I often wonder where the Scottish love of macaroni (and) cheese began, in fact the love of macaroni in general. I read my Gran’s cookbooks from the twenties and macaroni was already a staple in the Scottish kitchen, probably brought over by the emigrating Italians of the late 19th and 20th century who had such a wonderfully profound effect on our cuisine, but I stand prepared to be corrected on that one. For me macaroni cheese has always been a comfort dish, from the midweek primary school nights served with a slice of toast to a favourite ‘recovery’ dish in my student days this has regularly been a go to meal. Therefore when I met Callum Macinnes from The Island Smokery, Orkney at The Royal Highland Show and we spoke smoked cheese, there was instantly only one dish on my mind as he asked what I’d cook with it. He told me that smoky macaroni cheese was a huge favourite with one of their major customers so I but I already aromatic heat in the form of chillies.
The cheese from The Island Smokery is no ordinary smoked cheese. It uses the award winning cheddar from the island as its basis so it’s already off to a good start, they then give it a delicate smoke over 4-8 hours. I used the dark smoked cheddar and the sweet, subtle smokiness which it imparts is a superb foil for the cheese. And what a sublime macaroni cheese it makes. When I brought it from the oven with its wonderful crispy top all I could think of was Frazzles, those amazing smoky bacon crisps from the 80s that would repeat on you all day! The flavour was more subtle with a lovely warming chilli note. I had used mild chillies so no real burn but the great thing is you can use whatever chilli you like therefore you can play with the heat.
Smoky chilli macaroni cheese
50g Butter plus more for dotting
50g Plain Flour
500ml Whole milk
2 Red chillies finely chopped (I used mild)
150g Smoked cheddar grated (plus 25g for topping)
2 slices Bread made into breadcrumbs, around 80g if using shop bought breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper to season
1. Melt the butter over a low heat then add the flour and stir together, cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly and without browning
2. Add one third of the milk and mix to homogenise then add the rest in small amounts, stirring to integrate each time.
3. Once you’ve added all the milk add the chillies and cook for a further 3-4 minutes over a low heat, stirring constantly, to thicken. Add the cheese and stir together to melt. Season with salt as required and a good grinding of black pepper.
4. Meanwhile cook the macaroni as per the packet instructions. When al dente, drain and add to the smoked cheese sauce. Mix together and pour into a large over proof dish.
5. Cover with the breadcrumbs and then a good grating of cheese. Dot with a little butter and cook in the top of an oven at 160C for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately.