The first time I tasted the spicy, buttery goodness of buffalo sauce was at Chili’s in my freshman year of college. I ordered the buffalo chicken sandwich, and was so enamored by it that it became my go to order for at least the next year and a half. Being the health conscious college student that I was, I remember only eating half my order and taking the rest home, a decision I regretted in the morning when reheated it didn’t turn quite back into the masterpiece that hot deep fried chicken freshly smothered in buffalo sauce is.
Over the years I’ve had my fair share of buffalo chicken cuisine: sandwiches, wings, pizza, salads and what brings us here today, mac & cheese.
Let me preface this by saying that I think mac & cheese is beautiful all by itself. I can eat an entire pan of its velvety goodness, crunchy topping not optional. It doesn’t need buffalo sauce, but sometimes it’s nice when good ol’ dependable mac & cheese gets a little spicy.
Start by cooking a pound of small conchiglie (pasta shells) al dente. While your pasta cooks try saying “conchiglie” 5 times fast.
Grate the cheddar and jalapeno pepper jack. I highly recommend buying quality cheese in blocks, and grating it yourself. I used to use pre-grated cheese in just about everything, until one day I bought a hunk of cheddar for one thing or another (probably baked mac & cheese to be completely honest) and grated it myself. I’ve since become somewhat of a cheese evangelist in that regard.
Shred some chicken, because I hear grown ups put protein in their meals. I put a pound of salted chicken breasts in a slow cooker with about 1/3 cup of water and cooked on high for about 2-3 hours until they shred easily with a fork. You can use rotisserie chicken, leftover grilled chicken or even canned chicken.
Next, make a roux with butter and flour, then whisk in milk, cream, Frank’s Wing Sauce and grated cheese. Frank’s Original Hot Sauce works well too if that’s what you have on hand, though there’s less kick. Then combine the sauce with the cooked pasta and chicken.
The crunchy topping is why I prefer my mac & cheese baked, making it arguably the most important part of baked mac & cheese. To make the topping melt butter and mix with panko bread crumbs.
Assemble in a casserole dish. This particular pan is 10″ x 6.5″. A standard 8″ x 8″ pan is roughly the same size. Bake at 400°F for about 15 minutes, until the topping begins to brown and the sauce starts bubbling. Top each plate with bleu cheese before serving.
Buffalo Chicken Baked Mac & Cheese
Ingredients-1 pound of small conchiglie (pasta shells), cooked al dente
-1 pound of chicken breast, cooked and shredded
For the Sauce:
-1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
-1-1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
-2 cups milk
-1 cup heavy whipping cream
-1/4 cup Frank’s Wing Sauce¹
-4 ounces jalapeno pepper jack cheese, shredded
-4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
-Salt and black pepper to taste
For the Topping:
-4 tablespoons unsalted butter
-1 cup plain panko breadcrumbs
-4-6 ounces Bleu cheese, crumbled to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- For the sauce: In a large sauce pan melt 1-1/2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, and whisk in the flour to make a roux. Continue whisking and slowly add the milk over several additions, ensuring that each addition is fully incorporated before adding the next one. Whisk in the cream and Frank’s Wing Sauce. Continue heating, stirring frequently to prevent burning the sauce, until the sauce comes to a boil then remove from heat. Stir in the cheese until it melts into the sauce and season with salt and black pepper to taste.
- Combine the sauce, cooked pasta and shredded chicken and transfer to a baking dish. The sauce should be runny, and will thicken as it bakes.
- For the topping: Melt 4 tablespoons of butter, and combine with the panko breadcrumbs. Spread evenly over the mac & cheese in the baking dish. Bake at 400°F for about 15 minutes until the bread crumbs begin to brown and the sauce is bubbling.
- Top each plate with about 1 ounce (or to taste) of crumbled bleu cheese before serving.²
¹Frank’s Original Hot Sauce may be used in place of Frank’s Wing Sauce, though it will have less kick.
²Bleu cheese has a strong flavor. Be careful when topping not to overwhelm the dish with it.