That Spicy Chick

Smoky Harissa Mac and Cheese

This Smoky Harissa Mac and Cheese is loaded with a ton of flavor, decadently rich and creamy, and incredibly cozy and comforting! Chicken, roasted brussels sprouts, and pasta get tossed in a robust, bold flavored, smoky, spicy, and sweet harissa infused cheese sauce! Perfect for date night in, a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner, or treating yourself on any night!

Top view of harissa mac and cheese in a large baking dish with a breadcrumbs topping and chopped chives garnish.

Friends! I have been paaaaatieeently waiting to share this recipe with you for a while now! And I’m super excited that my day has finally come!

Pictured above is mac and cheese. I ♡ it. But this is not your average or ordinary mac and cheese. It’s a mac and cheese that’s loaded with a boat TON of flavor! It’s smoky, spicy, sweet, and rich and dreamy all at once. And we owe it to a deliciously smoky and robust flavored chili paste that hails from North Africa – harissa. ❤️

Here’s what we have going on in this Smoky Harissa Mac and Cheese:

  • Chicken. I sliced up some Juicy Baked Chicken Breasts and incorporated it in this tasty fusion mac and cheese.
  • Roasted, naturally sweet brussels sprouts for some veg. Hello lover! 😍
  • A non-boring pasta shape – Galletti n°44. It’s basically a macaroni with a ridged back, which makes things interesting and fun!
  • A smoky, creamy, spicy and sweet, utterly droolworthy sauce. It’s made with harissa and tomato paste, a few seasonings and spices, and…👇
  • CHEEEEESE! We have Parmigiano Reggiano and smoked cheddar working their magic in the delicious sauce! YUM town!
  • Last but not least, we’ve got a garlicky, buttery, golden breadcrumbs topping with a bit of Parmigiano Reggiano for some cheesy flavor and crumby texture! 🤤
Round white plate with a silver spoon to the side and with harissa mac and cheese with chicken, brussels sprouts, and golden breadcrumbs topping.

This is the kind of mac and cheese adults love (err, inhale in my case). And it’s all so cozy, warming, and comforting! Perfect for this time of the year. And I guarantee it will leave you happily content after eating, as well as those who dine with you!

Right, enough talk. We’ve got some delicious Smoky Harissa Mac and Cheese to make now.

Let’s do this! 💃

Three white bowls with breadcrumbs topping and a spoon, baked seasoned chicken breast slices, and roasted brussels sprouts.

HOW TO MAKE SMOKY HARISSA MAC AND CHEESE

First off, I must stress that you don’t be alarmed by the lengthy seeming ingredient list. There are four main components to this dish: the chicken, the roasted brussels sprouts, the breadcrumbs topping, and the harissa mac and cheese. But they are easy and straightforward to make in just a few steps. More importantly, you can actually make some of the components ahead of time (the chicken and brussels sprouts), which is normally what I do.

Let’s break it down component by component, and make this wonderfully cozy harissa mac and cheese!

Unmixed pasta, roasted brussels sprouts, and chicken slices in a large black deep sauté pan with creamy spicy orange cheese sauce.

JUICY BAKED CHICKEN SLICES

First, we need to make our chicken. (Note: You can skip this step if making this mac and cheese vegetarian or vegan. Jump on to the next step – the roasted brussels sprouts). Simply season some chicken breasts with a bit of salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. Bake them in the oven for a couple of minutes until nice and juicy. Then slice them into strips.

BOOM. We have our first component – the chicken, all good to go!

By the way, you can totally use any leftover/cooked chicken you have on hand instead. It doesn’t need to be sliced – diced or shredded chicken will work perfectly fine too. Alternatively, you can buy a rotisserie chicken on the way home from work, then shred and use it in the mac and cheese instead. The chicken part (meat component) is flexible, and can also be omitted if you prefer to make a meat-free mac and cheese).

And if you’re not a chicken person, you can use pan-fried shrimp or crispy bacon. Or pan-fry your favorite type of sausage meat (pork, beef, turkey, etc.) and slice it into dimes. Any of these options will work great in this harissa mac and cheese! 👌

Large deep black sauté pan on the stovetop with pasta, spicy orange cream sauce, chicken, and brussels sprouts.

ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Next up is our roasted sprouts! We’re roasting them in the oven to allow their natural sweet flavor to come out and shine. Plus, the sweet roasted veg flavor does a wonderful job of cutting through the rich and smoky harissa cheese sauce.

To make them, first trim off the outer yellow leaves from the sprouts. Then rinse them thoroughly and pat-dry with paper towels. Add them to a bowl and toss with a bit of olive oil (or any cooking oil you prefer). Season with kosher salt and toss again, then spread them evenly on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake until they are perfectly roasted and tender – about 20-23 minutes, making sure to turn and stir them around once halfway through to promote even browning.

And now we have our roasted brussels sprouts done!

If you are not a brussels sprouts person (and/or if making this vegetarian), you can swap for other types of roasted veggies. Some ideas include roasted bell peppers, carrots, broccoli florets, and zucchini.

You can also just not add any veggies if you prefer them not to be in your mac and cheese. Your call completely because YOU are in charge here! 🙌

Large white long baking dish with harissa mac and cheese with chicken and brussels sprouts.

GARLICKY BREADCRUMBS TOPPING

Now, we need to make our deliciously buttery, garlicky breadcrumbs topping with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese!

Simply melt some butter in a nonstick skillet and add Panko breadcrumbs and garlic to the pan. Stir to combine. Then turn the heat down and season with kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and a bit of smoked paprika. Give it all a good stir, then transfer to a bowl and mix in some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

That’s, it and we’ve now got our crispy crunchy breadcrumbs topping all set to go!

Wooden spoon in the corner of a large baking dish with harissa mac and cheese with brussels sprouts and chicken, and golden breadcrumbs topping with chopped chives garnish.

SMOKY HARISSA MAC AND CHEESE

Now that we’ve got our chicken, brussels sprouts, and breadcrumbs topping ready to go, it’s time to make the harissa mac and cheese and put everything together! Simply…

  1. Cook pasta: Cook the pasta al–dente according to package directions in a large deep sauté pan of boiling salted water. Reserve 1 cup of water once the pasta is cooked, then drain and set aside. (I like to run water over my pasta to prevent them from sticking and cooking further.) Rinse out the pan and set it back on the stove.
  2. Sauté onion and garlic: Heat the unsalted butter in the pan over medium-high heat. Once melted and frothing, add the onion and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
  3. Make the creamy harissa sauce: Next, whisk in the all-purpose flour and cook for a minute to get rid of the floury taste. Then lower the heat to medium-low and gradually pour in the milk while continuing to whisk. Stir in the harissa paste and tomato paste, and season with kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, mustard powder, smoked paprika, and ground cayenne to taste. Stir until evenly combined.
  4. Add the cheeses: Mix in the freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and smoked cheddar, stir until fully melted. The sauce will start to thicken, so add 5-6 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water or as needed to thin out the sauce.
  5. Combine everything: Add the cooked pasta, chicken, and roasted brussels sprouts and toss to combine with the sauce. Cook for 2-4 minutes while stirring occasionally, then switch off the heat.
  6. Assemble and bake: Transfer to a 9×13 baking dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs topping evenly on top. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the topping is golden brown. Remove the dish from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Allow to cool and set for 10-15 minutes.
  7. Serve!: Garnish with chopped fresh chives if you like and enjoy!
Plate with spoon and harissa mac and cheese with chicken, brussels sprouts, and breadcrumbs topping. Large baking dish with mac and cheese and small bowl with cheese shavings in the back.

Full ingredient amounts/instructions in the recipe card below.

MAKE AHEAD

As mentioned before, you can make some elements of this mac and cheese ahead of time. The chicken can be cooked 1-3 days in advance. If making the chicken ahead, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

The brussels sprouts can also be roasted a day in advance. If making them ahead, transfer them to a big enough airtight container so as to not overcrowd them once they are cool. Then store in the refrigerator overnight.

Take both the chicken and brussels sprouts out of the fridge when you’re ready to cook the mac and cheese.

A NOTE ON HARISSA PASTES

There are several brands of Harissa pastes that are available in the market today. For this recipe, I used Al’fez brand harissa paste, which has a sweeter taste than most other harissa pastes since it has tomato puree and tomato powder incorporated in it.

