If the great number of Google searches from around the globe that land on LunaCafe’s doorstep each week signify anything, then EVERYONE IN THE WORLD is looking for Chef Robert McGrath’s Green Chile Mac & Cheese recipe, which is a specialty of the Roaring Fork restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona.
This frantic searching is a bit perplexing because the recipe is readily available in Robert’s most excellent homage to cowboy cuisine, American Western Cooking, which should definitely be in every good cook’s library. So, for the price of a cookbook, which is chock full of bold and delectable dishes that you will make again and again, you get the Green Chile Macaroni recipe. (If I haven’t convinced you to buy the book, you can go here instead and get the recipe for free.)
But before you shout HOORAY and run off to get the recipe, I must in good conscience tell you this one little thing.
There is no way on this sweet earth that the green chile mac & cheese recipe featured in American Western Cooking, which is the same recipe featured on Food Network, will produce the oh so cheesy, oh so hot as hell, oh so scrumptious, gooey green chile mac & cheese heaven that I was served at The Roaring Fork just two weeks ago. Not happening. No way. No how.
I know this because I’ve tested the recipe THREE TIMES, revising each test in the direction of my taste memory and photos of the dish. The basic issues with the available recipe, as compared to the restaurant version, are as follows:
- Not enough green chile flavor; barely perceptible in fact.
- Not enough chile heat (even with Tillamook Pepper Jack cheese).
- Only the palest shade of green (does not resemble the green of the restaurant version.
- Not enough cheese.
- Young cheeses, such as Jack, almost always curdle when brought anywhere near a simmer. The restaurant version features a fully bubbling, cheese-loaded, brown-crusted Mac & Cheese, and the cheese IS NOT curdled.
- The cheese used in the restaurant version has a distinctive flavor that is reminiscent of processed cheese. They might be using Queso Asadero, which has an almost “fake” but quite tasty flavor profile.
- The cheese used in the restaurant held a long gooey string beautifully and a lot of it was used. The dish was almost a Mexican Queso Fundido (cheese and cream fondue) with macaroni added.
- The restaurant version of this dish features a bread crumb topping, which is not specified in the recipe.
- The recipe recreation was bland and needed an acidic element for balance.
So although I definitely encourage you to hop a plane to Scottsdale as soon as you can, hurry over to the Roaring Fork, and sink your fork into a small iron kettle of Green Chile Macaroni, if you want to duplicate that exact recipe at home, you will have difficulty.
Nevertheless, I LOVE a challenge and thus am launching a Throw Down. Robert McGrath, are you hearing this? J After I identified two of the most significant issues (not enough green chile flavor and young cheese that curdles and separates when heated to bubbling), I went to work.
I love poblano chiles, but the ones that are available in the Northwest have hardly any heat and are mildly flavored. I could not produce a sauce with enough of that distinctive green chile flavor until I switched to Anaheim chiles. These green chiles are both hot and full-flavored.
For folks who don’t want to stem, seed, roast, peel, and chop enough green chiles to measure 3 cups, I also discovered frozen, roasted, peeled green chiles that pack a lot of heat and flavor (Bueno Mild Organic Green Chiles, available in 13-ounce cartons in the freezer case of Whole Foods). (Issues 1 and 2.)
Also, in order to make sure the green chile flavor was pervasive, I decided to create a silky Green Chili Crema and use that as the liquid element in a very thin béchamel sauce. (Issue 1)
Although a béchamel sauce is not strictly required for this dish (and the Roaring Fork recipe does not use one), the butter and flour roux protect the cheese from curdling. Nothing is more disastrous to Mac & Cheese than curdled, separated cheese. (Issues 5, 6, and 7)
Another precaution on the curdling cheese front is the use of an aged cheese. Aged cheeses do not curdle as easily as young cheeses. Also, aged farmhouse cheddar just happens to taste spectacular. (Issues 5, 6, and 7)
The Roaring Fork green chile mac & cheese recipe uses so little cheese, it must be a misprint. In the restaurant version, cheese is used with wild abandon. I like that approach. J (Issue 4)
A bread crumb crust adds so much textural and color interest to a Mac & Cheese that I always include it. And so does the Roaring Fork restaurant version. (Issue 8 )
The color was really perplexing me, until I separated out and focused on creating a Green Chile Crema. Increasing the quantity of chiles improves both the flavor and the color. To push the color up a notch more, I added green onions, which brought the flavor up another notch as well. (Issue 3)
In the first two tests, the sauce was bland and uninspiring. It needed an acidic element to brighten the rich cream and subtle chile flavor. I decided on tomatillos and that proved to be the perfect flavor balancer for this dish. (Issue 9)
So here, without further ado is (my version of) the world’s most famous Green Chile Mac & Cheese.