As a kid, my mom always cooked dinner at home from scratch, she wasn’t a fan of all the artificial colors and and flavors in packaged foods, and as a curious kid, I always wondered how other families ate. I’d get little glimpses of what meals were like on the other side when I’d hang out at a friends house. Forbidden treats like Twinkies and Cheetoh’s would would come out, and the twelve year old version of me was always a bit envious.
I think the first time I had macaroni and cheese was when I was around eighteen. I was at a friends house, we got hungry, and he whipped out a box of Kraft, a can of hormel chili and some hot dogs to toss in as well. After leaving the nest for college, and left to my own devices (with an utter distrust of dorm food), Mac’n Cheese and I become good friends. Sometimes salsa would join in, while other times it would be bacon and chili. Like a drunken frat party, it was all fun and games until the hangover set in.
I’ve moved on, and it’s been years since I’ve eyed that tall blue box filled with little pasta elbows and impossibly orange cheese powder, but away from my usual Whole Foods in NYC, I was lured by an endcap display at a local supermarket. I can’t really say I miss my college years, but I figured that if I were going to revisit my early twenties, I may as well do it right; and what better way to relive youthful collegiate exuberance than to take my old favorite and deep fry it?
Having learned a few tricks since college, I made a bechamel to help bind the macaroni balls together. It’s not exactly the kind of thing you’d make in a dorm room, nor does it make the mac and cheese any healthier, but it does wonders for the boxed cheese flavor. When fried, the balls have a crispy breadcrumb shell on the outside with soft luscious macaroni, and cheesy sauce that oozes out from the center. The generous dusting of cheese at the end brings it all together in a cheesy, crispy, creamy mouthful that’s hard to resist.
Fried Mac & Cheese Balls
makes 8 balls
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoon flour
3/4 cup half and half
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 packed cup leftover mac & cheese (I used Kraft)
1/2 cup flour
1 beaten egg
1 cup panko (you can also use regular bread crumbs)
pecorino or parmesan cheese for serving
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the flour and stir vigorously until the mixture is bubbling. Remove the pan from the heat, then slowly whisk in the half and half until it is fully incorporated and there are no lumps. Return the pan to a medium-low heat stove and use a silicone spatula to continuously scrape the bottom of the pan to keep the sauce from burning. When the sauce is thick and bubbly, remove the pan from the heat and add the mac & cheese. Stir to combine, then taste for salt and adjust as needed. Cool to room temperature, then place the mixture into the fridge to harden.
Once the macaroni mixture has cooled, it will be very firm. Use a spoon to scoop out a 1 1/2″ ball, then roll it between your hands to make it round, pressing down a bit to remove any air pockets. You should be able to make about 8 balls.
Add about 2 inches of oil into a heavy bottomed pot. Turn the heat onto medium high, and watch for the temperature to reach about 320 degrees F. In the mean time, get 3 shallow bowls out, and put the flour in one, the egg in another and the panko in the third. Roll each ball in the flour to coat evenly, then in the egg (make sure it’s well coated with egg or the panko won’t stick). Lastly, drop the balls in the panko and roll around to coat evenly.
Line a wire rack with paper towels to place the balls on once they’re fried. Fry each ball, rolling them around so they brown evenly until they are golden brown and crisp. Transfer the fried mac and cheese bals to a paper towel lined rack and let them drain. Let them cool for a minute before serving, then top with plenty of grated cheese.