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And The Valley Cooks: Crawfish Mac & Cheese with Tasso

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If you want to change up your Thanksgiving side-dish game, add some Louisiana.

Personally, I’ve never been a subscriber to the whole “Thanksgiving is all about the sides” mindset. I love turkey, especially when it’s done really well. A buddy of mine has started curing and smoking his own hams and they’re pretty damn good too.

That said, the sides are crucial, and will make the meal for most of the people you’re eating with anyway. So you might as well, go for the gusto.

This recipe will be a double power move on your relatives and on in-laws. A three-cheese macaroni recipe that features crawfish tails AND smoked tasso, to give you a smokey/savory combo in a rich sauce.

There are mac & cheese recipes all over the Googles and cookbooks, and I kind of messed around on the proportions a bit. I used sharp Cheddar, Munster and Gouda cheeses here, but I think that’s an area you can make this recipe your own, although I always recommend cheeses that melt easily. Gruyere is a great option as well.

The big keys to any mac and cheese recipe are to grate your own cheese fresh, and to make a bechamel sauce with some butter, flour and milk.

I also used Cellentani noodles here — they’re a little bigger and have some texture to help pick up more sauce. Adds a little bit to the presentation, in my opinion.

Ingredients

One 16-oz package Cellentani pasta, cooked al dente, per package instructions
8 tbsps (one stick) butter
12 cup flour
3 12 cups 2 percent milk
12 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tsp granulated garlic
2 tsp granulated onion
1 tsp black pepper
1 pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
16 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
8 oz Gouda cheese, grated
8 oz Munster cheese, grated
8 oz smoked tasso (if unavailable, any good smoked ham will work), diced
1 lb crawfish tails
Bread crumbs (panko or Italian-style, per your taste)

I doubled this recipe for a larger crowd, and made it in advance to freeze and finish on Thanksgiving day. (apologies for no picture of the finished product).

Instructions

1. Cook your pasta per instructions and set aside.

2. In a large Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add flour and mix well. Stir gently until the flour browns slightly to form a blonde roux.

3. Add the milk slowly, stirring well to incorporate the roux mixture, then add the heavy cream.

4. Bring the mixture to a simmer then add the tasso and mix well. Simmer for five minutes.

5. Add half of the crawfish tails and mix well.

6. Raise the heat to medium-high and slowly, in batches, begin adding the grated cheese, stirring well to mix. You want this to melt evenly so it’s important to just add small amounts, mix it well until it’s melted in, and then add some more. You’re going to add about two-thirds of your cheese, then save the rest to add with the finished product.

7. Stir well until you have a good sauce consistency. You may need to add some milk if you think it’s too thick.

8. Add in the pasta and reserved crawfish tails and mix well. Spoon into a greased baking dish, then cover with remaining cheese, and breadcrumbs. Bake at 350 until the top is good and melty and starting to brown.

This recipe should serve six to eight folks as a side dish.

Also, if you’d like to learn more about Louisiana food and culture, our friend Zach Rau has begun his own newsletter on the topic, The Gulf Coastal, which you can sign up for here. His first edition, coincidentally, is on his patented smoked tailgate mac & cheese.