Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to macaroni and cheese. Whether your recipe is simple and reliant on store-bought Velveeta or more gourmet involving a roux and some fancy French cheese, there really are no steadfast rules to making an epic mac n’ cheese on the fly.
While the pasta dish can be embellished with add-ins like bacon, mushrooms and even lobster, one of the easiest ways to heighten it — or any cheesy sauce, for that matter — is by adding a good splash of wine. Wine can make (almost) anything taste better when served alongside a meal, but incorporating it into the recipe itself is a classic technique chefs use to turn even the simplest dishes into something truly epic without having to chop or wash extra ingredients. For the ideal complement to cozy, comforting macaroni and cheese, we’re looking for a bottle from France where dairy is king, wine is queen, and they take cheese seriously: We’re talking Riesling.
This aromatic white wine hailing from Alsace, the Grand-Est region of France that borders both Germany and Switzerland, has been used in Alsacian cooking for centuries: It transforms chicken, bacon, and mushrooms in the aptly named coq au Riesling, and can help create a rich sauce for spaetzle, an Alsatian noodle dish very similar to our own macaroni-and-cheese combo. Unlike Pinot Blanc or Chardonnay, Riesling can give your dish a slightly acidic and zingy taste with a hint of citrus to balance out a creamy sauce. By replacing some of your mac n’ cheese recipe’s full-fat milk or cream with Riesling, it also allows for a lighter cream sauce, which is perfect for serving in the summer.
Didier Roeckel, chef at restaurant La Couronne in Scherwill, Alsace, confirms that fortifying a creamy sauce with Riesling is common in a range of Alsatian dishes. Roeckel says he adds Riesling to many of his own dishes, including his house-made terrine, baeckeoffe, and chicken and bull’s testicles in Riesling sauce. He’s also widely known for creating a Riesling soup (or “Ries’s Soup”), which employs more than 1 liter of Riesling to produce just 2 liters of soup.
A general rule of thumb when cooking with Riesling or any alcohol is to boil off the alcohol content to mellow any harshness of the booze. This can be done by either deglazing the pan with Riesling or setting the booze alight, also known as flambé, to evaporate the excess alcohol.
According to Roeckel, Riesling added to the pan for deglazing should be reduced down to at least a third. “The addition of Riesling produces acide résiduel, which essentially means to achieve a slightly acidic taste,” says the chef, a technique that can result in light and slightly citrusy sauce for those looking to give their ho-hum mac n’ cheese recipe a revamp without any additional drudgery.
Riesling Mac n’ Cheese Recipe
- ¼ cup diced onions or shallots
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed
- ½ cup lardons or chunky bacon, diced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cups cream
- 1 cup dry Riesling
- 4 ounces Munster cheese from Alsace or Swiss gruyere, grated
- 2 ounces grated parmesan
- 2 cups dry pasta
- In a pan, sweat the garlic, onions or shallots in the oil until soft but not brown. Add in the bacon and drain off any extra grease if you want.
- Add in the Riesling to deglaze the pan and reduce by half. Add in the cream and bring to a soft simmer until the mixture is reduced by one-third.
- Add in grated gruyere and parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside,
- Cook your choice of pasta according to its instructions until al dente and drain.
- Stir the cooked pasta into the sauce and serve.