Whether we are Irish or not, it's that special time in March where a lot of us celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Plans are made with friends, green is part of our wardrobe, and we look forward to some of the usual feasts of the holiday week.
As we create our own menus or peruse the offerings of our favorite hangouts, some look for those classic dishes like corned beef and cabbage or shepherd’s pie. Secretly there is a part of us that gets excited when we see a modification to the model Irish fare that is usually served in America.
There is a comfort to knowing what is going to be served but there is also some disappointment if the meal doesn’t match the memories. A lot of people are completely content with every holiday having an assigned menu but there are those of us who like to mix it up a little.
As an experienced home cook who has been married for almost 25 years, one of my agreed upon uxorial duties is planning our meals. I love this task but will admit that there are times that I throw my hands up in the air with boredom trying to make our dinners exciting…. especially around holidays.
Some say you shouldn’t mess with the classics but where would we all be if we didn’t push the limit every now and then? Think about the development of fashion, the auto industry and house design over the years. There seems to always be an aspect of original concept tied in with an alternative train of thought. (Please note that I did not include movies on this list.)
This is the exact same theory behind recreating a classic recipe. How do you balance the homage to the Norman Rockwellian family tradition with the excitement of a new flavor or presentation at dinner?
The answer is quite easy. You unapologetically build off the archetypal dish while making sure the dish still makes sense. My example is the Reuben evolution. Many people think of this sandwich as part of Irish lore but it really was an innovation developed in America that reinvented the Irish immigrant dish called corned beef and cabbage. Traditional corned beef was also something that was recreated to fit a “menu.” Corned beef was actually a term to describe meat being cured with salt the size of corn kernels. It all changes and yet it all stays the same.
By utilizing a few of the original components, I played with a recipe of a Reuben macaroni and cheese. The Reuben aspect was easy…. use some corned beef and sauerkraut. Rye bread crumbs were too overpowering so I toasted some caraway seeds and mixed those into my regular buttery bread crumbs.
The rest was simple macaroni and cheese magic. Did it scream Reuben? No. Would I have ordered this if I saw it on a St. Patrick’s Day menu at my favorite pub? Heck yes! Because it is a fun twist on a classic.
My personal takeaway is that these expansions of our favorite dishes are fun to create and if done correctly, fabulous to eat. I think it fails when people try to get too hokey on a theme. (Like I could have used spinach noodles to make it a “lucky” green.) Remember that our goal isn’t to rebrand all the recollections of meals from our past but a way to tell the same story to an evolving audience.
It only seemed fitting to end this blog with an Irish saying and I thought this one really applies to changing up a classic recipe:
“May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been.
The foresight to know where you are going.
And the insight to know when you’ve gone too far.”
Reuben Mac and Cheese
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Serves 4 (as a meal)
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
For the bread crumb mixture:
Note: If you like a super crispy top, make a double recipe. These pictures only depict a single batch.
1 Tablespoon butter
1/2 cup breadcrumbs made from crushed stale bread
Hearty pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds (Roughly ground)
1. In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium low heat.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and toss frequently with a spatula until evenly toasty about 3-4 minutes. You could also mix the ingredients on a sheet pan and toast them in an oven.
3. Set aside.
For the macaroni and cheese:
8 ounces favorite cylindrical pasta
3 Tablespoons salted butter
3 Tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
4 ounces each:
- Extra-sharp white Cheddar cheese, shredded
- Gruyere cheese, shredded
Note: Don’t use packaged shredded cheese because there is a usually a preservative on those cheeses that keep them from clumping so they sometimes do not create a homogenous sauce.
Salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces cooked corned beef, chopped up
4 ounces sauerkraut, finely chopped
Extra tablespoon of butter for greasing pan
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease 8 x 8 2 quart casserole dish and set aside. (Dishes need not be holiday centric.)
3. Cook pasta per package directions. Do not overcook. You will be baking the dish in the oven so the pasta will cook a little bit more. Set aside.
4. In a 5-quart Dutch oven, melt butter medium heat.
5. Add flour, and cook, stirring, until lightly golden. About 5-10 minutes.
6. Gradually whisk in milk and cream while whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, whisking until thickened, 5-10 minutes. Do not rush trying to thicken the milk by raising the heat too high.
7. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Don’t go too crazy on the salt because the corned beef you are adding will be salty.
8. Remove from heat. You don’t want to add the cheese when it is on the heat.
9. Stir in cheese a handful at a time until it is all melted.
Note: This recipe makes a tad more sauce then one needs. I highly recommend mixing the next set of ingredients in a separate bowl in order to not over sauce your dish. I used the extra sauce the next day on a bowl of noodles I made for lunch.
10. In a large separate bowl, add the pasta and about three ladles of sauce. Make sure every crevice of the pasta is coated. If not, gradually add more sauce.
11. Add the corned beef and the sauerkraut. Take a taste. Adjust seasoning.
12. Add to the buttered pan and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
13. Bake on a baking sheet (just in case it overflows) for about 25 minutes. It should be golden and bubbly. If you like an extra brown top, broil for a minute or two to crisp it up.
14. Serve it with your favorite ale or eat it with your favorite pal.
Discover more Irish favorites like Shepherd’s Pie and Irish Soda Bread by joining our Hands-On St. Paddy’s Day class at Lincoln Square tomorrow, Friday, March 17 at 6pm.
Or stay in and join our Virtual Luck O’ The Irish class on Friday, March 17 at 6:30pm and cook an Irish Pub Salad and Cheddar Guinness Soup with Irish Soda Biscuits.
Reuben Mac and Cheese
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs made from crushed stale bread
- Hearty pinch of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds (Roughly ground)
- 8 ounces favorite cylindrical pasta
- 3 Tablespoons salted butter
- 3 Tablespoons flour
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 4 ounces each extra-sharp white Cheddar cheese, shredded and Gruyere cheese, shredded
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 ounces cooked corned beef, chopped up
- 4 ounces sauerkraut, finely chopped
- Extra tablespoon of butter for greasing pan
- In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium low heat.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and toss frequently with a spatula until evenly toasty about 3-4 minutes. You could also mix the ingredients on a sheet pan and toast them in an oven.
- Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Grease 8 x 8 2 quart casserole dish and set aside.
- Cook pasta per package directions. Do not overcook. Set aside.
- In a 5-quart Dutch oven, melt butter medium heat.
- Add flour, and cook, stirring, until lightly golden. About 5-10 minutes.
- Gradually whisk in milk and cream while whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, whisking until thickened, 5-10 minutes. Do not rush trying to thicken the milk by raising the heat too high.
- Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
- Remove from heat.
- Stir in cheese a handful at a time until it is all melted.
- In a large separate bowl, add the pasta and about three ladles of sauce. Make sure every crevice of the pasta is coated. If not, gradually add more sauce.
- Add the corned beef and the sauerkraut. Take a taste. Adjust seasoning.
- Add to the buttered pan and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
- Bake on a baking sheet (just in case it overflows) for about 25 minutes. It should be golden and bubbly. If you like an extra brown top, broil for a minute or two to crisp it up.