This macaroni and cheese is plenty cheesy, with the flavor and heat from chili crisp incorporated into the sauce. Separate the chili crisp oil from the crispy bits. The oil is added to the roux in the first step of building the cheese sauce. The crispy stuff is added to the sauce along with the cheeses.
Jing Gao uses Fly by Jing’s Sichuan Chili Crisp. Fly by Jing and other brands of chili crisp are widely available at grocery stores and Asian markets.
Heat the oven to 325 degrees and grease a 9-by-13-inch or 3-quart baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When boiling, add the dried pasta and cook 1 minute less than the package directs for al dente. Drain and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil to keep from sticking.
While the water is coming to a boil, toss the cheeses together to mix, then divide into three piles: approximately 1½ cups for the sauce, ¾ cup for the inner layer and ¾ cup for the topping.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil separated from the chili crisp. Sprinkle in flour and whisk to combine. The mixture will look like very wet sand. Cook for about 1 minute, whisking often. Slowly pour in about 1 cup of the half-and-half, while whisking constantly until smooth. Slowly pour in the remaining half-and-half and the milk, while whisking constantly until combined and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
Continue to heat over medium heat, whisking often, until a very thick consistency. It should almost be the consistency of a semi-thinned-out condensed soup.
Remove from the heat and stir in crispy bits from the chili crisp and ¾ cup of the cheese, stirring to melt and combine. Stir in another ¾ cup of cheese, and stir until completely melted and smooth.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the drained pasta with cheese sauce, stirring to combine fully. Pour half of the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish. Top with ¾ cup of the shredded cheeses, then top that with the remaining pasta mixture.
Sprinkle the top with the remaining ¾ cup of cheese and bake until cheese is bubbly and lightly golden brown, about 30 minutes.
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