One should not live to eat as that philosophy is fraught with danger. But there are edible pleasures that one could die for.
That statement is somewhat contradictory as the act of living is partly based on nutrient intake and the dying is hardly the consequence of anything pleasurable. Until one eats twisty swirly aged cheddar cheese savoury macaroni pie.
It could be longer. But I get ahead of myself.
The macaroni pie is a prize winning dish in West Indian folklore handed down from the English since the 14th century. The dish is a singular but consistent standout on the Sunday menu in many Caribbean islands moving from being associated with the upper income households to normal fare with all folk in the islands. There is significant rivalry each Sunday as the traditional fare of red beans, Spanish or Savoury rice, stewed pork, cold slaw, calalloo with pig tail, fresh salad, baked chicken, curried duck, plantains and vie for honours lying side by side on the table waiting for the effort of self service or maternal distribution to be consumed.
The inter-dish rivalry is unspoken but essentially flavourful as preferences influence selection and eventual consumption in some order. Tradition is important to the process. There are new options entering the fray however the old favourites still hold sway with family members, both the young and old.
Comfort food with a new twist is the subject of this piece for indeed macaroni pie is comfort food. Macaroni pie says that ‘everything is ok’. This recipe for macaroni pie was divulged by Jocelyn who is never hesitant to try new things as seen on the Food Channel (which is another rivalry among Prime Time stations that is worth discussing at another time).
Jocelyn has never used straight macaroni for her pies. Among old adherents of the macaroni pie (hereafter referred to as ‘pie’) this is almost blasphemous. The straight macaroni (also called the fat macaroni as opposed to sphaghetti which is a cousin to the fat version, slimmer but just as straight). Jocelyn is prepared to face her Maker with twisty swirly macaroni which is never packaged long but comes in short stubs, almost like macaroni which has experienced stunted growth.
For Jocelyn there is therefore no breaking of the macaroni into smaller pieces as her twisty swirly is short and ready to be loaded into the breach (analogous to the insertion of rounds into the rifle for discharge save that the twisty swirly goes into a pot with hot water for ten to twelve minutes).
While her twisty swirly short ones are slowly reaching to a boil to form the solid base for the ‘pie’, Jocelyn empties her packages of aged cheddar cheese in ample amounts. Aged cheddar instead of regular cheddar is preferred as the age brings a sharpness to the flavour as opposed to the less mature cheese. Aged cheddar is the same pale yellow in complexion and brings more experience to the concoction and with experience comes poise and panache.
Aged cheddar is also crumbly at source negating the persistent grating needed for regular cheddar (grating is dangerous to the inexperienced hand and should never be attempted without a grating mentor). The cheese is placed in a medium sized bowl in anticipation of the climatic chorus of ingredients.
The water in which the twisty swirly macaroni is was boiled is strained and the macaroni is placed in a separate bowl. This is the bowl in which the majestic mixture takes place. Following on the heels of the macaroni are two dabs of mustard, several dashes white pepper powder, an ample dip of mayonnaise and the undisputed delight that adds the savoury finish: sautéed onions.
Sautéing onions simply means to cook them in a pan that is coated with butter or oil until the onions are tender. This cooking method can be flexible — it does not matter what kind of onions you use or how you cut them up. Some recipes call for cooking the onions until tender but not brown, while others continue cooking until caramelized or golden. Caramelized or golden, rings or cubes, sautéed onions deepen the flavour of the pie, enrich the aroma and tease the taste buds. For this pie the onions are diced as each piece of onion is meant to contribute flavour, Size and crunch are ill-advised and must be countered on the chopping board.
The aged cheddar is added to the mixture allowing the twisty swirly short ones to maintain some structure so that the overall mixture is not too soft. This is important as texture can spoil the dish at the end. Too soft will encourage rapid consumption and less attention to enjoyment. Soft but with structure over layered with a hard crust is a jewel of a pie.
Milk is added along with butter (never margarine or anything that you can’t believe looks like butter) and two beaten eggs to create that lightness in each slice when the final masterpiece is cut. The entire mixture is added to a two inch rectangular glass dish so that the pie isn’t too deep and the aged cheddar makes his way along the centre of the dish forming a layer that amplifies the texture with every bite. The baking of pie makes for spectacular viewing especially in those modern ovens that stand as high as the kitchen counter and prevent you from bending over.
We now turn our attention to the crust.
The crust of a pie can make or break the presentation. The crust is really the portal to fine pie and must be sliced with care. A hard crust can create pie haters as the tough exterior can detract from the rich inner layer. Too soft a crust is not worthy of pie. This is just mac and cheese (a Wednesday evening filler now available in a box with powdered cheese). The crust has to look hard but be responsive to deliberate slicing. The crust also has to emerge from the heat of the oven with a golden brown colour which states that it is not burnt. Texture again is crucial to the experience.
Jocelyn places tortilla chips is a sandwich bag and crushes to small bits with a rolling pin (or bilna). No tortilla escapes the onslaught. These tortilla bits are then added to the aged cheddar crumbles and layered amply to top off the twisty swirly, savoury sautéed onion, mayonnaise daubed, white pepper powdered and mustard invoked combo.
After an hour of baking a pie emerges and takes centre stage on a Sunday table.
This dish is one of a kind. Normal it is not. Its magnificence is short-lived as it is only a pie that has to die.