Lighter Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese

Buffalo chicken mac and cheese gets a healthy makeover.  The combination of cheesy, gooey, and crispy textures makes this a winning dish.

IMG_2915tWhenever I have a mac and cheese craving, I go to S’MAC and indulge in their mac and cheese.  James’ choice is always the cheeseburger mac and mine is always the buffalo chicken.  Even if I considered trying something else on the menu, I’d still pick buffalo chicken at the very last minute…every single time!  I’m all for indulging occasionally when it comes to food, but if you saw the amount of butter on the bottom of the cast iron skillet they’re served in, you’d probably cringe a little and feel the need to run three miles afterwards.

IMG_2893This recipe is my take on buffalo mac and cheese with a healthy twist.  This dish is creamy, gooey, spicy, and crispy (I added panko topping for good measure, just like S’MAC does)!  But guess what?  There’s no butter or cream involved!

I keep this recipe as light as possible by completely omitting the flour-butter thickener and allowing the starches in the pasta cooking water to help thicken the sauce.  I actually like this method better because the sauce doesn’t taste grainy the way homemade mac and cheese sometimes does.  I also opted for low-fat milk, Louisiana hot sauce (instead of buffalo sauce, which is essentially a mixture of hot sauce and melted butter), and Parmesan cheese to help bring out the cheesy flavors.

IMG_2898Even without butter and cream, this mac and cheese is everything you would want it to be – satisfying, comforting, and absolutely addicting!

Lighter Buffalo Mac and Cheese
  • 2½ cups water
  • 2 cups skim milk, plus more if necessary
  • 1 lb dried short pasta
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup Louisiana hot sauce
  • 12 oz cooked chicken breast, cut in bite-sized pieces
  • 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 4 oz Parmesan cheese, grated, divided
  • ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 450F.
  2. Bring water, milk, and pasta to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Lower heat to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the pasta is tender and the liquid is slightly thickened, 9 to 12 minutes. Stir in mustard, hot sauce, chicken, cheddar, and 2 oz Parmesan cheese.
  3. Continue to simmer until the cheeses have melted, adding the remaining milk as needed to adjust the consistency of the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Pour mac and cheese into an oven-safe casserole dish. In a small bowl, mix together panko and the remaining 2 oz of Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the mac and cheese and bake until topping turns golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve immediately.
*Feel free to scale back on the hot sauce in case your heat tolerance is low.
Serving size: 8