My incredibly creamy seafood mac and cheese is loaded with three types of melted cheese and forkfuls of tender seafood. I used crab in this recipe, but you can swap out shrimp and lobster as well. This easy recipe is a must for any seafood lover!
Serve this as a hearty side dish for special occasions, or as a luxurious main entre when you are craving some creamy comfort food. Your whole family, and any other seafood lover in your life, will give this meal rave reviews!
Ingredients You Will Need
- Pasta - Elbow macaroni is the popular choice, but you can use your favorite noodle.
- Butter & Flour - This is the base of your sauce and used to create the roux.
- Milk & Heavy Cream - These dairy products turn the roux into a sauce. You can use more milk if you don't have heavy cream.
- Cheese - Sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack, and cream cheese.
- Seafood - I used crab meat in these photos.
- Breadcrumbs - These are mixed with butter to create a crunchy topping. This is optional but adds a nice contrast in textures.
What seafood can I use?
Crab, shrimp, and lobster work best in a seafood mac and cheese. Obviously, fresh seafood should always be your first choice, but if you are from the Midwest, like me, that isn't always readily available or affordable. Using frozen, or canned seafood will still work well.
If using shrimp, I recommend buying small shrimp so they fit in better with the size of the noodles. Lobster meat should be chopped into bite-sized chunks. You COULD use imitation crab, but I don't really recommend it.
Feel free to use a combination of seafood for this recipe. I think succulent shrimp and crab work really well when combined. Whichever you choose to use should be cooked prior to adding to the mac.
Thoughts on the Best Cheese for macaroni and cheese
The best mac and cheese recipes use multiple types of cheese. This not only can make your mac creamier, but it also imparts a more complex flavor. Sharp cheddar is probably the best cheese to use in the sauce but by itself, it can be too rich. This is why I always pair it with a mild and creamy counterpart. Monterey Jack cheese is perfect for creating a creamy cheese sauce.
Alternatively, you can use pepper jack for a mild kick, or Provolone for a nuttier taste. I even think gouda cheese and Gruyere cheese would both work well in this dish because they would pair well with the seafood.
How to make it?
Any good homemade mac and cheese begins with melted butter and flour forming a roux. The roux is then cooked over low heat to remove the raw flour taste, then milk or cream is added to create a sauce. The longer a roux is cooked the darker it becomes, and the nuttier the flavor will get.
I like adding the cream cheese directly to the finished roux, rather than waiting and adding it to the cheese sauce. I find adding it to the roux ensures it incorporates fully without clumping. Once added, I incorporate splashes of heavy cream and milk. It is important to add the liquid a couple of splashes at a time to ensure it is able to blend into the roux and avoid a lumpy sauce.
Once all of the liquid has been added you can start incorporating the shredded cheese. Add the cheddar and Monterey jack a handful at a time and stir into the heated sauce. As it melts in, add more cheese until it all has been incorporated.
The noodles should be cooked al dente in a pot of salted boiling water while you are creating the sauce and the seafood should be fully cooked as well. You can simply saute the seafood in a skillet with butter and then add it to the mac and cheese with the pasta.
The final step is topping with buttery bread crumbs. Mix melted butter with breadcrumbs in a heated skillet, or microwave the butter and mix in a small bowl. I add ¼ teaspoon salt as well to enhance the flavor. Then sprinkle it evenly over the top of the mac and place it under the broiler on high heat for one minute, or until the breadcrumbs begin to brown.
How to store it
Your seafood mac and cheese should be stored in the refrigerator and enjoyed in five days or less. Mac and cheese doesn't store well in the freezer typically so I don't recommend freezing it. Always use an airtight container when storing to prevent odors from flavoring the dish.
How to reheat mac and cheese
The problem with most homemade macaroni and cheese recipes is they taste amazing when freshly prepared, but you can't reheat them without the cheese sauce breaking into an oily mess. The culprit for this problem is cheese sauces don't reheat well and the bond that holds them together breaks down as the oil heat faster than the dairy. However, I solved this problem!
There is a secret ingredient in every mac and cheese recipe I have created: Cream cheese! Cream cheese not only adds a wonderfully creamy flavor to your sauce, but it serves double duty by also helping the sauce bond together and stay together when reheated!
Since my seafood macaroni and cheese uses cream cheese in the sauce you can easily reheat it in the microwave until it is heated through again. Alternatively, you can heat it back up in a saucepan if you prefer as well.
The other issue with reheating mac and cheese is the noodles soak up the liquid as it sits in your refrigerator. This results in a less creamy sauce when you are reheating leftovers. To solve this issue simply stir a splash of milk into the bowl after reheating it.
Customize this recipe
Not only can you add the different seafoods discussed, but you can modify the flavor in a number of ways. Give any of these ideas a try.
- Add cajun or creole seasoning. This would make it similar to my cajun mac and cheese, but with seafood rather than sausage.
- Old bay seasoning can also be added, or keep it simple with a few grinds of black pepper.
- Stir in hot sauce or cayenne pepper for a kick.
- Add fresh herbs such as thyme or dill.
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Seafood Mac and Cheese
- 16 ounces elbow macaroni
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 6 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar
- 1 ½ cups shredded Monterey Jack
- 4 ounces cream cheese
- 1 pound cooked seafood (crab, shrimp, or lobster)
- ½ cup breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions.
- While the water heats up melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium low heat, then add the flour. Stir together to form a roux and continue whisking to prevent scorching, until the roux begins to turn blond. Approximately three minutes.
- Add cream cheese into the roux and stir to fully incorporate.
- Add heavy cream to the roux a few splashes at a time to create a sauce, then add milk a few splashes at a time until all of it has been incorporated.
- Add shredded cheese in batches, a handful at a time, until all of the cheese has been added and the sauce is creamy.
- Let the cheese sauce gently simmer for a minute or two to thicken slightly.
- Add the cooked elbow macaroni and seafood to the cheese sauce and stir to combine.
- Add breadcrumbs, butter, and salt to a small saucepan set over medium heat. Melt butter and stir to combine until the breadcrumbs are fully saturated with butter.
- Heat broiler to high and sprinkle breadcrumbs over the mac and cheese. Place your mac and cheese pot under the broiler for one minute, or until the breadcrumbs begin to brown. If you aren't using an oven safe pot, transfer the mac into a baking dish instead when broiling.
- Remove from broiler and serve.