Food trends are endlessly fascinating to me. The Tunnel of Fudge Cake was a Pillsbury Bake Off Winner in 1966. This is a chocolate cake with a molten center of fudge. Sound familiar? In the mid 1980s, molten chocolate cake became a staple on every dessert menu. Items somehow surface, peak and slowly fade. Some fade forever (fondue, anyone?), others just become menu staples, like calamari or spinach artichoke dip. The New York Times did an excellent article on the trend of food trends. Of course, being the New York Times, they insisted the most trends start off in metropolitan cities and then spread elsewhere. If you take the time to read the article and are from Maryland or Louisiana, you will laugh out loud at the idea that crab cakes originated in a metropolitan area.
I mention food trends because somewhere along the way “lobster mac and cheese” became a thing. I find this combination of lobster, pasta and cheese sauce odd. One, it’s lobster. Lobster is awesome. Lobster is perfection with melted, clarified butter. Why mess with this exquisitely simple recipe? Two, in this era of low carb, gluten free anything, how is this dish even surviving, much less thriving?
From a restaurant’s point of view, I see the appeal. Charge a premium for mostly a pasta dish with a few chunks of lobster with a cheese sauce. I regularly see this dish around $20 and marvel at the price of something that is essentially a $2 box of pasta with a few nuggets of lobster and a bechamel sauce. I’ve tried various incarnations of the dish, as others of my party have ordered it. Mostly, I seem to miss the “lobster” of the dish. I taste the cheese and the pasta, but little in the way of lobster. I would imagine this result explains the general food rule of no cheese with seafood. The cheese just overwhelms the delicate lobster.
I got to thinking about this dish when I was selected to promote Castello Aged Havarti Cheese. Honestly, when I got this cheese, I really just wanted to eat it as is. The cheese is really good and has these really interesting crystals dispersed throughout that occur due to aging. If you look really closely, you can see small sparkles in the cheese. I’m not professional cheese tester. Really. But here’s what I love about this cheese, it’s got real depth. It’s not one dimensional. Also, the Havarti melts superbly.
I know this because we’ve used it to stuff jalapenos and make awesome grilled cheese sandwiches. Plus, it’s a well known fondue cheese. After tasting the cheese, I decided that it just might be the perfect cheese for lobster mac and cheese.
Creating a recipe with the internet is a bit overwhelming. You are inundated with ideas. Chefs want to make things so complicated. It can feel like a conspiracy designed to keep people from cooking. Make easy things ridiculously complicated and discourage people from trying. In the alternative, you just have some rather, um, interesting ideas. Why would anyone add Chipotle to lobster mac and cheese? Why bother putting lobster in the dish if you add that strong spice? Or bacon? Again, lobster isn’t really supposed to have competition. So, I got my inspiration from one of my favorite lobster dishes: lobster bisque. Velvety smooth, rich, creamy and most of all, lobster-y.
This dish is everything you want in comfort food: rich, thick and sinful. It combines the best of lobster bisque and macaroni and cheese. You will not be disappointed!
Note: To make the lobster broth, save the lobster shells and simmer them in water as you are making the pasta. Super easy, but key to this dish. Without this touch of broth, the lobster taste can be overwhelmed by the rich and cheesy sauce.
Lobster Mac and Cheese
Serves: A Crowd
Salt, to taste
12 oz. hollow pasta, preferably elbow macaroni
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ cup flour
4 cups milk
11 oz. grated Castello Aged Havarti (about 4 cups), divided
8 oz. mascarpone (about 1 cup)
3 tbsp. lobster or fish broth
3 tbsp. Dry Sherry
1 tsp. hot sauce
¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 oz. cooked lobster meat, cut into 1″ chunks
Heat oven to 375° fahrenheit. Spray 9×13″ baking pan with cooking spray, set aside.
Cook pasta in salted, boiling water for half of the recommended cooking time (about 3 minutes). Drain and set aside.
Melt butter in a heavy bottomed, 4 quart saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk constantly until smooth. Add milk, and whisk often, until sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. About 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in 2 cups Castello Aged Havarti, along with the mascarpone, broth, sherry, hot sauce, and nutmeg. Adjust seasoning as needed with salt and pepper. Add reserved pasta to cheese sauce. Stir in half of the lobster.
Pour mixture to the 9″ x 13″ baking dish and sprinkle with remaining Havarti. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes. Garnish with remaining lobster.
Inspired by a recipe found in Saveur.