Kryptonite to the low-carb set and beloved foodstuff of the young and underemployed, macaroni and cheese is a cold weather indulgence second to none. So The Brooklyn Paper set out to create a mac and cheese worthy of one of the best in town, DuMont’s.
The Williamsburg eatery, now in its fifth year, has become a favorite of the hip and hungry, serving up market-fresh cuisine in an elegantly preserved dining room.
Dubbed “Dumac & Cheese,” chef Polo Dobkin’s take on the cheesy dish subs simple cheddar (orange goo to you and me) for artisanal gruyere, parmesan and, yes, cheddar, and features ambrosial bits of cured pork.
And he doesn’t even use elbows, substituting radiatore noodles, baked to a golden crust that whispers suggestively of the treasures within.
A culinary Copperfield, Dobkin naturally would not reveal his secrets. But he did offer this bit of counsel: “The key at DuMont is the quality of our cheese.”
And he did offer hands-on advice: start with a Mornay sauce (think a Bechamel with grated gruyere and parmesan). The result is then further thickened with cream or egg yolk. To that, he adds a pinch of nutmeg and a dash of cayenne pepper.
Hot on the trail of Dobkin’s recipe, we heeded his counsel and sourced our ingredients from only the finest Brooklyn purveyors.
At Bedford Cheese Shop, a four-year-old palace of dairy delights, crusty breads and artisanal meat products, we picked a sturdy hunk of Parmesan and asked the expert cheese mongers to guide us through the rest of our selections. We left the shop with an earthy-yet-subtle gruyere and a knob of top-notch cheddar (now we know why Bedford is the bane of many a foodie’s paycheck).
Next stop was the classic Esposito Pork Store, the legendary shop that has survived Court Street’s slouch towards gentrification. Though our instincts steered us towards pancetta, Dobkin had told us he uses good ol’ American bacon.
A short walk south is Caputo’s: our destination for fresh pasta. Unlike dried noodles, which can be stored in a closet for three years, the high moisture content of fresh pasta means it must be used relatively quickly before it spoils.
With that in mind, we purchased a 16-ounce box of radiatore — a surprisingly affordable indulgence at $3.19.
After a stop at Fairway for our artery-clogging miscellanea (milk, cream and butter), we headed home to pull together our macaroni masterpiece.
To create a Mornay, we turned to our trusty “Larousse Gastronomique” — an indispensable tool for any serious home cook.
While the sauce worked, we fried up a half-cup of bacon — just enough to impart a smoky flavor without detracting from the complexities of the cheese. After cooking the pasta, we folded it into the Mornay.
Next, we poured the mixture into a small cast-iron skillet and topped it with enough cheddar, gruyere and parmesan to cover the surface.
The 400-degree oven turned the top layer into a gorgeous crust of browns and oranges, and we preemptively congratulated our noble gastronomic efforts.
And Dobkin’s, as well. His choice of radiatore pasta was a wise one. Its many ridges hid small rivulets of sauce that oozed into our mouth as we bit through the noodle.
While a true trencherman might have preferred more pork, we stand by our judicious use of bacon.
True, our cheddar (Keen’s) was very grassy and a touch too assertive when combined with the quiet charms of the other two cheeses, but our crust achieved that perfect ratio of goo to crunch, our noodles were dense and satisfying and the sauce, hyperbole aside, was a poem.
Paired with a cool bottle of Old Speckled Hen, our mac ‘n’ cheese revealed the dimension of its flavors with each fondly hewn bite.
But was it as good as DuMont’s? Suffice to say there weren’t many leftovers.
(adapted from Larousse Gastronomique)
Melt butter in a large saucepan and whisk in flour, cooking — but not browning — for about two minutes. Gradually whisk in milk and allow sauce to thicken, stirring often. As sauce thickens, blend the egg yolks with one tablespoon of heavy cream and set aside.
Once the sauce has thickened enough to coat a spoon, gradually melt in cheeses over a low heat and season to taste. When the cheese is incorporated, remove from heat and blend in egg yolk mixture and an additional tablespoon of cream. Return to heat and allow to thicken, stirring often.
DuMont (432 Union Ave. between Devoe Street and Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg) is open for lunch daily and dinner Monday through Saturday. For information call (718) 486-7717.
Esposito Pork Store (357 Court St. between President and Union streets in Carroll Gardens) is open Monday through Saturday from 8 am until 6 pm and on Sunday from 9 am until 2 pm. For information call (718) 875-6863.
Caputo’s (460 Court St between Third and Fourth places in Carroll Gardens) is open Monday through Saturday from 9 am until 6:30 pm and on Sunday from 9 am until 2:30 pm. For information, call (718) 855-8852.
Bedford Cheese Shop (229 Bedford Ave. at North Fourth Street in Williamsburg) is open Monday through Friday from 11 am until 9 pm and on weekends from 10 am until 8 pm. For information call (718) 599-7588.
Fairway (480 Van Brunt St. at Reed Street in Red Hook) is open from 8 am until 10 pm daily. For information call (718) 694-6868.