Noodle Noshing

Chicago Chili Mac

September 26, 2016

Ask about the origins of this belly-filling, budget-stretching American favorite and you’ll get different answers. Some point to Cincinnati’s habit of eating chili with spaghetti…but those are spaghetti noodles, and the chili is spiced with chocolate & cinnamon. So….not really what we think of as the “classic.” In other parts of the Midwest, chili mac lovers expect to find elbow macaroni in the dish—plus chili made with plenty of cumin, chili powder and green peppers. This version from Chicago’s Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap (the comfortable Levy restaurant & bar that replaced the Blackhawk Lodge) has all of that, plus some nice tweaks. It’s really two recipes—one for a mildly spiced chili that uses tangy green tomatillos instead of tomatoes, and one for a classic creamy macaroni & cheese. The two recipes taste good on their own, but together? Even better. Note: Earlier versions of the chili mac at Jake Melnick’s included crushed Chili-Fritos. For that version, just mix in 1 1/2 cups of crushed Chili-Fritos when you combine the macaroni and chili, before baking. Or, include crushed Fritos as one of your toppers, along with sour cream, green onions, sliced radishes, avocado, and fresh cilantro leaves.

Makes 8 servings

Chicago Chili Mac
Serves 8
In response to a reader request for a REALLY good, vintage-worthy, Midwest chili-mac, we tapped Jake Melnick's. It’s really two recipes—one for a mildly spiced chili that uses tangy green tomatillos instead of tomatoes, and one for a classic creamy macaroni & cheese. The two recipes taste good on their own, but together? Even better.
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Macaroni & Cheese Ingredients
  1. 1 box elbow macaroni
  2. 1/4 cup butter
  3. 1/4 cup flour
  4. 1/2 cup whole milk
  5. 2 cups heavy cream
  6. 1/2 tsp paprika
  7. 1 tsp white pepper
  8. 1 tsp kosher salt
  9. 4 cups shredded medium-sharp Cheddar cheese
Tomatillo Chili Ingredients
  1. 2 lbs ground beef
  2. 1 green bell pepper, seeded, cored and diced
  3. 1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and diced
  4. 4 or 5 cloves garlic diced very fine
  5. 1 Tbsp cumin
  6. 1 tsp kosher salt
  7. 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  8. 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  9. 1 tsp oregano (dried, but 2 tsp minced fresh would be fine)
  10. 1 bay leaf
  11. 1 to 2 Tbsp chili powder (depending on your taste–I like more)
  12. 1/2 cup spicy BBQ sauce of your choice
  13. 1 cube beef bouillon dissolved in 3/4 cup boiling water
  14. 1 12-oz can whole tomatillos (OR: three medium-sized tomatillos sliced and combined with
  15. 2 cups Mexican-spiced chili beans
  16. 1 cup grated medium-sharp cheddar cheese
  17. Sour cream, sliced green onions, cilantro, avocado, crushed Frito corn chips and thinly-sliced radishes for garnish
Instructions
  1. Make the mac ‘n’ cheese: Cook macaroni in salted boiling water according to package instructions. Drain. Set aside.
  2. Melt butter over medium heat in heavy sauce pot
  3. Whisk in flour and cook over medium heat for two to three minutes until flour is nicely toasted. Slowly whisk in cream and milk, whisking constantly. Cook over medium heat until cream comes to a gentle boil. Remove pot from stove.
  4. Mix salt, paprika and white pepper together in a bowl. Whisk in to cream.
  5. Gradually whisk in the 4 cups of cheese until all is incorporated and melted.
  6. Stir in drained macaroni.
  7. Make chili: In heavy skillet, brown ground beef. Drain and discard fat. Set aside.
  8. Saute onion, green pepper, garlic, spices and bbq sauce with hot water/dissolved bouillon until soft. Combine with meat.
  9. Drain and puree/blend tomatillos and mix into the chili. Add chili beans. Stir and simmer chili over low heat for 15 minutes.
  10. Combine chili with macaroni & cheese.
  11. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly butter a baking dish (or, you can use multiple individual-serving ovenable crocks). Ladle all of the chili mac into the baking dish.(NOTE: If you want to try the Frito version of this dish, here’s where you stir 1 1/2 cups crushed Fritos into the chili mac. If not, just save the Fritos to use as a garnish at the end.) Sprinkle with 1 cup grated cheese and bake for 25 to 30 minutes at 350.
  12. Remove from oven and serve with garnishes.
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