This isn’t my first mac and cheese recipe, and I assure you, it won’t be my last. You see, I love how pasta noodles encased in a cheesy cream sauce is a culinary delivery for the spicy flavors of Cajun ingredients like shrimp and tasso. It is this tasty combination that comes together in a delicious dish.
This is not your simple boxed mac and cheese; there’s lots going on here, so let’s back up and dissect the recipe. First, I won’t complicate the choice of pasta noodle; it’s elbow mac all the way. But that’s where the plain and simple gives way to Cajun culinary flavor. Shrimp and tasso are a common combination in the Cajun cooking bag of tricks; the smoky, spicy tasso sausage infuses flavor into the briny Gulf shrimp. The holy trinity of aromatics blends beautifully with the savory depth of mushroom taste, and the creamy cheeses (both Cheddar and Fontina) cloak the ingredients with a rich, velvety robe of flavor. And to top it all off, I’m adding a crust of crunchy pork cracklin’s as the “spicing on the cake.”
We all know mac and cheese is the perfect comfort food, and now it’s the perfect Cajun food, too. Try this Shrimp and Tasso version; I assure you it will forever redefine mac and cheese for you.
- 1 (16-ounce) package elbow macaroni noodles
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ cup diced yellow onion
- ½ cup diced celery
- ½ cup diced green bell pepper
- 1 cup chopped mushrooms (button or portobello)
- 1 cup chopped tasso or smoked ham
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
- 1 cup shredded Fontina cheese
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound jumbo (16/20 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 cup crushed pork cracklin's or pork skins
- Preheat your oven to 350ºF.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Following the package directions, add the noodles and cook until fully cooked. Strain the noodles and keep warm for later use.
- In a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, add the butter. Once the butter is sizzling, add the onion, celery, bell pepper, mushrooms, and tasso. Cook until the onions turn translucent and the mushrooms and tasso just begin to brown, about 8 minutes.
- Sprinkle the mixture with flour, and add the milk and cream. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer.
- Add the cheeses and season with white pepper, hot sauce, and a pinch of salt to taste. Add the cooked macaroni noodles to the skillet and stir into the mixture.
- Once the mixture thickens, add the shrimp, distributing them evenly throughout the skillet.
- Sprinkle over the crushed pork cracklin's, and move the skillet to the hot oven.
- Bake just until the mixture begins to bubble and the top begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately with hot French bread on the side.
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