Sriracha Fried Chicken Mac and Cheese is a surprising recipe that mixes rich, spicy and sweet. The addition of maple butter takes the chicken and waffles archetype and turns it into a modern comfort food classic.
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The Recipe Details
In order to maximize time, let the chicken marinate while you do the other prep work; grating the cheese, making the spice blend, preparing and measuring out all the ingredients, etc.
For the chicken, do not skip the marinade. It makes the chicken retain moisture and really imparts the sriracha flavour into the meat. The most important thing to get a really good fried chicken is the temperature of the oil. It’s important to heat the oil slightly above the recommended heat because when the chicken pieces are added, the temperature of the oil may lower – resulting in soggy chicken.
It’s also best to buy a block of cheese and grate it yourself instead of buying the pre-grated kind. It’s good to save on time, but it’s more expensive and has additives that can affect the way the cheese melts. Take the extra few minutes to grate it yourself. If you really want to skip the effort, you can use your food processor with the shred setting.
For the recipe, I used both smoked gouda and cheddar, specifically old cheddar for the tang. You can use any kinds of you want, but focus on two with different profiles. Also, avoid using cheese like mozzarella that doesn’t melt well into the roux sauce. Substitutions would be Asiago, Gruyere, Monterey Jack or any varieties of blue cheese / brie – keep in mind to remove the rinds from these before adding to the sauce.
In terms of maple butter, it is optional but really rounds out the flavour composition of the dish. Most recipes that have some aspect of sweet, salty, sour and umami have the most rounded taste overall. It’s really easy to overdo the sweetness with the maple butter, so be light-handed. Although the butter is quite sweet, it’s less sweet than just pouring maple syrup over the chicken. The flavour combination between sriracha and maple is outstanding on it’s own, the perfect balance of sweet and spicy to compliment the saltiness of the coating. If you want a spicier piece of meat, just be slightly heavy handed with the sriracha in the marinade, or add in more cayenne.
What and Who Inspired This Recipe
At the beginning of 2020, everyone in my province was directed to self isolate to their homes as much as possible. This quarantine period caused many people to start going stir crazy. In order to make people feel more connected, Jason Gallant from Hub City Foodies and his fellow organizer Matt Pennel created the Covid Challenge. This was a weekly quarantine challenge with a theme where people competed to win prizes from Moncton businesses. All of a sudden, my newsfeed filled with delicious pictures of Macaroni and Cheese. Is there a better way to bring people together while they’re distancing?
The first challenge Jason and Matt did was a Mac and Cheese cook-off. My submission was a two cheese Mac and Cheese topped with Sriracha Fried Chicken and Maple Butter. Even though my partner somehow doesn’t like cheese, he said this dish was a winner. This pasta is creamy, rich and incredibly filling. Although this meal is delicious, it’s best for days when you don’t have to leave the house.
Cast Iron vs Other Cooking Vehicles
I served the meal in these cast iron pans from Lodge that I purchased on Amazon (Canada) (US). They are the perfect size for individual portions. I think that everyone should have a collection of cast iron pans. America’s Test Kitchen ranked Lodge as their top cast iron choice. Cast iron isn’t mandatory, but it really does create a great texture in foods like Mac and Cheese.
If you can’t or don’t want to use a cast iron, an oven proof baking dish is a good secondary option. It won’t deliver the same crust but is still great. Do not skip baking the Mac and Cheese as it alters not only the texture but the taste of the crust.
Sriracha Fried Chicken Mac and Cheese with Maple Butter
- 4 Mini Cast Iron Pans, or 1 Medium Cast Iron Pan
Sriracha Fried Chicken
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 tbsp sriracha
- 2 chicken breasts
- 1 cup flour
- 2 tsp thyme
- 2 tsp mustard powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp cayenne powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- peanut oil for frying
Two Cheese Mac and Cheese
- 1/2 lb elbow macaroni
- 1/4 cup butter unsalted
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1 1/4 cup cream 18%
- 2 cup cheddar cheese grated
- 1 cup smoked gouda grated
- 1/2 tsp mustard powder
- 1/8 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 4 tsp maple butter
- parsley optional
Sriracha Fried Chicken
- Combine sriracha and buttermilk. Cut chicken breasts in half lengthwise and add to buttermilk marinade. Let sit in the fridge for an hour, up to 3 hours to marinade.
- Heat oil in a large pot, dutch oven or deep fryer to 360 degrees. The cooking temperature should be 350 degrees, but adding the chicken will lower the temperature.
- Mix together flour, thyme, mustard powder, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper to create a flour dredge coating.
- Remove chicken from fridge and shake off excess buttermilk. Coat in flour mixture. Repeat process of buttermilk and flour coating 2 times.
- Cook chicken until browned and cooked internally, about 3 minutes per side (juices should run clear) or a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees for food safety. Set aside on a wire rack to wait for assembly.
Two Cheese Mac and Cheese
- Preheat oven to 365 degrees. Lightly grease your dish of choice – preferably cast iron but any oven safe baking dishes work fine.
- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook to package instructions for al dente, minus 1 minute. Drain and set aside in a bowl – mix noodles with a bit of cooking oil to prevent from sticking.
- Grate the cheese if it isn't already and mix cheeses together. Divide into 3 groups, 1/2 of it for the sauce and two 1/4 groups for the casserole and topping respectively.
- Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt in butter until slightly bubbled but not brown, add in flour and whisk to combine. Cook for about a minute to cook out the flour. Slowly incorporate the milk and half and half while whisking constantly. Allow to thicken enough that it coats the back of a spoon – thicker than cream but less thick than condensed soup. Make sure to whisk constantly to avoid the sauce burning or sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Remove from heat and mix in the remaining spices and the 1/2 section of cheese. Allow the cheese to melt completely. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked pasta, cheese sauce and one of the 1/4 of the grated cheese. Place in your oven safe dish and top with the remaining 1/4 of cheese.
- Bake for 15 minutes uncovered until bubbly around the edges. If the top isn't browned to your liking, place the oven on broil. Watch closely to avoid burning the cheese.
- If you're using individual cast iron pans (recommended), place a piece of chicken on top of the mac and cheese and top the chicken with 1 tsp of maple butter, or to taste. Optionally, garnish the dish with fresh parsley. Serve immediately.
- If using a large baking dish, divide the mac into cheese into desired portions (about 4) and place chicken on top of the mac and cheese. Place 1 tsp of maple butter on the chicken. Optionally, garnish with fresh parsley.
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