This Mac and Chilli Cheese is exactly as it sounds. A creamy cheese sauce infused with 3 types of cheeses and chillies. Spicy and delicious.
This will sound strange, but I grew up not enjoying mac and cheese. I just was not a fan of cheese.
Shocking, I know. I look back at my childhood and constantly question how I could not have enjoyed cheese. If it had been the crusts on my sandwiches I would have understood, but cheese?
But I digress, we need not investigate my previous questionable food choices. Over time as my love and appreciation for cheese grew, I slowly became converted to somewhat of a cheese fan. This progressed into a full blown love for the stuff. And I’ve never looked back.
Mac and cheese became something that fascinated me. A creamy béchamel sauce with cheese, lathered over pasta then finished with more cheese. What’s not to love?
But I’m secretly (not secretly at all) a spice fiend and I live my life attached to my spice box and my chillies.
It made perfect sense to create a Mac and Chilli Cheese that encompassed all the flavours that I love. When you try this, you’ll fall in love with it too.
Mac and Chilli Cheese
Exactly as it sounds, it’s a spicy mac and cheese with plenty of chillies and flavour. We’ve all had a classic mac and cheese before, though that is an entire world in itself.
There are so many variations of a classic mac and cheese, ranging from types of cheese, or even the process by which it’s made. Some will cook the pasta in milk/evaporated milk/milk and cream and allow the starch and cheese to thicken the sauce.
It’s not my favourite method, but it works.
Some will use just cream and cheese to create a sauce. Once again not my favourite method, but it works. And others will make a béchamel sauce first before adding the cheese.
This is my method of choice and the only one I stand by confidently. I’ll explain this below.
This Mac and Chilli Cheese has 3 different types of chillies and 3 different types of cheeses. This creates a flavour profile that has more depth and a more well rounded spicing.
The combo of cheeses creates creaminess and cheesiness. I honestly think the best mac and cheeses always utilise more than one type of cheese. Actually, I stand by that and I’m sure you’ll agree with my choices here.
There’s plenty of garlic and shallots in here too. Garlic and chilli is a match made in heaven, so who am I to come between them? Shallots add a subtle sweetness and help to tie everything together.
The entire tray of mac and cheese is then finished with buttery, herby panko breadcrumbs and baked till golden. If you’re a fan of chill, cheese, and creamy pasta, then this is the perfect recipe for you.
Is it spicy?
I won’t lie to you, it is. It’s not one for the faint hearted, however the recipe can be adapted to make it more mild if so desired.
The amount of chilli is optional, you can use far more or far less in order to tailor the heat to your liking.
If you want to leave it out completely then that too is perfectly fine. It’ll be a classic mac and cheese, but a great one at that.
What is a béchamel sauce? Is it essential for this Mac and Chilli Cheese?
Béchamel also known as ‘white sauce’, is one of the five mother sauces in French cooking. Fun fact, Tuscancy had it’s own white sauce which pre-dates the origins of béchamel within France.
Could it perhaps have originated in Italy? Well there’s definitely evidence to suggest so.
The sauce itself is a creamy, smooth, and rich sauce. It’s based on a roux which is made from butter and flour. The butter is first melted, to which flour is added and cooked into a paste.
Milk is then gradually added to the roux whilst whisking until it thickens. This results in a smooth and creamy sauce.
During the process of making the béchamel, optional add-ins can be included such as garlic, onion, and bay leaves for example. The sauce is then finished with salt, and some also like to add in pepper and nutmeg.
I definitely enjoy a well seasoned béchamel, so I always add in a bay leaf, a generous grating of nutmeg and coarsely ground black pepper. It’s delicious.
For this Mac and Chilli Cheese it is essential to use a béchamel as the base. It provides the entire body to the sauce as well as giving the dish a rich and smooth finish.
The béchamel also prevents the cheese from splitting, which is the last thing we want in a mac and cheese! It’s a simple sauce to make, and although it may look daunting, it’s easier than it seems.
It just needs a watchful eye and constant whisking to prevent clumping.
Types of cheese
There is absolutely no way I could write a recipe and blogpost all about mac and cheese and not talk about the cheese itself. It’s arguably the most important part of the entire recipe. What’s a mac and cheese without the cheese?
Everyone has their preferences here, and there truly is no right or wrong cheese. But some cheeses contribute more to this group project than others, and that needs to be talked about.
