This is a hands-down-favorite appetizer. Any time I have the kids home, my extended family or a group from work, this is always requested. The bites are easy to make as you can prep them the night before.
5 T. unsalted butter
1/4 c. plus 2 T. all-purpose flour
4 c. milk (at room temperature)
1 t. dry mustard
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
4 and 3/4 c. sharp cheddar cheese (@16-18 oz) at room temperature
Salt and pepper
1 lb. elbow macaroni
4 large eggs
2 c. panko bread crumbs
“Slap your Mama” Cajun (or other hot pepper) seasoning
1/2 – 3/4 cup safflower oil, for frying plus more for parchment paper
Cook macaroni, al dente, per directions; drain.
In a large pot, melt 4 T. of butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour, and cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is pale golden and has a nutty aroma, about 5 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly add milk. Cook, whisking along bottom of pot until boiling, about 7 minutes. Add dry mustard and cayenne pepper. Reduce heat and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened, about 10–12 minutes. Remove from heat and add remaining 1 T. butter and cheese. Stir until melted and smooth; season with salt and pepper. Add macaroni to sauce and stir to combine.
Line a 9×13-inch baking dish with parchment; brush parchment lightly with oil. Spread macaroni mixture evenly in dish, cover and refrigerate until firm, at least 8 hours. (I usually make mine the night before.)
Invert set macaroni and cheese onto a cutting board and remove parchment. Cut into 1-inch squares with a sharp knife. (You can also cut in squares right in the pan.)
Whisk eggs in a shallow dish. Combine panko bread crumbs and Slap your Mama seasoning (to taste) in another shallow dish. Dip macaroni squares (a few at a time) in eggs, allowing excess to drip off into the dish; then roll squares in the panko mixture to coat completely. Transfer to wire rack set on a baking sheet.
If you have a deep fryer, it is the easiest way to cook the bites. Preheat the oil to 375 degrees F and fry with the acceptable number of bites per your deep fryer’s instructions. Cook about 2–3 minutes and remove when the bites are lightly golden brown.
If you do not have a deep fryer: Heat 2 T. oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Working with batches, add coated squares in a single layer (do not crowd pan); cook, turning occasionally, until all sides are crisp and golden brown, 5–7 minutes total. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined rack to drain and cool slightly.Wipe skillet clean. Repeat process with more oil and remaining squares. Serve warm.
To make ahead: You can refrigerate prepared mac and cheese up to 3 days and then continue with recipe. Once fried, the squares can rest on a baking sheet lined with a wire rack up to 1 hour. Just reheat in 350 F oven (on the rack and sheet) for about 5 minutes.
Serve with ranch dressing (I use the Hidden Valley Ranch Buttermilk packet) and/or spicy ketchup (which is hot sauce–to taste–mixed with ketchup.)