~ My Stovetop Green Chile Chicken Mac & Cheese ~
How many variations on macaroni and cheese are there? I'm supposing about as many as there are cooks. For the past week, Joe and I have been on a mini-Tex-Mex foodie holiday. You know how that goes, and, it has probably happened to you: once you get a flavor profile going on your palate, you just want to keep going. The same thing seems to happen to us when we eat Chinese or Thai food. All it takes is one yummy dish to start the ball rolling. Todays recipe is being posted to use up a few of this weeks leftover ingredients, and, it has a fun foodie mom story (that would be yours truly) behind it too:
Without naming names, suffice it to say: my kids grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of friends whose mothers made a dish called "chili mac", which I found detestable. It was a Hamburger-Helper-esque meal that combined ground meat, taco seasoning, cheddar cheese and macaroni. My boys loved the stuff, but it was a meal I refused to cook for anyone. Period. I did, however, thanks to a Southern Living Magazine (circa 1986-ish), come up with a version of "green chile chicken mac" that we as a family, loved. The orginal SLM recipe contained no chicken, and, was a bread-crumb-topped side-dish casserole that got baked in the oven. What it did contain were canned green chiles and pepper jack cheese. It was Southern Living's Tex-Mex flavors that caught my eye. I thought it was a great idea (and, quite frankly, innovative considering it was back in the 1980's). What I did to it (using my own kid-friendly, stovetop macaroni and cheese recipe as a guide), was swap out a few ingredients and, voila. My recipe makes a lot, eight hearty servings, but, back in the '80's, I was feeding three hungry boys (+ Joe). Leftovers never went to waste, and, when they became teenagers, there were NO leftovers!
Over the years, I've seen similar recipes for this dish pop up in various magazines, cookbooks and internet sites. But, I've never seen one that caused me pause to stop and change mine. Here's what I don't like about others: they poach their chicken, or, they take a step to the darkside of life and use rotisserie chicken (rotisserie chicken is an abomination). Properly seasoning the chicken up front, and cooking it with Tex-Mex spices that complement it, is the secret to this dish, and, that won't happen if you poach it:
2 pounds chicken tenders, chopped into small, 1/2"-3/4", bite-sized chunks and pieces
1/2 cup finely-diced green onion, light and green part only (Note: Thinly-slice and reserve green tops for garnish.)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 4.5-ounce can chopped green chiles, drained
1/4 cup salsa verde (green salsa), your favorite brand
4 tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning water
4 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups milk
8 ounces grated Monterey Jack w/Jalapeno cheese
8 ounces cubed Velveeta cheese
~ Step 1. To prepare the chicken, at the meaty end of each tenderloin there's a white nub. It's a harmless tendon and don't worry about removing it entirely. The part inside of the tenderloin is paper-thin and unnoticeable after cooking. Using a pair of kitchen shears, clip, remove, and discard the visible tough nub. Using chef's knife, cut the tenders into 1/2"-3/4" bite-sized pieces. Prep the green onion as directed.
~ Step 2. In a 14" chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the cumin, garlic powder, Mexican oregano, sea salt and cayenne pepper. Add the green onions and the chicken. Over medium heat, cook, stirring frequently, until chicken is just cooked through, about 6-8 minutes. Do not brown the chicken!
Remove the pan from the heat, cover and set aside.
~ Step 4. To prepare the macaroni, in an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the macaroni and cook, until al dente, about 5-6 minutes.
Note: Keeping the chef's pan covered during these interim cooking processes is going to keep both the chicken and the pasta steamy warm and moist. All it needs now is some cheese sauce!
Let's get to it:
~ Step 6. To prepare the cheese sauce, in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour. Whisk constantly until the flour has been incorporated into the butter and a thick, pasty, crumbly mass has formed. Slowly add the milk, in increments, about 3/4-1 cup at a time, whisking vigorously after each addition to work out almost all of the lumps.
~ Step 7. Bring the mixture to a very gentle simmer and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 1/2-3 minutes, until nicely-thickened and completely smooth. Turn the heat off but do not remove from stovetop. Add the grated cheeses. Using a large spoon, stir until the cheeses have melted and a glorious cheese sauce has formed!
~ Step 8. Pour cheese sauce into the still warm chicken/pasta mixture. Using a large spoon, gently stir until all ingredients are thoroughly incororporated. Serve immediately garnished with thinly-sliced green tops from the green onions:
Special Equipment List: kitchen shears; cutting board; chef's knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; 8-quart stockpot; colander; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; whisk; large spoon
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)