Jerk Chicken Mac and Cheese is a mouthwatering fusion of Jamaican cuisine and classic American comfort food. Juicy bite-size chunks of marinated chicken thighs are nestled between creamy cheese sauce and pasta.
Boneless Jerk Chicken Thighs
6 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
2 tablespoons jerk marinade
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 lb cavatappi pasta or elbow macaroni pasta
1/2 cup salted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 medium onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups whole milk
2 cup old sharp cheddar cheese shredded, divided
2 cup Monterey Jack cheese shredded, divided
1 cup smoked gouda cheese shredded, divided
1 teaspoon jerk seasoning
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional), to taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon jerk seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Boneless Jerk Chicken Thighs
Add chicken to a large bowl with one tablespoon of olive oil and season with the jerk marinade, salt, and pepper, then mix until the chicken is well coated and set aside to marinate for at least 15 minutes.
Heat olive oil in a large, non-stick pan or skillet. Add chicken thighs and cook for five to seven minutes, then flip and continue cooking for another five to seven minutes or until the chicken is cooked through (the internal temperature reaches 165°F and juices run clear when poked). Remove and rest for five minutes, then roughly dice or shred into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C). Cook pasta according to package instructions or al dente, then drain and set aside.
Heat a large pan over medium-high heat and melt butter. Add finely diced onions and minced garlic, then sauté until they become translucent and soft.
Stir the flour into the melted butter to create a smooth paste, then continue to cook the flour-butter mixture (roux) over medium heat. Whisk continuously to prevent it from burning, and cook off the flour's raw taste for about a minute. Gradually add the milk into the pan, and constantly whisk to avoid clumping until the sauce thickens and you have a smooth base for the sauce.
When the sauce has a medium consistency (coats the back of a spoon), reduce heat to low and gradually add cheeses (one cup of cheddar, smoked gouda and Monterey jack) into the mixture and whisk until melted and smooth. Season the cheese sauce mixture with jerk seasoning and paprika, stirring continuously, then taste-test your cheese sauce and adjust it to your liking if needed.
Remove from heat and fold pasta into the cheese sauce until well incorporated. Then, gently fold three-quarters of prepared jerk chicken into the mixture, save one-quarter to top the dish and set aside.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine unsalted butter, panko breadcrumbs, parsley, smoked paprika, and jerk seasoning, and mix together until a crumbly consistency has formed.
Transfer spoonfuls of jerk chicken mac and cheese mixture to create a bottom layer in an oven-safe casserole dish. Add a layer of half the remaining shredded cheeses (cheddar, smoked gouda, Monterey jack, Parmigiano-Reggiano), then finish with a final layer of the jerk chicken mac and cheese mixture.
Top with reserved jerk chicken, remaining shredded cheeses, and breadcrumb mixture, then place in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until bubbly along the edges and golden brown. Remove from oven, serve and enjoy!