You know what your mac 'n' cheese has been missing? You're about to find out...
• 200 grams macaroni
• 20 grams unsalted butter
• 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
• 2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
• 50 grams fennel, finely chopped
• A handful of parsley, leaves and stalks, separated and finely chopped
• Salt and black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon red chilli flakes or piment d'espelette
• Juice and zest of half a lemon
• 1 tablespoon flour
• 2 tablespoons brandy
• 300 milliliters milk
• 100 grams cheddar, grated
• 30 grams gruyere, grated, plus some extra to bake
• 250 grams crab meat - I like to use a mixture of white and brown
• A grating of fresh nutmeg
• A handful of dill, finely chopped
• 4 crab shells, washed (optional)
1. 100 grams samphire, washed, blanched for a minute in a pan of boiling water, then dressed in lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil
2. 1 Preheat your oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Cook the macaroni in plenty of salted water until al dente, then drain, rinse under very cold water and set aside.
3. 2 Melt your butter with the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the chopped shallots, fennel and parsley stalks, with a pinch of salt, red chilli flakes and the lemon zest. Sweat them together for 5 minutes until sweet and fragrant but not brown. Add the flour. Cook, . for a minute or two, stirring to incorporate the flour into the shallot, butter and fennel. Add the brandy. Cook and stir to a paste-like roux. Add milk. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring with a whisk until the sauce is thick with no lumps. Add the cheeses and a good grating of fresh nutmeg and stir into the sauce until they've melted. If it's too thick at this point, add a splash of water.
4. 3 Transfer to a bowl and add your crab meat, lemon juice, chopped dill, parsley leaves and the macaroni. Stir gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper and put into the crab shells or an enamel baking tray. Top with some more gruyere and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve with the samphire.