Friday, February 6, 2015

Crispy Macaroni

by Sheila Connolly

A well-known chef, Gordon Hamersley, has joined our regional paper as a regular columnist, and this recipe was part of his kick-off. I wish I could say that know his restaurant, but alas, I don’t venture into Boston often just for a meal (especially since my daughter—my partner in food crime—left town for Chicago). But based on this first article, I think the chef would fit right in with our MLK gang: He starts off with a story about what inspired his recipe, and how he experimented with it before going public.

We here at MLK are careful to credit the originators of our recipes (if we didn’t make them up ourselves!), although of course we usually end up tweaking them. This recipe intrigued and challenged me—it made me want to try it. It’s not difficult, but it does take two days to complete. And when I read the part about the gelatin, my first response was, “you’ve got to be kidding? Macaroni and cheese and gelatin?” So read on and see how things turned out.

Gordon Hamersley’s Crispy Macaroni and Blue Cheese

Oil (for the pan)

Serves 6

Gelatin comes in packets of 2½ teaspoons. You need about 2 packets here. Allow enough time for the mixture to set, at least 6 hours. Plastic wrap helps the mixture release more easily from the pan.

Day One:

Vegetable oil (for the pan)

1/2 pound elbow macaroni
1  tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 packets (2-1/2 tsp each)
   unflavored powdered gelatin
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
2 Tblsp chopped fresh chives
1 Tblsp chopped fresh thyme
8 oz. blue cheese, cut into cubes
Salt and pepper to taste

Oil a 9-inch square pan. Line it with plastic wrap, letting the excess hang over the edges (this makes the dish easy to remove from the pan).

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and add plenty of salt. Add the macaroni and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until the pasta is tender but not mushy. Drain, shaking it several times to make sure all the water is out of the elbows. Transfer to a bowl.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for 8 minutes or until tender and golden. Add the chicken stock and sprinkle the gelatin into the liquids. Turn the heat to low and whisk until the gelatin dissolves. Add the cream to the skillet and bring to a boil.

Pour the cream mixture over the macaroni in the bowl. Add the chives and thyme. Stir well so the cream gets inside the elbows. Add the blue cheese and pepper and stir again. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread to make an even layer. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight.

Day Two:

1       tablespoon unsalted butter
1       cup panko crumbs
¼      cup flour, in a shallow bowl
2       eggs, lightly beaten in a shallow bowl

In a small skillet over medium heat, melt the butter until it starts to bubble. Add the panko and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes, or until it is deep golden brown. Transfer to a shallow bowl and let it cool.

With a knife, mark the macaroni and cheese into in the pan into 6 squares Using an offset spatula, lift them out of the pan. [Warning! This is tricky!]

Put the panko into a pie pan or shallow bowl. Place the flour (in a bowl), eggs (in a bowl), and panko (in whatever it’s in) in a line on the counter. Dust each macaroni piece first with flour, then dip into the egg, and finally press the panko onto the surface. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

Preheat the oven at 375 degrees. Oil a large rimmed baking sheet.

Place the macaroni squares on the baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of a piece is hot to the touch when withdrawn. Using a wide metal spatula, carefully lift the crispy macaroni onto plates.

I did tell you this was an experiment, didn’t I? And I have to say I was not blown away by the results: the whole thing was too labor-intensive, at least the part about putting the cakes together (you try dipping slippery squares in three different coatings without them falling apart!), and I ended up with macaroni scattered all over the kitchen. Maybe it works if you have a line of experienced sous-chefs assembling the things, but not if you’re a busy home cook pressed for time and with limited counter space.

But the flavor was good (says my test panel, i.e., my husband). So here’s what I’d recommend:  Make the recipe, minus the gelatin. Put it in a greased casserole dish, and sprinkle with the panko (toasted or not—it did taste good browned). Bake in a 350-degree oven for half an hour, and dish it out with a spoon. Tastes the same, and it’s much simpler!

Oh, and in case I haven't mentioned it often enough lately (or you've been living in a cave without Internet), I have a new book out this week: An Early Wake, the third of the County Cork Mysteries.

Available everywhere (I hope!), in print and e-format (and maybe even as an audiobook soon!):


  1. I like your version Sheila! But so grateful that you tested this and took a hit for the team:)

  2. I would love to be a fly on the wall in a chef's kitchen and see how anybody manages to wrangle slippery macaroni! I will say that the gelatin was not noticeable (that is, the whole thing wasn't rubbery), but it didn't really do much for binding the squares together. But the cream/chives/blue cheese part was good.

    1. I've used gelatin in cake frostings, usually when cream is involved. It doesn't become rubbery, it just firms it up a little bit. You can't tell it's there at all. I imagine that's what it does with the cream here. Though I don't know why that's necessary, except perhaps to cut it into squares.

  3. Fascinating, Sheila! I kept wondering where the gelatin would come into play and why it was necessary. I think your way is easier and smarter!

  4. I like your version better without the gelatin.


  5. Very best wishes for the new book!

    This sounds like what you make in a restaurant when "macaroni and cheese" is thought to be too plebeian. And you have lots of staff to do the work (and clean up).
    Your suggested alternative sounds excellent.
    As Lucy/Roberta said, thanks for doing this for all of us.

    1. Libby, except for those special occasions when you really feel like making something fancy, I think food should be easy to make. Particularly macaroni and cheese--that's comfort food, right? It was not meant to be sculpted. Although that clean-up staff would be helpful!

  6. Such a fun recipe, Sheila! Of course, I'm not surprised.



  7. I like your recommendations. I would definitely want to try it your way.