This Cajun shrimp macaroni and cheese takes my favorite baked macaroni and cheese recipe and spices it up with shrimp, Cajun seasoning, and pepper jack cheese. This is sure to be a big hit with anyone who loves loads of flavor and that all-important bread crumb topping!
A number of years ago, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board would host a massive macaroni and cheese festival on their blog, where they asked bloggers to share unique macaroni and cheese recipes. I happily participated every year (hello, mac and cheese!) and in 2013, the theme was taking classic dishes and turning them into macaroni and cheese. The possibilities were obviously endless and I had a heck of a time narrowing down my ideas.
In the end, I settled on a rendition of Cajun shrimp, which is a popular dish in the south. Spicy shrimp is cooked up and served alongside either rice, grits or a loaf of bread for sopping up the spicy sauce (yum). I thought that spicy shrimp would be the perfect pairing for a creamy mac and cheese dish; turns out, I was right! This Cajun shrimp macaroni and cheese has been a huge favorite of my husband’s ever since, and was even our New Year’s Eve meal one year!
I loaded up my favorite basic baked macaroni and cheese recipe (seen previously here and here, and an ultimate version here) with spicy shrimp, pepper jack cheese for an extra kick, and topped it with light-as-air Panko bread crumbs.
The dish isn’t too spicy (my mom is really sensitive to spicy dishes, and she thought the mac and cheese was fabulous, the spice not too overpowering), so if you like your Cajun shrimp to be fiery hot, I’d add a little cayenne pepper to the blend of seasonings. The creamy, cheesy pasta is the perfect partner for the spicy shrimp. A match made in heaven, for sure.
I haven’t done much playing around with my macaroni and cheese lately, but I feel like I need to come up with some more crazy and unique versions. Two summers ago, I did a Hatch chile mac and cheese, and it was absolutely phenomenal. Throw some inspiration at me – what would you like to see?
In the meantime, whip up this Cajun shrimp macaroni and cheese for a special occasion, for dinner on Tuesday, or for a binge marathon of your favorite show!
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 9x13-inch casserole dish. Heat a large pot of water over high heat for the pasta; cover.
Prepare the Shrimp: In a 10-inch skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shrimp and Cajun seasoning and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is all pink and cooked through. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
Prepare the Macaroni and Cheese: Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook the pasta according to the box directions for al dente pasta (if your box doesn't specify al dente, cook it for 1 to 2 minutes shorter than the time called for - it shouldn't be cooked the whole way through). When the pasta is finished cooking, drain it in a colander.
While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, whisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute, until the flour starts to brown a bit and smells nutty, whisking constantly. In a slow, steady stream, whisk in the milk. Allow the sauce to come to a simmer.
Once the sauce comes to a simmer, stir in the Pepper Jack and cheddar cheeses, adding a handful at a time and stirring with a wooden spoon until completely melted before adding the next handful. Season with the Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper, and turn off the heat.
Add the cooked, drained pasta and shrimp to the sauce. Stir with a wooden spoon until everything is completely combined and evenly distributed. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish.
Prepare the Topping: In a small bowl, mix the melted butter with the Panko bread crumbs, tossing with a fork until the entire mixture is evenly moistened.
Sprinkle the macaroni and cheese with the shredded cheeses. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture on top of the cheese.
Bake until browned and bubbly, about 15 to 20 minutes. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.
At times I have purchased the super small shrimp when it's on sale, and in that case, you don't need to chop it at all.