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ColumnistsSylvia Carter

Fried mac 'n' cheese? Don't think, just eat

You've heard of fried Twinkies on a stick, and fried pickles on a stick. But you haven't lived until you've tasted fried macaroni and cheese. It is not served on a stick, as it happens, but in one of those little red-checkered paper boats.

On a recent excursion to the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh, I carefully inspected all the possible fried foods, as well as other items that came on sticks, such as the wedges of cheesecake-on-a-stick, dipped in chocolate coating. There was even a concession that offered fried vegetables - mushrooms, cauliflower and the like - on sticks.

That wasn't decadent enough for me. After ham biscuits, and an enormous serving of pecan crunch ice cream (from the creamery at NC State University), fried macaroni and cheese seemed like the right choice.

So, after the dancing Paso Fino horses and the draft horses pulling carriages, and petting the baby ducklings, and hearing bluegrass, and drinking ice-cold cider and viewing antique farm machinery and exhibits of quilts and cakes, and riding the Ferris wheel, my pal and I got a $4 serving of fried macaroni and cheese.

Mercifully, the serving was small, which turned out to be just right. It doesn't even bear thinking about how many calories fried macaroni and cheese contains. So, don't. And you don't have to go to a fair to have some. Fry it at home, for appetizers, or just for a treat.

  >>Don't feel like cooking? Try these great mac and cheese dishes at Long Island restaurants




The basic macaroni and cheese recipe below is from the book by cheese maven Steve Jenkins, "Cheese Primer" (Workman). Crowley is a cheese Jenkins describes as "markedly more flavorful than any Colby I have ever tasted" with "a much smoother mouthfeel," and with a deeper, richer flavor of cream than that of Cheddar. However, if you can get only Cheddar, that will have to do.

The frying technique is not Jenkins'; it is from

For macaroni and cheese:

10 ounces small elbow macaroni

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 cup milk

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) grated Crowley cheese

For frying:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

2 eggs, beaten with 1/4 cup water

1 cup fine bread crumbs, preferably Japanese panko

Oil, for deep frying

1. Make the macaroni and cheese the day before frying it: Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add macaroni, lower heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 to 10 minutes. Drain.

2. While the macaroni is cooking, melt butter in a medium-size skillet over medium-low heat. Whisk the flour into the butter and continue cooking, whisking constantly until the mixture reaches the consistency of a thick paste, about 2 minutes.

3. Raise heat to medium, add milk and continue cooking, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Add grated cheese and stir with a wood spoon until the cheese is melted, about 2 minutes.

4. Stir drained macaroni into the cheese sauce. Place in a buttered, 8-inch-square pan and refrigerate, covered, overnight.

5. When ready to continue, cut refrigerated macaroni and cheese into bite-sized pieces (the state fair cooks favor triangles) or small slices.

Place flour in a small, shallow plate and season it with cayenne, salt and pepper, tossing with a fork to coat.

6. Dredge each piece of mac 'n' cheese in the flour mixture; gently tap off extra. Dip in egg wash and coat with bread crumbs. As each is finished, place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Let rest for 5 minutes so the crust can set.

7. Have ready a rack set over a baking sheet. Heat oil (it is about 1 inch high) in a deep skillet, until a bread cube dropped into it browns nicely. Carefully drop mac 'n' cheese into the oil and fry until golden brown on both sides. Place on a rack and let drain for a minute or two before serving. Makes 4 servings.

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