This fried chicken mac and cheese is so cheesy and full of flavor! Both the crispy fried chicken and creamy cheddar cheese sauce are seasoned with spices and herbs for a blast of flavor! This would be the perfect side dish for any holiday or the showstopper dish at a potluck!
I'm back at it again with another mac and cheese recipe! Mac and cheese is just so cozy and the ultimate comfort food. I love how many different renditions of it there are! I thought of this fried chicken mac and cheese and knew I had to share the recipe with you all!
The base of this recipe is a super creamy & cheesy, sharp cheddar and American cheese sauce. This is one of those mac and cheese that when you scoop a spoonful, the sauce is so luscious that it looks like a fountain of cheese deliciousness!
Layered within the mac and cheese is the best southern fried chicken! It is cut into chunks prior to frying to ensure all sides are crispy! The homemade flavor seasoning is what makes this fried chicken so delicious. We don't do bland fried chicken here! It is generously seasoned for impactful flavor!
The super crispy fried chicken with the ultimate cheesy mac and cheese is just a match made in heaven. Next time you want mac and cheese for a party, holiday, or just because it's your favorite meal, try this fried mac and cheese instead and your world will be changed!
cheddar mac & cheese
Pasta noodles: You will need 16 ounces of pasta noodles for this mac and cheese recipe. I like to use large elbow noodles, but you can use whatever pasta noodle is your favorite!
Butter: ½ cup of unsalted butter is needed for the mac and cheese. Be sure to use a high quality butter. My favorite is Kerrygold.
Flour: You will need ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons of all purpose flour for the roux in this creamy mac and cheese.
Milk: The base of this cheese sauce is milk. You will need 5 cups of milk. Be sure to use whole milk. Whole milk has a higher fat content than other milks, making for the most optimal creamy sauce.
Cheese: So this mac and cheese is a blend of sharp yellow cheddar cheese and American cheese. Be sure to buy the blocks of cheese and shred it yourself for best results. The pre-shredded cheeses are covered in preservatives and prevents them from melting completely. For the American cheese in this recipe, yes I mean like Kraft slices. You can use any brand is your favorite but the American cheese is a very important component in the cheese sauce. It has an extremely low melting point which is why it incorporates so well & makes the sauce oh so creamy!
Seasoning: To season the cheese sauce, we use 2 teaspoons of sea salt and 1 teaspoon of black pepper. Just like every mac and cheese recipe, it is important to taste your sauce before adding the noodles to make sure it has the perfect amount of salt & pepper for your taste.
southern fried chicken
Chicken thighs: You will need 4 skinless boneless chicken thighs for the southern fried chicken. Chicken thighs are more flavorful and juicy than chicken breast. The chicken will need to be cut into chunks prior to breading and frying so that every piece of chicken is friend and crispy.
Oil: Vegetable oil is needed for frying the chicken. You can also use avocado oil, soybean oil, canola oil, or any oil with a high smoke point for frying.
Seasoning: The best part of fried chicken is the seasoning! This is the part which adds all the flavor & love and makes the chicken shine! That being said, we don't do bland fried chicken here. We want seasonings to go into every aspect of the fried chicken (Buttermilk mixture, flour mixture, and chicken itself)! You will need kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, dried mustard, paprika, parlsey, onion powder, cayenne pepper, and sage.
Buttermilk: You will need 2 cups of buttermilk for the base of the wet mixture for the fried chicken. Buttermilk helps tenderize the chicken and allows for the flour mixture to stick to the chicken when dredging it.
Flour: The base of the flour mixture is good ol' all purpose flour. All purpose flour gives a golden brown coating and it a neutral flavor. You will need 2 cups of flour.
Baking powder: Just 1 tablespoon of baking powder aids in the browning of the fried chicken. The addition of the baking powder in the dry mixture makes the chicken extra crispy!
variations & substitutions 📖
Use whatever pasta noodle you love! I use different noodles for different mac and cheese recipes for no reason other than I feel like it. Like in my brie mac and cheese, I use a wide rigatoni because it feels more traditional. For this fried chicken mac and cheese, I used large elbow since it feels playful yet classic. You can also use rigatoni pasta, penne pasta, or even cavatappi pasta. Just adjust the cooking time to the package instructions.
If you don't have whole milk on hand, you can also use heavy cream. The heavy cream has higher fat content than whole milk and is thicker, so if you do substitute, you can do it 1:1 for a thicker sauce. Or you can dilute it by adding ¼ cup water for every 1 cup heavy cream. For the diluted method, that would be 4 cups of heavy cream and 1 cup water for this mac and cheese.
tips & tricks 👩🏻🍳
Do not get pre-shredded cheeses! Just trust me on this. Pre-shredded cheeses are covered in preservatives that make the cheese not as melty. If you want an ooey gooey cheesy sauce, buy the block of cheese and shred it yourself. It is so worth the extra effort!
Fry the chicken in hot oil. If the frying oil isn't hot enough, the chicken will get oil logged and soggy. The perfect temperature to fry chicken at is 375 degrees. You can detect this by using a frying thermometer. Also, keep in mind that adding the chicken lowers the oil temperature so be sure to compensate in the temperature after adding each batch of coated chicken.
step by step instructions 🔪
Prior to starting the process, have all of your stations prepped and ready to go. In a large frying pan, pour all of your oil, place the thermometer in the oil, and clip it to the side of the pan. On a large sheet pan, lay paper towels and then on top of the paper towels place a wire rack. Get your tongs out that you will use for frying. Have a kitchen towel near or on you for any oil spills. Preheat your oven to 400F. Butter a casserole dish. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat.
