Given the amount of love and affection you, my dear friends, paid to the buffalo chicken rolls I baked last week, and given that creamy homemade macaroni and cheese is one of those dishes we’d all love to eat competitively at a state fair, I figured it wise to combine the two.
Now, I’ve done a lot of this sort of ‘if ‘X’ is great, and ‘Y’ is also fabulous…why not pair ‘em?!’ The minor problem that arises from this kind of query is that I’ve ended up alone in my kitchen dipping salty kettle cooked potato chips into peanut butter and slathering jam on top of grilled cheese sandwiches a time too many.
This one, though, well this is a good one. And it makes sense.
Now, there are a few considerations I took before tossing the cheesy macaroni, buffalo chicken, and blue cheese together. First, though many people claim to love buffalo chicken and blue cheese, they may not actually love real crumbled blue cheese. I find that lots of folks much prefer blue cheese dressing, which has hints of traditional blue pungency and bite, but is a world milder. I’d even bet that most folks wouldn’t notice if you swapped ranch dressing with the blue cheese in the cup where they’re dipping buffalo chicken tenders. The point is this: blue cheese is fabulous and lovable, but it’s not universally beloved. I find that it’s a bit too potent to mix into the sauce for your mac and cheese, but is just lovely when crumbled into the hot dish. This way, while you’re chewing away on creamy mild macaroni, you get a burst of blue cheese every now and then. It’s a very nice change in taste and texture.
The second consideration: I don’t love the idea of blending the hot sauce too evenly into the creamy cheddar sauce that I’ve coated my macaroni with. Hot sauce is naturally bold, and its flavor will overpower all others while you’re eating. So just as I prefer crumbling blue cheese on top of the dish rather than mixing, I like to take a similar approach to the spicy chicken. I fold it ever so gently into the saucy macaroni.
Altogether, these simple recipe considerations make the flavors of the dish pop. The eating experience feels more satisfying because of the differences and uniqueness of each bite. Some forkfuls combine creamy macaroni with a hot kick of buffalo chicken, some are sprinkled with sharp blue cheese. Each great on their own, and even better together.
Here’s how to whip it up yourself:
Bring a pot of water to a boil, add about 5 cups dry elbow shaped macaroni, cook for about 8 minutes (or until softened to your liking), drain, and set aside. A tip: Generally 3/4 cup dry pasta will yield 1 cup cooked.
While the pasta is cooking, make your cheese sauce. Combine 1 cup cold milk with 1 tablespoon cornstarch in a small saucepan. Whisk and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, stir in 1 tablespoon butter until smooth, and then add 3/4 cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese. Stir until the mixture is well blended and silky smooth.
Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked macaroni and stir to combine.
In a separate bowl, stir together hot cooked chicken (diced into bite sized pieces) and 1/2 – 2/3 cup hot buffalo wing sauce. I recommend Frank’s Red Hot brand. This is a perfect dish to use leftover cooked chicken, but if you need to cook some: Place 1 lb of chicken breasts in a pot, fill it with enough water just to cover the chicken, set it on the stovetop over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the chicken is opaque and cooked through. To test for doneness, you can pull one of the chicken breasts out of the water, slice into it and check to be sure the inside is no longer pink. Then, drain the chicken and let it cool enough so you can handle it and cut it into chunks.
Stir the chicken into the pasta gently. You don’t want to completely mix the hot sauce with the cheesy sauce on the macaroni. Then sprinkle 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese over the whole mixture. It will make for a nice contrast in flavors while you’re eating if the three components of the dish- the creamy, cheesy pasta, the buffalo chicken, and the pungent blue cheese- don’t blend fully. It’s so satisfying to bite into each of them separately, and then notice how well they complement each other mid-bite.
Healthy Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Blue Cheese
- 8 ounces dry elbow macaroni enough for 4 cups cooked
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
- 1 cup 1% milk
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese ¾ cup
- 2 ounces crumbled blue cheese ½ cup
- ½ - ⅔ cup hot buffalo wing sauce I like Frank's Red Hot
- Poach the chicken: Place the breasts in a large saucepan or dutch oven, in a single layer, and fill with just enough cold water to cover the chicken by 1 inch. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes depending on how thick the breasts are (check the chicken after 10 minutes). When done, the breasts should be completely opaque on the outside and register 165 degrees on meat thermometer. Cut through the center of one to check doneness so that you don’t accidentally remove all the chicken too soon. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let cool slightly until before shredding with two forks.
- Once shredded, stir in the hot sauce, adding as much or as little as you like depending on your spice preference.
- Cook the elbow macaroni according to package directions.
- While the macaroni cooks, make the cheese sauce: In a small saucepan, whisk together the milk and cornstarch. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat slightly to a simmer. Stir in the butter. When the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, add the cheddar cheese and stir until the cheese has melted and the mixture is silky and well blended.
- Place your cooked, drained pasta in a large bowl. Pour the cheese sauce over it and stir to combine. Stir the chicken into the pasta, followed by the crumbled blue cheese. Serve immediately.