If you’re using Le Phare Du Cap Bon or DEA brand (I’ve tried both, and they are excellent!), you may need to add an additional tablespoon of tomato paste and decrease the smoked paprika to 1 teaspoon for the mac and cheese. I prefer to use Le Phare Cap Du Bon harissa or DEA harissa when they are available to me. They are both smokier and spicier than Al’fez harissa paste, and more authentic than some other brands.

Spoon holding up a bite of harissa mac and cheese with brussels sprouts and a piece of chicken above a plate with mac and cheese. A large baking dish with mac and cheese and a small bowl with cheese shavings in the back.

VARIATIONS AND SPECIAL DIETS

If you would like to customize this harissa mac and cheese, you can…

  • Use a different protein: In place of the chicken, you can use pan-fried shrimp, crispy bacon, or cooked pork, beef, or turkey sausage. Just slice them up into dimes, and add them to the mac and cheese instead.
  • Use rotisserie chicken: To save time, you can buy a rotisserie chicken and shred the meat to use in this mac and cheese instead.
  • Make it gluten-free: Use gluten-free all-purpose flour and pasta for the mac and cheese. Also, make sure that the tomato paste and cheeses you are using are GF certified. Most tomato pastes and cheeses are naturally gluten-free. But it’s best to double check the ingredients list to be sure.
  • Spice it up or tone down the heat: Add more ground cayenne and harissa paste, and be sure to use a smoked paprika that’s hot, not sweet. I’m a huge fan of La Chinata Hot Smoked Paprika. It’s loaded with so much flavor, and can take any dish up to a whole other level of tastiness! Likewise, if you’re not big on heat, use less ground cayenne (or omit entirely) and harissa paste, and use a sweet smoked paprika.
  • Make it vegetarian: Simply omit the chicken! You’re welcome to add more roasted veggies if you like in place of the meat. Roasted bell peppers, carrots, broccoli florets, and zucchini all would taste fantastic in this mac and cheese.
  • Make it vegan: Same as for making it vegetarian, but also be sure to use a dairy-free milk, vegan butter, and vegan cheeses.
Spoon holding up a bite of harissa mac and cheese with brussels sprouts and chicken, and top view of mac and cheese in a large baking dish with a breadcrumbs topping and chopped chives garnish.

MORE COMFORTING PASTAS

If you’re looking for more comforting pasta dinners, try some of my all-time favorites below!


If you make this recipe, leave a comment and review it below with a star rating! Take a photo and be sure to tag it with @thatspicychick on Instagram and hashtag it #thatspicychick so I can see! 😉

If you like this recipe, please share it around. Your support means the world to me. 🤗

Print
Round white plate with a silver spoon to the side and with harissa mac and cheese with chicken, brussels sprouts, and golden breadcrumbs topping.

Smoky Harissa Mac and Cheese

This Smoky Harissa Mac and Cheese is loaded with a ton of flavor, decadently rich and creamy, and incredibly cozy and comforting! Chicken, roasted brussels sprouts, and pasta get tossed in a robust, bold flavored, smoky, spicy, and sweet harissa infused cheese sauce! Perfect for date night in, a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner, or treating yourself on any night!

  • Author: Lavina
  • Prep Time: 20
  • Cook Time: 78
  • Total Time: 1 hour 38 minutes
  • Yield: 6 1x
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Sauté, Roast, Bake
  • Cuisine: Middle Eastern, American
Scale

Ingredients

For the Baked Chicken Breasts:

  • 2 Chicken Breasts (about 400 grams / 0.88 pounds), boneless, skinless – cleaned and pat-dried with paper towels
  • 1 TSP Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 TSP freshly cracked Black Pepper
  • 1/2 TSP Paprika (regular, not smoked paprika)
  • 1/2 TSP Garlic Powder
  • 3/4 TBLS Olive Oil (or any other cooking oil you prefer) – for brushing on the foil and chicken breasts

For the Roasted Brussels Sprouts:

  • 454 grams / 1 pound Brussels Sprouts – outer yellow leaves removes, rinsed and pat-dried
  • 1 TSP Kosher Salt, to taste
  • 1 TBLS Olive Oil

