Good ol’ mac ‘n cheese – the ultimate comfort food for kids and adults alike. And who knew? It makes for a great camping meal, as well.
Mac ‘n cheese is just one of those meals (and yes, it’s a full meal) that no matter how old you are, you still appreciate it. Why? Because it fills the belly, it’s versatile, and can be altered to accommodate most any dietary restriction. Most of us started with the classic cheese-powder powerhouse of Kraft. But oh, how we’ve moved on!
Our palate has matured, and so have these tasty tips and tricks for the ultimate mac ‘n cheese. As they say, it’s all in the cheese sauce, baby! Are you drooling yet? Read on…
Saucy Mac and Cheese
Putting care and effort into the most important base of the dish, many people start with bechamel. A thick white sauce that can be likened to alfredo sauce, but that uses milk instead of heavy cream. There’s no wrong way of doing it (you CAN use heavy cream, if you like).
Now it’s time for the cheese. You can use any good melting cheese, so pick your favorite. For great flavor, mild cheddar won’t cut it – add it and you’ll end up eating mac and bechamel. Use a nice sharp cheddar or gouda – it melts like a dream and adds a nice elegance to the meal. Other options are gruyere, which adds a nice smoothness. But whatever you do, do NOT get pre-grated cheese. It’s too dry and packed with preservatives, making it hard to melt properly.
One thing that our old friends at Kraft did right was the shape of the pasta that comes in the box. There are plenty of pasta shapes to choose from, and they are not all created equally. Yet each has its own place in the world of good pasta. In short, elbow noodles make the best mac and cheese. Why? Because it’s thick. It helps keep the pasta strong so that your dish doesn’t get too mushy.
If elbow noodles aren’t your thing, then some alternatives that still have that hearty thickness are shells, rigatoni, and penne pasta. But no matter which you choose, it is important to cook it according to the directions on the package. There’s no eyeballing it. You want it to come out right. Rinse the pasta with cool water so that it doesn’t continue to cook. Then mix with the cheese sauce, gently heating it so they blend together well to create that thick, cheesy goodness we know and love.
Ultimate Mac and Cheese Recipe
Adapted from Neighbor Food Blog – Serves 5
For the bechamel sauce:
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- ¾ cup half-n-half
- ¾ tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground mustard powder
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 ½ cups sharp cheddar
- ½ cup freshly shredded Gruyere cheese
- ½ cup freshly shredded Pecorino Romano cheese
- ½ cup freshly shredded Gouda cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
Put It All Together
- Cook the macaroni noodles in a large pot of salted water according to package directions. Drain.
- Heat the milk and half-n-half until very hot, but not boiling.
- In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.
- Whisk in flour and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is a light brown color, about 3-4 minutes.
- Reduce heat to LOW.
- Slowly pour in the milk, half-n-half, whisking constantly. Increase heat back to medium and whisk constantly, another 3-5 minutes or until thickened. The sauce should coat the back of the spoon.
- Reduce heat to LOW and stir in salt, garlic powder, ground mustard, and cayenne
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Add the cheeses, stirring until melted. If your cheeses do not all melt, stir in a little more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time until completely melted.
- Stir the sauce into the pasta, and reserve some cooked pasta.
- If the mac and cheese seem too saucy, add the remaining pasta. Serve immediately!
Goodbye Kraft. Hello gourmet mac and cheese! Enjoy.