Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pepper Jack Mac

A word of warning before we begin:  Consuming a generous helping of Pepper Jack Mac can induce feelings of Euphoria after the fact.  This one was baked up in a nice Emile Hendry Burgundy-clay pie plate, preheated in a 400 degree oven.

So what is Pepper Jack Mac?  It's Mac-N-Cheese made with Habanero pepper Jack cheese rather than cheddar.  Vermont Sharp Cheddar is the type Thomas Jefferson (a Libra) chose to make his famous american original.  It's very nice, but not particularly sharp.  A great deal of flavor can be injected by selecting Habanero Pepper Jack cheese over cheddar.  You might try them in a 50/50 combo blend to see if you like it.

I do not recommend Jalapeño Jack because the Jalapeño has a nasty, bitter flavor.  The pain you experience eating a Jalapeño does not come from any capsaicin burn.  Rather, it is your taste-buds rejecting that acrid and bitter flavor that is very unnatural on the pallet.

Contrary to some popular opinion, the Jalapeño is not a hot pepper.  It scores only a 1,000 on the Scoville rating system.  The Habenero is 10x hotter, scoring a 10,000, and it is still not that hot.  The notorious Ghost Chili (Bhut Jolokia) is a really hot pepper.  It scores 1,000,000 (one million) on the Scoville scale.  The Jalapeño also suffers greatly from quality control issues.  Some have no flavor at all.  Some will blow your mouth out, and not in a good way.  Avoid the Jalapeño.  It's fairly worthless and useless.

No friends, the Habanero is the real chili pepper.  It has a very nice and sweet flavor after a decent capsaicin burn.  This is the chili as mother nature intended.  That is why this pepper is the foundation of the entire Jamaican culinary tradition.  Incidentally, Jerk Chicken and Pepper Pot are absolutely delicious.  If you haven't tried them, you are truly missing out on the finest thing in life.

Habanero Jack Cheese is outstanding in every respect.  It has enough sting to make it interesting, but the milk protein and fat both cut the effect down so that anyone can enjoy the sweet tangy flavor the Habenero injects into (what is otherwise) a very dull cheese.

Baking this cheese into a Mac-N-Cheese, concentrates all these flavors by removing water, carmelizing,  and adding salt to the equation.  What you get is a pretty powerful culinary experience.  We're talking about flavors that explode in your mouth.  It's a big-bang experience, and not in a bad way.  It also leaves you with a very nice after-glow.

Biologists who have studied why humans seem to like capsaicin-tinged foods have come to the conclusion that capsaicin stimulates the pleasure regions of the Limbic system.  Eat enough capsaicin, and you will encounter feelings of euphoria not unlike those experienced after a tremendous workout.   These feelings are usually encountered no more than 15-20 minutes later.  The net effect is that we walk away from the table with a feeling we had a heck of a meal.

The recipe I used was essentially the one Alton Brown cooked up in "For Whom the Cheese Melts II".  This  was the episode where he taught little Alton how to make a Mac-N-Cheese.  You can see it here:

I made a few simple modifications.  The recipe is simple:

  • 1 ounce flour
  • 1 ounce butter
  • 16 ounces of heavy cream
  • 8 ounces skim milk
  • 8 ounces Habanero Pepper Jack
  • 8 ounces Super-Sharp Cheddar
  • 2 ounces Panko bread crumbs
  • table spoon dry mustard powder
  • half-teaspoon paprika
  • 4 ounces diced onions
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 stick of Rosemary
  • 3 twigs of thyme
  • 2 eggs
The prep and cooking technique was the same.  I used fresh herbs in this case, and they brought a ton of flavor to the party.  This one really popped.

The worst aspect of the entire procedure is grinding the cheese, but this need not be an issue if you have a decent food processor.  I have one of the best, and it made very short work out of 16 ounces of cheese.  Two grinds and I was done.