Treat Yourself to a Super-Luxe Lobster Mac ‘n’ Cheese at Home
“That first bite transports you to a simpler time in life, where all your problems seem to melt away”
Was there anything better, as a kid, than coming in from the cold to a freshly-made pot of blue box mac and cheese? Homey and comforting, it was a childhood staple for many.
“Mac and cheese in general is that one dish that gives you a sense of nostalgia,” asserts chef Ryan Cerizo of San Francisco’s The Vault Steakhouse. “Once you take that first bite, it transports you to a simpler time in life, where in that moment, all your problems and worries seem to melt away.”
But in recent years, mac and cheese has undergone a serious makeover. As chefs lean headfirst into the elevated comfort food trend, many have taken a slightly bougier approach to this rich, creamy childhood staple, with versions boasting lobster, truffle, foie gras, and more.
Mac and cheese is not the only lowbrow stalwart to have undergone a serious PR makeover. Until the 17th century, the luxurious black truffle, for instance, was seen as peasant food in the French Périgord, which produces some of the most sought-after examples of the fungus the world over. Lobster, meanwhile, was perceived as nothing better than a sea bug, relegated to the plates of prisoners and the poor until the end of the 19th century. Cerizo has married these former ugly ducklings at the Vault to create a totally luxe version of the childhood staple.
“I’m a huge fan of pairing truffles with food that already has richness or decadence in itself,” explains Cerizo. He opts to stir in both chopped truffle and truffle oil, the latter of which “fortifies” the flavor of the former. He even toasts the breadcrumb topping in truffle butter, which he dubs a “restaurant staple.”
“We take truffles, mince them, and mix them with butter,” he explains. “It is very versatile in this form, whether you want to add to mac and cheese, finish a risotto, make a butter sauce – the uses are endless.”
But despite this three-pronged approach to adding its rich, moreish flavor, truffle is not the focal point of this dish. Rather, according to Cerizo, it “elevates the dish without being a crutch.”
To wit, it’s just as important to Cerizo to source excellent cheddar for that rich, creamy cheese sauce: Modesto, CA’s Fiscalini, to be precise.
“It’s an amazing cheese that has great flavor, beautiful melt-ability, and is one of the cheeses that I love just snacking on — so it’s always around,” says Cerizo. “West Coast cheese is the best coast cheese.”
So whether or not you take a cue from the restaurant in seasoning the resulting rich, creamy sauce with truffle and gilding the lily with steamed lobster, one thing is for sure: This recipe results in a dish that’s everything you want mac and cheese to be.
Black Truffle Mac and Cheese (serves 6)
- 1 pound fresh conchigliette (small shell) pasta
- ½ pound cooked lobster, cut into chunks (optional)
- For the cheese sauce
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 4 tablespoons minced shallots
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups whole milk
- ¾ cup finely shredded sharp white cheddar, preferably Fiscalini
- ½ cup finely shredded Fontina cheese
- ¼ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped black truffles, preferably fresh
- 1 tablespoon black truffle oil
- 2 tablespoons finely minced chives
- For the breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon black truffle butter (butter mixed with chopped black truffle)
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 cup fresh, untoasted bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons finely minced chives
Make the cheese sauce. In a large heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, until foamy. Add the garlic and shallots and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the flour and stir to combine.
Lower heat to low, and cook flour mixture for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Whisk in the milk, stir well to ensure there are no lumps of flour. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the milk starts to thicken, about 6-8 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to low, and add the cheeses. Continue to stir until the cheeses are fully melted. Keep warm.
Make the breadcrumbs. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter and the truffle butter. Lower the heat to low, and add the garlic. Cook gently until softened and fragrant, stirring frequently. Add the breadcrumbs and toast in the butter until golden brown, stirring frequently, about 3-5 minutes. Add the chives and stir to combine. Keep warm.
Cook the pasta to al dente in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce and stir to combine. Add the chopped black truffles, truffle oil, and minced chives. Mix well. Fold in the lobster, if using, then divide the mac and cheese among 6 warm bowls and top liberally with the warm toasted breadcrumbs.
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