Step #1 - Prepare chicken marinade. Season both sides of the chicken thighs in salt and pepper. In a large bowl, combine the buttermilk, garlic powder, dried mustard, paprika, and sage (image 1).
Step #2 - Combine the chicken and marinade. Then add the chopped chicken and toss to coat every piece of chicken (image 2). Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least an hour and up to overnight. The longer the chicken marinates the more tender the chicken will be.
Step #3 - Prepare fried chicken dry mixture. In a shallow bowl or dish, add the flour, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, paprika, parsley, onion powder, and cayenne (image 3).
Step #4 - Combine the dry mixture. Using a whisk or fork, combine all of the seasonings and dry ingredients together (image 4). This will be the dry base of the fried chicken. Set it aside.
Step #5 - Prepare to fry the chicken. From left to right have your bowl of buttermilk chicken, dry mixture, frying oil pan, and cooling rack. Heat up your oil in the large saucepan to 375 degrees. While that heats, place your buttermilk soaked chicken pieces in the dry mixture to thoroughly coat. Try to not have any remaining wet spots on the chicken, have it completely coated in the flour mixture. Then carefully place each piece in the hot oil, making sure there is space around each piece of chicken (image 5). Don't have any of the chicken touching!
Step #6 - Finish frying the chicken. Turn as necessary until cooked through and golden brown, about 5-8 minutes (image 6). The internal temperature of the chicken should be 165 when done. Do this in as many batches as needed to ensure that none of the chicken ever touch in the frying pan. Once the chicken are fried, place on the cooling rack to drain the excess oil.
Step #7 - Boil noodles and begin preparing cheese sauce. Cook your noodles until al dente according to your noodle's package instructions. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the 8 tablespoons butter. While constantly whisking, add the flour a bit at a time to thicken the butter mixture (image 7). This is your roux. It should be smooth like a thick paste.
Step #8 - Finish cheese sauce. Reduce to low heat and while still whisking, carefully pour in the room temperature milk until everything is fully mixed. Let simmer for 5 minutes until the base of the sauce has thickened a bit. Once the base of the sauce is completely incorporated and thick, add all but ¼ cup of the cheddar cheese, a handful at a time (image 8). Then add the American cheese and whisk whisk whisk until smooth! Then remove from heat and add the salt & pepper. Taste before moving onto the next step to ensure the sauce is seasoned to your liking. Then pour the cheese into an extra large mixing bowl.
Step #9 - Layer 1. Add the drained pasta into the cheese bowl. Gently toss to have all the noodles coated. In your buttered casserole dish, place half of the mac and cheese (image 9).
Step #10 - Layer 2. Then add half of the fried chicken chunks. Try to evenly disperse and spread out the fried chicken (image 10).
Step #11 - Layer 3. Add the remaining half of mac and cheese (image 11). Using a silicone spatula, gently press and spread the noodles to fill in any gaps underneath.
Step #12 - Layer 4. Add the remaining fried chicken on top of the mac and cheese (image 12). Sprinkle the remaining cheddar cheese on top. Bake uncovered for 10-15 minutes.
serving suggestions 🍽️
Serve this fried chicken mac and cheese while warm in a big bowl.
To complete your southern meal, pair with collard greens, green beans, and buttermilk biscuits.
storage & reheating ⏲️
Store leftover brie mac in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-5 days.
Leftover mac and cheese can be reheated in the microwave or oven. To reheat a single serving of mac and cheese, simple place in an oven safe bowl and microwave for 1 minute. If wanting to reheat the whole mac and cheese dish, cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes at 350F.
If you have extra fried chicken leftover, you can toss them in your favorite sauce and serve them as a boneless chicken wing! They will pair perfectly alongside my hot honey lemon pepper chicken wings and apple cider brined chicken wings.
If your fried chicken is soggy, it is most likely due to the cooling process. Be sure to let your fried chicken cool on a wire rack and not directly on paper towels. The paper towels will absorb some of the oil but not all of it and if your fried chicken is sitting in that, it will steam and become oily & soggy. After all the hard work of making perfectly crispy fried chicken, be sure to just cool them correctly to keep their crispiness.
The first thing to check if your chicken is not cooking through, is if your frying oil is at the correct temperature. The best temperature to fry chicken at is 375 degrees. If your frying oil is at 375 degrees and your chicken is still not cooking in the middle, be sure not to overcrowd the pan. To get the chicken crispy and fully cooked, it needs room around it to let the heat and moisture escape. If the fried chicken is touching other pieces of fried chicken, it will steam instead of fry and result in an undercooked center.
To keep your mac and cheese from separating, have the milk be at room temperature or set out on the counter for a little bit. Adding cold ingredients to a warm roux will create a gritty texture and the roux is the base of your cheese sauce! It is important the base of the sauce is fully incorporated and creamy, then the cheese is quickly added, and then the pasta noodles. Letting the sauce sit in between steps can cause for separation from fat to oil and will result in a gritty mac and cheese. Prep all of your ingredients before preparing the cheese sauce so it can be quick and efficient.
other cheesy recipes
It warms me up to see you make my recipes! Tag me on instagram @essenceeats so I can see your remakes. If you made this recipe, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. Also, please leave a star rating while you're there ☆