The main quality we’re looking for is how well the cheese melts. The better it melts, the more suited it is for a mac and cheese.
The king cheese of mac and cheese is in fact our beloved cheddar. Preferably a sharp cheddar as it will provide the most amount of flavour. Cheddar is what gives mac and cheese its classic flavour.
I’ll include red Leicester within the cheddar category as it shares a very similar flavour and texture.
Next on the list would be low moisture mozzarella in my opinion. This is a debatable one for many however I’m 100% for it. Though mild in flavour, it contributes towards texture by adding a little creaminess and ‘stringiness’.
Gouda is also an excellent choice for mac and cheese as it melts incredibly well whilst also providing a good deal of flavour. Gouda has somewhat of a sweet, nutty flavour that helps to balance out the sharp cheddar flavours.
The last two cheeses I’ll mention are pecorino and parmesan. Both hard cheeses work well when used within the sauce and/or on top of the mac and cheese. They add nuttiness and saltiness which not only seasons the sauce but also adds depth.
Which cheeses do we need for this Mac and Chilli Cheese?
We’re using a combination of 3 cheeses. These will be a mature/sharp cheddar, along with red Leicester and mozzarella.
The red Leicester adds a mild-cheddar like flavour but also bring some sweetness with it. The low moisture mozzarella helps with the texture of the cheese sauce and adds some real creaminess.
The cheddar is where our main cheese flavour is at. The main thing I’d recommend is that you purchase good quality cheeses for optimum flavour.
I’d also recommend avoiding pre-grated cheeses as they’re coated in starch which prevents them from melting smoothly. The mozzarella should be a low moisture mozzarella, not fresh as that has too high of a water content.
I purchase this from my local Tesco (UK supermarket) and it is sold as a block of ‘Pizza Mozzarella’.
What you’ll need for this recipe
(The full recipe is at the end of the blogpost)
- Plain flour (all purpose flour for US readers)
- Bay leaf
- Black pepper
- Smoked paprika
- Kashmiri chilli powder – or paprika/cayenne
- Mature cheddar
- Red Leicester (red cheddar) – substitute for more mature cheddar if you’re unable to source this
- Low moisture mozzarella – if you struggle to find this, you can dry out fresh mozzarella balls by tearing into pieces and placing between paper towels with a weight on top. Leave this for a good hour or so to try and remove as much moisture as possible
- Olive oil
- Red chillies – I use a mix of medium-hot chillies with hot bird’s eye chillies
- Pickled jalapenos
- Dried oregano
- Dried macaroni
- Panko breadcrumbs – or any breadcrumbs of choice
How to make Mac and Chilli Cheese (photos)
Let’s start with the sauce
1) Melt butter in a saucepan under a medium heat. Avoid using a non-stick pan if you’re using a metal whisk!
2) Add the flour to the butter
3) Whisk the butter and flour to form a roux. This will be a thickened paste
4) Add a quarter of the milk and whisk until it forms a smooth and thick paste
5+6) Gradually add the rest of the milk. Do this in increments to prevent the sauce from clumping. I’d recommend adding the milk in 4 increments and keep mixing with a whisk and a spatula
7) Once all the milk has been added in, add in the Kashmiri chilli powder, smoked paprika, and a bay leaf. Keep whisking, and alternate with a spatula to ensure the sauce remains smooth
8) The sauce will take 5-10 minutes to thicken
9) Turn the heat off. Then add the grated cheeses along with grated nutmeg and a healthy amount of freshly cracked black pepper. Mix till it forms a smooth, creamy, and cheesy sauce. You’ll notice we haven’t added any salt as the cheeses can be salty. Hence at this stage taste the sauce to see if you require any salt added in
Next, let’s make the seasoning mix
1) Sauté the shallots, garlic, red chilli and dried oregano in olive oil. This will take around 2 to 3 minutes
2) I then like to add more red chillies to keep a little bit of crunch and texture. Though you could add all the chillies in step 1 if you’re not bothered
3) Add a pinch of salt and sauté for a further minute
4) Then add the mixture to the mac and chilli cheese sauce, along with the pickled jalapenos
5) Mix it all together and that’s the final Mac and Chilli Cheese sauce
Let’s assemble the Mac and Chilli Cheese
1) If you’re planning to bake the mac and cheese as I have, boil the macaroni around 2-3 minutes short of the packaging time. This is because it will continue to cook in the oven. If you’re not planning to bake this, then boil the macaroni till al dente
2) Mix the drained pasta with the chilli cheese sauce. This would be perfect to eat as is, but it’s even better after being baked
3) In a separate bowl mix together panko breadcrumbs, dried oregano, a good pinch of salt and melted butter. Rub together till evenly mixed
4) Transfer the mac and cheese to a baking tray
5) Layer the breadcrumbs all over the mac and cheese
6) Bake in a 220’C (fan)/240’C (conventional) preheated oven until golden brown and bubbling! This will take around 10 minutes
Mac and Chilli Cheese (video)
Can this Mac and Chilli Cheese be made vegan or gluten free?
