Bacon Buffalo Chicken Mac & Cheese

 

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I always look forward to visiting the northeast. It is where a majority of my family still lives. And with every visit, I get to see a number of my closest friends.

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During my last trip there, I found myself with two special people I met through my husband. Dana and her husband Ajay, who live in Connecticut, opened their doors to me for a night, which allowed Dana and I to do what we do best whenever we’re together, all while her hubby was at work.

We DRANK.

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At her favorite watering hole Chips’ Pub III in Clinton, CT, Dana and I knocked back beverage after beverage. We caught up on lost time and shared laughs, which tends to be par for the course during our reunions. But something happened while I was there with her at Chips. As hunger set in, I began to peruse the food menu and came across a dish I had never thought of putting together.

Combining two of my favorite decadent foods, Buffalo Penne shined from the pages of the menu and engulfed every bit of my attention and interest. I was not leaving the bar without trying it. And tried it, I did. And it was glorious.

I’ve had many kinds of buffalo wings since that day. I’ve had many kinds of pasta as well. But only recently did I decide to recreate what I had in honor of Dana, her and her husband’s generosity and our mutual love of bacon.

To cap off this week’s celebration of my favorite part of the pig, I share with you this recipe for Bacon Buffalo Mac & Cheese. This dish is about as decadent as you can get, combining so many aspects of what makes pub food great. There is that quintessential buffalo sauce heat running throughout the creamy sauce that holds shredded chicken in ever bite. And then, of course, there is bacon — 1 pound worth of thick chunks to ensure its presence in every forkful of this unforgettable dish.

When I think about the most decadent item I’ve ever eaten at a pub, that Buffalo Penne from Chips Pub is what comes to mind. With this recipe, you can experience the joy I had that day last summer with the volume turned up, all thanks to this week’s celebrated food — bacon!

Bacon Buffalo Chicken Mac & Cheese

(recipe serving size – 6-8 people)

For the chicken:

1 1/2 lb chicken breasts (3 cutlets)

1 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp cracked black pepper

1/2 tsp granulated garlic

Mix the salt, pepper, paprika, onion powder and granulated garlic in a small bowl and coat the chicken with the rub. Set aside while you cook the bacon.

For the bacon:

1 lb slab of smoked bacon, chopped into 1/2-inch lardons

6 sage leaves

1 tb bacon fat

3 cloves garlic, chopped

In a large pot, brown the bacon in the bacon fat over medium to medium-high heat along with the sage leaves for 7 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Remove the bacon and sage. Drain the oil (reserve it) and wipe out the pot with paper towel, picking up any loose bits.

For searing the chicken and vegetables:

3 stalks celery, sliced lengthwise and chopped

1 small onion, diced

1 poblano pepper, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp cracked black pepper

6 sage leaves

3 tb of bacon fat

Return the pan to the heat along with 1 tb of the rendered bacon fat. Sear the chicken for 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken. Add 2 tb of the rendered bacon fat and the chopped onion, celery and peppers along with the salt, cracked black pepper, paprika and sage leaves. Sauté for 10 minutes.

For the braise:

1 can beer

2 cloves garlic, smashed

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp cracked black pepper

1/4 cup red hot

2 tb sriracha 

Return the chicken to the pot. Add the beer, garlic, salt and pepper. Simmer for 1 hour, turning the chicken breast over halfway through. Tear the chicken into chunks. Add the sriracha and the red hot to the braising liquid and simmer vibrantly for 5 minutes.

For the cheese sauce:

1 lb cream cheese

2 cups grated parmesan

2 cups half and half

Add the cream cheese, parmesan and half & half to the pot and stir gently to incorporate. Simmer for another 5 minutes to help marry all of the flavors.

Bringing it all together:

1 lb cavatappi

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Cooking oil spray

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. 

Cook your pasta to al dente following the directions on the box. Spray a 9×12 baking dish or 2 smaller oven-safe dishes with cooking oil. Fold the pasta into the cheese sauce and pour the mixture into the baking dish(es). Sprinkle the top of the pasta with the grated parmesan and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the edges of the pasta is bubbling and the parmesan has browned.

Serve while warm and enjoy!

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