Our love for Bahamian style mac and cheese knows no bounds. If you’re thinking that this sounds like the ultimate comfort food, then you’re absolutely correct:) More often than not, it’s found on the dinner table as a side dish for Sunday meals as well as on restaurant lunch and dinner menus any day of the week. It’s also a keystone for all of our specialty holiday meals during the Christmas and Easter seasons, and celebratory feasts for milestone birthdays, graduations, large family gatherings, or Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day feasts. For Bahamians that live abroad, this dish is one that we often carry with us in the form of a sacred family recipe. After some time away, digging into a creamy square of this national icon when returning to the islands is an experience we would describe as close to heavenly.
What Exactly Is It?
Across The Bahamas, this stomach-satisfying delicacy is prepared as a baked dish, which when cut and portioned results in rich, cheesy squares that hold their shape on the plate and resemble lasagne or casserole in appearance. Ample amounts of mild yellow cheddar are baked into and on top of the mixture while flavourful bites of chopped onions, green bell peppers and a variety of herbs and spices enhance the texture and taste. Eggs, evaporated milk and butter serve as both the binding ingredients and the incredibly creamy foundation for this macaroni bake which is not to be confused with the saucier homestyle versions typically found in North America or the pre-packaged boxes for stovetop mac & cheese.
Origins of the Dish
Bahamian style mac and cheese is steeped in English tradition as it is generally agreed that the original recipe for baked macaroni was brought over by English colonists during the mid to late 1700s and onwards. Just like with Bahamian peas n’ rice, we Bahamians adapted many traditional English recipes, including mac and cheese, to suit our environment over time. Since fresh dairy and meat were often hard to come by given the islands’ isolation in early colonial times of the 18th and 19th centuries, canned evaporated milk was relied on as an alternative to fresh dairy, and thus evolved into a necessary ingredient for the Bahamian adaptation of this decadent and creamy delight.
How It’s Eaten
Although Bahamian style macaroni & cheese (commonly referred to by locals as “macaroni” alone) is a fairly rich dish that can be thoroughly enjoyed all on its own, the delicacy more often poses as a notable side dish. Along with generous servings of other popular side dishes including: peas n’ rice, sweet, creamy coleslaw, plantains and/or potato salad, Bahamian macaroni and cheese frequently accompanies a seafood main like steamed fish, fried snapper and cracked conch, or a meat protein such as baked ham, chicken or pork chops.
Traditionally, this baked dish is cooled, cut into squares, and served right from the baking pan. Don’t be surprised if you find islanders enjoying it with a little ketchup (who doesn’t like ketchup anyway?). If you’re looking to enhance the presentation, take advantage of the food’s versatility by baking it in cupcake tins for bite-sized, party-friendly h’ordeuvres.
Ready to take your mac and cheese up another notch? Many locals love to concoct spicier versions of this dish, mixing in more mild tabasco sauce or including larger quantities of the much hotter crushed “goat pepper” (like a Habanero), jalapeños, or fiery “bird pepper” as it’s called here on the islands. If you want to test out a hotter variety of your own, try this one, made with chilli peppers, thyme, garlic, salt, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Talk about a flavour explosion!
How to Make at Home
For a Traditional Pan of Bahamian Macaroni and Cheese, follow this recipe adopted from Kev’s Bahamian Baked Macaroni:
- 1 lb uncooked elbow macaroni
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 (16 ounce) bags cheddar cheese
- 1/2 large green bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 large white onion, diced
- 4 eggs
- black pepper
- 2 pinches salt
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 habanero pepper, diced
- 12 ounces evaporated milk
- Add 2 pinches of salt to large pot of water. Bring water to a boil and add uncooked macaroni pasta. Boil until tender.
- Strain macaroni and place back in pot. Add butter and stir in macaroni until butter melts.
- Slowly stir in most of cheese evenly. Reserve 8 ounces (or half of a 16 ounce bag) for later topping.
- Add paprika, black pepper, onion, bell pepper, and 1/2 of a finely diced habanero or goat pepper. Stir well until cheese is melted and blended.
- Beat eggs lightly and stir into mixture.
- Slowly add evaporated milk, pouring about half a cup at a time. Stir well, and spread the mixture evenly into a large prepared baking pan about 13 x 9.
- Top with remainder of cheese and loosely cover with foil.
- Bake at 375°F for 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes or until top is a golden color.
- Allow macaroni to cool for 45-50 minutes until room temperature before serving.