Yes it can indeed. To make the mac and chilli cheese vegan simply use vegan butter and vegan milk for the béchamel sauce. For the cheese, pick your favourite vegan cheese. Just make sure it’s one that melts well and tastes nice.
Using some nutritional yeast along with a good vegan cheese will work best in my opinion. Using nutritional yeast alone will help with flavour but it won’t help with the texture of the sauce.
To make this gluten free, use a gluten free plain flour for the béchamel, gluten free macaroni, and gluten free breadcrumbs.
If you enjoyed this recipe
Please do let me know! Leave a review and a rating below, I’d love to know how you got on.
You’ll love my Garlic Chilli Cacio e Pepe as well! Another spicy, cheesy pasta dish that’s definitely worth trying.
Until then, happy cooking!
Mac and Chilli Cheese
- 400 g dried macaroni
For the sauce:
- 50 g butter either salted/unsalted is fine
- 40 g plain flour (all purpose flour for US readers)
- 800 ml milk semi skimmed/whole milk works best. See notes for vegan*
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 tsp smoked paprika
- 3 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder or paprika/cayenne
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- Black pepper
- 80 g mature cheddar grated
- 80 g red Leicester red cheddar, grated
- 60 g low moisture mozzarella grated. A close substitute can be made from fresh mozzarella balls. Tear up finely and place between paper towels with a weight on top for one hour
For the seasoning mix:
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 shallots sliced
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 4 red chillies sliced. I used a combination of 2 bird’s eye chillies and 2 medium-heat larger chillies
- 15 pickled jalapeno slices finely chopped
- 1 tsp dried oregano
For the breadcrumb topping:
- 50 g panko breadcrumbs or any breadcrumbs of preference
- 2 tbsp butter melted
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Black pepper
For the sauce:
- First melt the butter in a saucepan under a medium heat. Avoid using a non-stick pan if you’re using a metal whisk
- Next add the flour to the butter and whisk together to form a roux. This will be a thickened paste
- Add a quarter of the milk to the roux and whisk until it forms a smooth and thick paste
- Gradually add the rest of the milk in 4 increments. Whisking between each increment. Swap between a whisk and a spatula routinely to ensure no lumps
- Once all the milk has been added in, add in the Kashmiri chilli powder, smoked paprika, and a bay leaf, continue to whisk for 5-10 minutes or until the sauce has thickened
- Then turn the heat off and add the grated cheeses, grated nutmeg, and a healthy amount of freshly cracked black pepper. Mix till it forms a smooth, creamy, and cheesy sauce. You’ll notice we haven’t added any salt as the cheeses can be salty. Hence at this stage taste the sauce to see if you require any salt added in
For the seasoning mix:
- Start by sautéing the shallots, garlic, red chilli, and dried oregano in olive oil. This will take around 2 to 3 minutes. Add a pinch of salt whilst the mixture cooks
- Then add the mixture to the mac and chilli cheese sauce, along with the pickled jalapenos
- Mix it all together and that’s the final Mac and Chilli Cheese sauce!
- If you’re planning to bake the mac and cheese as I have, boil the macaroni around 2-3 minutes short of the packaging time. This is because it will continue to cook in the oven. If you’re not planning to bake this, then boil the macaroni till al dente
- Next mix the drained pasta with the chilli cheese sauce, and then pop this into the baking tray
- In a separate bowl mix together the panko breadcrumbs, dried oregano, salt, black pepper, and melted butter. Rub together till evenly mixed
- Layer the breadcrumbs all over the mac and cheese
- Bake in a 220’C (fan)/240’C (conventional) preheated oven for ~10 mins or until golden brown and bubbling