Smoky Jalapeno Mac & Cheese

Lisa Kotler
by Lisa Kotler
8 servings
50 min

This can be a skillet meal or side dish for your rib fest dinner. I love smoky mac and cheese and this dish is so yummy. I use pickled jalapenos from a jar, but you are welcome to use raw jalapenos instead. I also made this dish with Orecchiette pasta, but you can certainly use macaroni if you prefer. I thought that the Orecchiette was fun for a change. To make the cheese sauce properly, you have to make a roux first. That will ensure that you have a creamy sauce. Always shred the cheese yourself for the best texture of cheese.

Smoky Jalapeno Mac & Cheese
Recipe details
  • 8  servings
  • Prep time: 20 Minutes Cook time: 30 Minutes Total time: 50 min
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  • 1 package of Orecchiette
  • 1 cup smoky gouda - shredded
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar - shredded
  • 3 Tbsp butter (divided)
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 1/2 jar pickled jalapenos
  • 1 Tbsp smoked paprika (divided)
  • 1/4 cup panko

Put the pasta on to boil
Dice the butter into small cubes and melt it in a saucepan over low heat. Once the butter is melted, begin whisking in the flour.
When all the flour is incorporated, continue stirring and cooking for a few minutes to activate the starch granules. This is what will thicken the sauce. If you're making a white or light-colored cheese sauce, cook the roux for about 3 to 5 minutes over low heat so the mixture stays light in color and doesn't brown. The roux is ready when it smells slightly nutty and loses any raw flour taste.
Next comes the milk. If the roux is hot, the milk should be cool, but if the roux is cool, the milk should be hot. When you combine the ingredients at different temperatures, they heat up at a moderate rate — not too fast, and not too slow — creating a velvety-smooth sauce.
Pour in the milk gradually while whisking the roux until the mixture is smooth, then add 1/2 the smoked paprika.
Simmer the sauce until it gets to the consistency you want, keep whisking to prevent it from burning.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the grated cheese a handful at a time. If the cheese doesn't seem to be melting, return the pan to very low heat, but do not let it come to a boil or your sauce will be grainy.
Stir in the jalapenos and the drained pasta (save a cup of pasta water in case) If the mac & cheese is too thick, add a bit of pasta water and keep stirring until completely combined.
Place 1 Tbsp of butter into a skillet and put the skillet in a 375-degree oven to melt. Coat the skillet with the melted butter.
Remove from the oven carefully and add the pasta and cheese. Top with panko, remaining smoked paprika, and put into the oven until bubbling. About 25 minutes.
Turn oven onto broil and put the skillet under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the panko. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.
  • A note about cheese: Pre-shredded cheese is coated to prevent the shreds from sticking together in the package and can cause your cheese sauce to be grainy instead of smooth. It's best to grate your own cheese to make cheese sauce.
Lisa Kotler
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