For the Garlicky Breadcrumbs Topping:

  • 2 TBLS Unsalted Butter
  • 2 Garlic cloves – finely minced
  • 1/2 cup Panko Breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 TSP Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 TSP freshly cracked Black Pepper
  • 1/4 TSP Smoked Paprika (I used hot, but you can use sweet smoked paprika instead if you prefer) 
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (or Parmesan) Cheese

For the Smoky Harissa Mac and Cheese:

  • 8 ounces uncooked short-cut pasta (I used Galletti n°44, but any shape will work)
  • 2 TBLS Unsalted Butter
  • 1/2 Yellow Onion – finely minced
  • 6 Garlic cloves – finely minced
  • 2 TBLS All-Purpose Flour
  • 3 cups Whole Milk
  • 4 TBLS Harissa Paste, more or less to taste (see notes)*
  • 2 TBLS Tomato Paste
  • 1 TSP Kosher Salt, to taste
  • 1.5 TSP freshly cracked Black Pepper
  • 1/2 TSP ground/dry Mustard (also known as mustard powder, I used Coleman’s English Mustard Powder)
  • 1 TSP ground Cayenne, to taste
  • 1.5 TSP Smoked Paprika (Hot)
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (or Parmesan) Cheese
  • 1 cup Smoked Cheddar Cheese (I used Applewood Smoked Cheddar)
  • 56 TBLS Reserved Pasta Water (or as needed to thin the sauce)
  • For Garnish (optional): 1 TBLS chopped fresh Chives 

Instructions

For the Baked Chicken Breasts:

  1. Preheat oven to 175°C/350°F. Line a baking tray with a sheet of aluminum foil and brush lightly with olive oil (or any other cooking oil you prefer).
  2. In a large bowl, add the kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. Mix with a spoon or use a small whisk to combine the spices and seasonings until fully integrated.
  3. Brush olive oil on the chicken breasts then dip them into the bowl and rub with the seasonings and spices until they are fully coated. (The oil helps to keep the chicken juicy during baking and allows the seasonings to better stick to the chicken breasts.)
  4. Place the chicken breasts (plump side up) on the foil lined baking tray and bake for 20-22 minutes, turning once using tongs halfway through.
  5. Remove the baking tray from the oven and let the chicken rest for 10-12 minutes to lock in all the juices. Transfer the chicken breasts to a chopping board, making sure to let any extra liquid/juices drip onto the foil before placing them on the board. Cut into thin slices with a sharp knife and set aside. (See notes for making ahead.)*

For the Roasted Brussels Sprouts

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F. Line a baking tray with a sheet of aluminum foil.
  2. Clean and remove any yellow outer leaves from the brussels sprouts. Slice each sprout in half, then rinse thoroughly and pat-dry with paper towels.
  3. Add the brussels sprouts to a mixing bowl and pour the olive oil on top of the sprouts. Gently toss to coat in the oil. Then season with kosher salt to taste, and toss again.
  4. Spread on the foil lined baking tray and bake for 20-23 minutes, opening the oven halfway through to toss and turn the sprouts for even browning.
  5. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the pan to a cooling rack. (See notes for making ahead.)*

For the Breadcrumbs Topping:

  1. Heat the unsalted butter in a skillet or nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Once melted, add the breadcrumbs and garlic. Turn down the heat to low and stir until they are coated in the butter – 20 seconds. Add the kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and smoked paprika. Stir to combine until the breadcrumbs have lightly browned. Switch of the heat and transfer to a clean bowl. Mix in the freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and set aside.

