Brown Butter and Sage Mac and Cheese – Venison Frito Pie



Brown Butter and Sage Mac and Cheese – Venison Frito Pie

Everyone loves chili.  Chili is also a hot topic of controversy.  A spicy melting pot of opinions, demands, facts, lies and recipes! Here in Texas, where the dew falls first from Heaven, we do not use beans, we do not use too much tomato, and we do not over complicate the chili.

In its truest form I believe Texas chili is meat, either ground or diced, seasonings, and a chili sauce made from dried chilies . . . a classic “bowl of red”.  Red refers to the brick red sauce that gloriously presents its self with you puree rehydrated dried chilies.

In this version I have added some beer, which with its bitterness and hoppy flavor, brings some good things to the pot.  I use some tomato, which adds in combination of the sautéed onions, brings a natural sweetness.  The masa harina adds an earthy corn tortilla like flavor . . . love it.

Speaking of chili that is sweetened with sugar or sweet chili sauces, please do not get me started on that immoral process.  Wrong is wrong.

As for Mac and Cheese, what can I say?  The dish is a catalyst for all things happy.  The sauce is the back bone of the dish and for me, its very important.  The ratio of sauce to pasta must be high – almost pasta in velvety cheese soup.  The selection of cheeses is really up to you.  I always add the mascarpone for creaminess.  Also, once the cheese is in the sauce, don’t boil it.  It will ruin the texture.

Why put this chili together with Mac and Cheese?  Why not.  Chili Mac is good, a childhood classic, Frito Pie too.  Sometimes when you are cooking, things like this just happen, one thing leads to another and next thing you know you have something like Brown Butter and Sage Mac and Cheese – Venison Frito Pie. . . Say what!

I was lucky enough to get to make this dish on a demo today at the Travel and Adventure Show here in Dallas.  I was invited by my friend Jim White, who together with his wife Vicky are the masterminds of Savor Dallas.  If any of you live in the area I highly recommend checking out Savor Dallas!  Awesome events.

Venison Chili

Serves 4 to 5


1/8th cup bacon fat (or olive oil)

1 pound ground venison (or your favorite meat)

1/2 onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup tomato sauce (or puree diced tomatoes)

4 ounces beer

4 pasilla chili pods

2 cups chicken stock or water

2 tablespoons cumin

2 tablespoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon masa harina dissolved in cool water (optional)

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

More cumin and oregano to taste

  1. Remove stems and seeds from dried chili pods. Cover peppers with hot water for 15 minutes, drain and puree with a small amount of water to a smooth chili sauce.   It should be the consistency of a smooth marinara.
  2. Heat bacon fat in large skillet. Add meat and sear (you may need to do this in batches).  Remove meat. Add onion and garlic and sauté in bacon grease until you get a bit of color.  Add meat back. Stir in the beer and reduce a bit.  Add spices and mix well through the meat, add the tomato.  Hit it with a pinch of salt.
  3. Pour dried chili sauce into kettle with meat, dissolve the masa in a small amount of cold water and stir that in too.  Simmer for 1 hour, or until the chili is at proper thickness.  You can spice up with some cayenne, tobacco or even some slices of jalapeno or habanero at the last minute (or early on with the onions).  Season with salt a little during the cooking process, taste as you go.

Brown Butter Sage Mac and Cheese

Serves 4


3/4th quarts half and half

1/8 cup butter

1/8 cup flour

1 tablespoons sage, fresh, chopped

½ cups cheddar, local, shredded

½ cups Swiss shredded

½ cups cotija cheese

½ cup mascarpone

1/8 cup butter you will be browning this at the end and using as a flavoring

Salt, pepper and lemon

4 cups of cooked pasta, I really like shells because they hold the cheese

½ cup of extra cheese to put on top if desired

¾ cup bread crumbs to put on top if desired

  1. Using a thick pot, put the butter in first and turn on high heat.  Allow the butter to cook until it takes on a nut brown appearance  and a nutty smell.  Be careful, at this point its very hot. Remove from the heat and quickly add the flour using a whisk which the flour and the butter together.  This will be your brown butter roux.  Add ¼ of the half and half and whisk well to remove all lumps.  Then return to the heat whisk and add the remainder of the half and      half.
  2. Simmer for 15 min to cook the  flour taste out.  Add all remaining  ingredients and whisk well.  Adjust seasoning with salt pepper and lemon.

To assemble, mix the warm mac and cheese sauce with the pasta, heat gently and adjust seasonings again.  At this point you have a few options, but first you must make a decision if you are serving everything separate or made into a finished dish.  You can just serve as is in all its creamy glory.  If you are in a casserole frame of mind you can pour the mac and cheese in an oven safe serving dish or dishes, top with the optional cheese and bread crumbs and bake in a 350f oven for 10 minutes until brown and bubbly.

Keep in mind Fritos, sour cream, extra cheese, chives or scallions are ideal companions to this dish.

Thyme is money,


6 thoughts on “Brown Butter and Sage Mac and Cheese – Venison Frito Pie

    1. Post author

      Hope you like it! Different than our previous chili, simpler. Will be good on some chili dog enchiladas!

  1. Nicole

    This stuff is the bomb!!! So, so good. Seriously. I saw you make it at the Travel and Adventure Expo in Dallas and once I tasted it–I had to make some! I made it for a friend Thanksgiving event and had so much fun making it and it was a huge hit!!! Thanks for sharing your incredible recipes!

    1. Nicole

      I plan on making this again in just a few weeks but had a hard time with the dried chili peppers the first time (both finding and using them) and now I’ve moved out to the country where I know finding them will be a REAL challenge! Is there something you can substitute these for?

      1. Post author

        Hi Nicole,
        Great question. If the dried chilies are not available I would use 3/4th of a can of diced tomato’s, drain them well (keep the liquid) and puree the solids with a few tablespoons of chili powder. Use some of the reserved liquid to bring to the consistency you want. Then use that tomato – chili mix as your chili sauce.
        Enjoy your chili!


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