Bacon and Beer Mac and Cheese
October 1, 2020 by Nicole Collins
We are getting deep into comfort food season, folks.
Though, who are we kidding? It's been comfort food season since the moment COVID decided to rear it's ugly head.
I've actually been holding on to today's recipe for a hot minute. I've been waiting for that perfect moment to share it. And, the time has finally come.
You see, I tested this recipe deep in the middle of the summer. I'm usually unable to eat pasta during the summertime. It's just so heavy. The only acceptable pasta is my Shrimp and Mac Salad. But, that's not considered pasta if you ask me. That's considered heaven in your mouth.
But since all bets are off in 2020, I've been eating pasta all summer long. I'm sure that I'm not alone in that. And that includes today's rich, creamy, comforting mac and cheese that's giving off some serious Oktoberfest vibes. But, I try to thoughtful about when I post certain recipes, and this one gave me fall vibes from the first bite. So, we just had to wait.
And now, it's time. It's time for the world to experience this bowl of creamy, cheesy goodness.
Today, we're making Bacon and Beer Mac and Cheese!
This bowl of comfort has all the things. It has twisty pasta coated in a luscious beer cheese sauce. It has sweet caramelized onions. And, it has a crunchy topping made from crispy bacon and crushed sourdough pretzels.
Take that in for a second.
Let's start with the caramelized onions. All we need for these is a little patience. Thinly slice a yellow onion, toss it in a pan with some butter, and let them cook down until they just start to brown in spots. Then, we're going to deglaze the pan with a little beer, let the onions soak up the flavor of the ale, and let them finish cooking until they're a perfect shade of deep golden brown.
We're going to take advantage of the onion flavor left behind in the pot, and use the same pot to make our beer cheese sauce. It starts with a basic butter and flour roux, then we whisk in some milk and your favorite beer. Guinness Blonde was the beer of the summer for me, so that's what I used. But, you can use your favorite blonde or ale beer. I bet a stout would work really well in this too.
Once we have the base for our sauce together, we're going to take it off the heat and melt in two types of cheeses: smoked gouda and good ol' cheddar. The cheddar is classic in a mac and cheese, but the gouda adds these subtle smoky notes that really take this mac to the next level. Smoked gouda is one of my absolute favorite cheeses!
Now, we could stop right here and have the most glorious mac and cheese on the planet. Take our beer cheese sauce, add in an al dente cooked short cut pasta, and give it all a big cheesy stir. Done, right? But, what fun would that be? So to catapult this mac and cheese into another universe, we're going to make a super simple topping consisting of crispy bacon and a crushed sourdough pretzel.
I'm not traditionally one that likes a breadcrumb topping on mac and cheese, but when bacon and pretzels are involved, I'm willing to change my mind. We're going to pour our cheesy pasta into a baking dish, distribute our beer caramelized onions on top, then give the whole thing a little sprinkling of our pretzel bacon mix. We don't want our mac and cheese to have a full on crust. We just want a little crunch on top. And, it is totally the right move.
There are so many flavors exploding in each gooey bite. We have some smokiness from the gouda and bacon. We have some sweetness from the onions. We have a yeasty bite from the beer and pretzels. SO MUCH HAPPENING. But also, I don't think any one bite could be any more warm and comforting.
I'm surely not glad that it's fall. But, I am glad time that it was finally the right time to share this recipe!
Alrighty, folks. That's all I've got for today. Go make a big ol' pot of this mac, grab you're fluffiest blankie, put on your favorite movie, and have the most snuggly and comforting day that you can.
In the meantime, enjoy! And, let's eat!
Bacon and Beer Mac and Cheese
Serves: 8 Print
For the Mac and Cheese:
1 lb (16 oz) short cut of pasta (I used cavatappi)
1 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 cup beer (I used Guinness Blonde), divided
3 tbsp flour
1 ¼ cups milk (I used 2 %)
2 cups (about 8oz) smoked gouda, shredded
½ cup (about 2 oz) sharp cheddar, shredded
salt and pepper, to taste
chopped chives, for garnish
For the Bacon Pretzel topping:
4 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 sourdough pretzel, crushed to coarse crumbs
1 tbsp olive oil
Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions until al dente. Drain pasta, and set aside.
Wipe down the pasta pot, and melt 1 tbsp butter plus 1 tbsp olive oil over medium low heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute onions for about 15 mins until they soften and start to become golden brown. Add ¼ cup beer, scrape up some of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and cook an additional 3-4 mins until the beer has mostly evaporated. Remove onions from pan to a small bowl.
Increase heat to medium, and melt 3 tbsp butter in the pot. Add flour, and whisk until combined. Cook roux for about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in remaining ¾ cup beer and milk until the lumps are gone. Bring to a simmer, and simmer for 4-5 mins, whisking frequently, until the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat, and stir in both cheeses plus a pinch of salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in pasta until it's completely coated in the cheese sauce. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, mix crumbled bacon, pretzel crumbs, and 1 tbsp olive oil. Transfer mac and cheese to a 9x13 casserole dish or to individual oven safe crocks. Top with caramelized onions and bacon/pretzel mix. Bake for 20-25 mins until the topping is crisp. Garnish with chives, if desired. Serve!
*You can taste the beer in this mac and cheese, so use a beer that you love. An ale or amber beer would be nice here. I think a stout would work pretty well too. Guinness Blonde is one of my current obsessions, and it was absolutely delish with the smoked gouda!
*Shred your own cheese for this recipe. The pre-bagged stuff will not melt nearly as well, and it's totally worth the extra couple of seconds of arm exercises to shred it yourself.
*We're using the same pot the whole way through for this recipe so we can take advantage of the flavors from each step of the process. Those browned bits in the bottom of the pan from the onions equal FLAVOR!
*I usually end up freezing half of this mac and cheese, because 8 servings is WAY too much for little old me. If you want to freeze some of this, transfer mac and cheese to an aluminum pan covered with foil before baking it, and top with the caramelized onions. Cool, and freeze like that for up to 3 months. Then when you're ready to have it again, it can go straight from the freezer to the oven at 375 degrees for about 45 mins. Make the pretzel topping, add it to the mac and cheese, then bake about another 10-15 mins.