot sauce, topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano and herbed breadcrumbs
Cochon Butcher, New Orleans
From the July/August 2022 issue of Flavor & The Menu, for chefs and menu developers. Read full issue online.