For the Smoky Harissa Chicken Mac and Cheese:

  1. Prep: Preheat oven to 175°C/350°F. Chop the garlic, onion, chives (if using for garnish) as indicated in the instructions. Combine all the seasonings and spices for the pasta in a small bowl. Cover and set aside. Cook the pasta al–dente according to package directions in a deep large sauté pan of boiling salted water. Reserve 1 cup of water once the pasta is cooked, then drain and set aside. (I like to run water over my pasta to prevent them from sticking and cooking further.) Rinse out the pan and set it back on the stove. Measure out the milk in a measuring cup, and grate the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and smoked cheddar. Set everything aside.
  2. Heat the unsalted butter in the pan over medium-high heat. Once melted and frothing, add the onion and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
  3. Next, whisk in the all-purpose flour and cook for a minute to get rid of the floury taste. Then lower the heat to medium-low and gradually pour in the milk while continuing to whisk.
  4. Add the harissa paste, tomato paste, and all of the spices and seasonings in the bowl you made earlier. Stir until evenly combined.
  5. Mix in the freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and smoked cheddar, stir until fully melted. The sauce will start to thicken, so add 5-6 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water (or as needed to thin out the sauce).
  6. Add the cooked pasta, chicken, and roasted brussels sprouts and toss to combine with the sauce. Cook for 2-4 minutes while stirring occasionally, then switch off the heat.
  7. Transfer to a 9×13 baking dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs topping evenly on top.
  8. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the topping is golden brown. Remove the dish from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Allow to cool and set for 10-15 minutes.
  9. To Serve: Garnish with chopped fresh chives (if desired) and serve!

Notes

  1. A note on Harissa Pastes: I used Al’fez brand harissa paste, which has a sweeter taste than most other harissa pastes since it has tomato puree and tomato powder incorporated in it. If using Le Phare du Cap Bon or DEA brand (I’ve tried both, and they are excellent!), you may need to add an additional tablespoon of tomato paste and decrease the smoked paprika to 1 teaspoon for the mac and cheese. I use Le Phare Cap Du Bon harissa or DEA harissa when they are available to me. They are both smokier and spicier than Al’fez harissa paste, and more authentic.
  2. Make ahead: The chicken can be cooked 1-3 days in advance. If making the chicken ahead, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The brussels sprouts can also be roasted a day in advance. If making them ahead, transfer them to a big enough airtight container so as to not overcrowd them once they are cool. Store in the refrigerator overnight. Take the chicken and brussels sprouts out of the fridge when you’re ready to cook the mac and cheese.
  3. Use a different protein: In place of the chicken, you can use pan-fried shrimp, crispy bacon, or cooked pork, beef, or turkey sausage. Just slice them up into dimes, and add them to the mac and cheese instead.
  4. Use rotisserie chicken: To save time, you can buy a rotisserie chicken and shred the meat to use in this mac and cheese instead.
  5. Spice it up or tone down the heat: Add more ground cayenne and harissa paste, and be sure to use a smoked paprika that’s hot, not sweet. I’m a huge fan of La Chinata’s Hot Smoked Paprika. It’s loaded with so much flavor, and can take any dish up to a whole other level of tastiness! Likewise, if you’re not big on heat, use less ground cayenne (or omit entirely) and harissa paste, and use a sweet smoked paprika.
  6. To make it gluten-free: Use gluten-free all-purpose flour and pasta for the mac and cheese. Also, make sure that the tomato paste and cheeses you are using are GF certified. Most tomato pastes and cheeses are naturally gluten-free, but it’s best to double check the ingredients list to be sure.
  7. To make it vegetarian: Simply omit the chicken! You’re welcome to add more roasted veggies if you like in place of the meat. Some ideas include roasted bell peppers, carrots, broccoli florets, and zucchini.
  8. To make it vegan: Same as for making it vegetarian, but also be sure to use a dairy-free milk, vegan butter, and vegan cheeses.

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1 plate
  • Calories: 801
  • Sugar: 12.2g
  • Sodium: 1353mg
  • Fat: 30.9g
  • Saturated Fat: 14.6g
  • Unsaturated Fat: 12.4g
  • Trans Fat: 0.3g
  • Carbohydrates: 88.6g
  • Fiber: 6.7g
  • Protein: 42.4g
  • Cholesterol: 114.9mg

The nutritional information provided is approximate and can vary based on several factors. It should only be used as a general guideline. For more information, please see our Disclosure.

Round white plate with harissa mac and cheese with chicken, brussels sprouts, and golden breadcrumbs topping.

This post may contain affiliate links. We are a part of the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you) by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. The nutritional information provided is approximate and can vary based on several factors. It should only be used as a general guideline. For more information, please see our Disclosure.

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