Saturday, 14 April 2012

Pub Grub Pasta

Almost twenty years ago, we spent the week between Christmas and New Years in Seaside, Oregon.  While we were there, we drove down to Coos Bay for a day and, in the course of our travels, stopped for lunch in a tavern.  (That’s a pub to those of us north of the border.)

We ordered mac ‘n cheese for lunch that day.  It looked pretty much like what you’d expect to see:  An au gratin dish filled with mac ‘n cheese, topped with toasty bread crumbs.  There was a soggy green salad on the side. 

My hopes were not high. 

That mac ‘n cheese surprised me though: It was creamy, tasted like real cheese, and contained tender chunks of both chicken and pork.  It was delicious and I have tried, with varying results, to replicate it ever since.  Last night was my best attempt yet.  I’m kind of surprised about it because I was mostly just aiming to use up some leftovers.

I’m not a big fan of cooking with canned soup but my husband holds no such compunction.  He was cooking supper on Thursday so we had skinless chicken thighs baked in mushroom soup. 

(I have to admit they were tasty.  The soup took me back in time to childhood meals at my mom's table.)

There were three chicken thighs left over from supper, together with some of the soup they were baked in, and we had a small package of leftover slow cooker pork roast in the freezer. 

It seemed a good time to make another attempt at the elusive mac ‘n cheese recipe.

Not to brag or anything, but I aced it.  This is as close as I’ve ever come to replicating that long ago pub pasta dish.  Maybe the cook shared my husband’s fondness for canned mushroom soup? You never know. 

To make Pub Grub Pasta, you’ll need:

  • 1-1/2 cups macaroni (I usually use whole wheat but we were out of it so I used regular pasta this time)
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese, cubed
  • 1/3 cup condensed mushroom soup (I used the leftover from what the chicken was cooked in)
  • salt and nutmeg to taste
  • 1-1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken thigh
  • 1-1/2 cups cubed cooked pork roast
  • 4 Tablespoons butter (2 are pictured here but while I was cooking the dish I decided it needed more)
  • 1-1/2 cups bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (not pictured)
  • salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning to taste

Cook the macaroni in boiling salted water.  Leave it slightly undercooked.  It will cook more in the oven and you don’t want it to go soggy.

While the macaroni is cooking, melt the 3 Tablespoons of butter and stir in the flour to make a roux.  Cook the roux for 4 or 5 minutes, just until the flour loses its raw taste.  The roux should not take on any colour.

Stir in the chicken stock and the milk, a little at a time, mixing after each addition to make a smooth sauce.  Continue stirring until the sauce boils and thickens.

Add in the cheddar, cream cheese and mushroom soup.  When the cheese is melted, taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning.  I added in a little salt and some nutmeg.

When the sauce is ready, remove it from the heat and stir in the chicken thigh, pork roast and cooked macaroni,  Transfer the mac ‘n cheese to a 9 x 13 inch pan.

Melt the remaining 4 Tablespoons of butter.  Stir in the bread crumbs and parmesan.  Season the mixture to taste with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning.  Spread the breadcrumbs on top of the macaroni.

Bake the pasta for about 30 minutes at 350˚F.   Let it rest for 5 minutes or so before serving.

The leftovers freeze very well.  I portion them out onto parchment paper and freeze them on a sheet pan, then wrap the individual portions and put them in a freezer bag.  They can be reheated from frozen in the microwave.  Good lunch potential here.

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