Southwestern Macaroni and Cheese

When our friends hosted a mac and cheese cook-off, my wife and I tried cooking a bunch of different versions before settling on this one. It’s original while still keeping enough qualities of traditional mac and cheese.

This is a great dish to bring to a potluck because it travels easily and is something to eat that isn’t barbeque.

The foundation for this recipe comes from the 2009 edition of American Classics by Cook’s Illustrated.

Macaroni and cheese ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups macaroni (Cook’s Illustrated determined Barilla Elbows was the best brand of macaroni)
  • 9 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 3 ounces monterey jack cheese, grated
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 12-ounce cans evaporated milk
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce (use Tapatio instead of Tabasco)
  • 3/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 6-ounce can corn, drained
  • 1 4-ounce can diced jalapeños, drained

Topping ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 ounces white corn tortilla chips (about 25 large restaurant-style chips), crumbled
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Step 1. Bring a large pot half-filled with water and seasoned with 2 teaspoons of salt to a boil. Also set the oven to 350 degrees F. Add the noodles and cook until they are al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/3 cup pasta water.

Step 2. While the pasta is cooking, grate the cheese. It really helps to have a food processor for this step.




Step 3. In the pasta pot over medium heat melt the butter. Once the butter has started foaming, add the flour, whisking to combine. Cook for about 1 minute, until the roux has started to brown.


Step 4. Add the two cans of evaporated milk and the pasta water, whisking constantly. You don’t want any clumps of flour. To make the cans of milk easy to pour, remember to poke an air hole on the opposite side of the large pouring hole.

Step 5. Add the seasonings (hot sauce, salt, cumin and chili powder) and whisk some more, then cook until the sauce begins to simmer and has slightly thickened, about 4 minutes.


Step 6. With the heat off, whisk in the cheese, one half at a time. Then add the noodles and the drained cans of corn and jalapeños, stirring to coat and combine.



Step 7. Now make the tortilla chip topping. To the food processor you used to grate the cheese (no need to clean in between), add the crumbled chips, the melted butter and the parmesan cheese. Process until finely ground (but not a paste), 15-20 seconds.

Step 8. Pour the cheese and noodle mixture into a 9×13-inch pan. Cover evenly with the tortilla chip topping. Bake for 25 minutes, then stick under the broiler for 3-5 minutes more, until the topping has browned. (Keep a close eye on the mac and cheese during this stage. The topping can go from brown to burnt quickly.) Let sit for 10 minutes and then serve. This dish reheats beautifully.

Sticking the mac and cheese under the broiler before serving makes a difference. Clockwise from upper left: Uncooked with no topping; uncooked with topping; cooked in the oven; cooked under the broiler.




  • Max

    This looks delicious but I don’t know if it can compete with my green onion, pancetta and truffle mac and cheese.  

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