Food & Drink

Is this the best macaroni & cheese yet? (And it has beer)

Beer-Baked Macaroni and Cheese is adapted from the Rackhouse Pub in Denver.
Beer-Baked Macaroni and Cheese is adapted from the Rackhouse Pub in Denver. Juli Leonard/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS

If anything is clear about our readers, it’s that they love a good macaroni and cheese recipe.

Not only is the macaroni and cheese recipe from Poole’s Diner in Raleigh among the most popular recipes we have ever published. But just in the last month or so, I’ve had requests from readers to get the mac-n-cheese recipes from Shane’s Rib Shack, The Pit, Beasley’s Chicken and Honey, all in Raleigh, and Tobacco Road Sports Cafe in Durham.

It’s no wonder. Macaroni and cheese is the classic indulgent dish that restaurants do better than home cooks. Most chefs don’t worry about fat or salt content when creating dishes; their main concern is taste. Meanwhile, home cooks scour ingredient labels or fret about how to cut calories in such a decadent dish.

So I share this gift with our readers: The recipe for the best macaroni and cheese recipe I have ever tasted.

And you have my husband to thank for finding it.

My husband, who cooks more than I do, is always on the lookout for good recipes, especially for those served at the holidays or for special occasions. He’s been on a quest to find a go-to macaroni and cheese recipe for several years. For a while, he settled on Patti Labelle’s macaroni and cheese, which apparently made Oprah cry.

Then he stumbled on this recipe published in 2010 by the Los Angeles Times from the Rackhouse Pub in Denver. With two sticks of butter, 2 cups of half-and-half and five cheeses, it is over-the-top good. The crunchy breadcrumb topping is the perfect contrast to the underlying cheesy, gooey goodness.

Before the dietitians start sending me hate mail, let me be clear: This is not an everyday dish. It’s a once-in-a-while, celebratory, impress-the-dinner-guests dish.

And if you are ever visiting Denver, the Rackhouse Pub still serves it and has added a sixth cheese!

Beer-Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Originally printed in Los Angeles Times’ Culinary SOS column in 2010. Adapted from the Rackhouse Pub in Denver. Note: If you’re not a fan of blue cheese, omit it and add an extra 1 cup cheddar cheese.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup amber beer

2 cups half-and-half

1/2 pound Brie

16 ounces (2 8-ounce packages) cream cheese

1 1/2 cups crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1 (16-ounce) box penne pasta, cooked and drained

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup panko or bread crumbs

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium, heavy-bottom pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to form a light roux. Slowly whisk in the beer and half and half.

Add the Brie and cream cheese to the sauce, stirring until the cheeses are melted and incorporated. Stir in the Gorgonzola, cheddar and 1 cup Parmesan.

Stir in the pasta, taste and adjust the seasonings as desired with salt and pepper (some of the cheese will be salty and the mixture may need only a little salt, if any).

Pour the mixture into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Top the mixture by sprinkling over the remaining Parmesan cheese and panko crumbs. Place the dish in the oven and bake until the sauce is bubbly and the toppings are crisp and golden, about 1 hour.

Cool slightly before serving.

Yield: 12-16 servings.