Mac & Cheese - please!
While I consider myself to be a fairly competent cook, I have failed countless times at making my favorite comfort food - macaroni and cheese. It seems like it would be so easy...but I typically start with a roux and often when I add the cheese, it turns gummy and never becomes a smooth sauce.
Does anyone know what I am doing wrong? Also, if there are any stand-out mac & cheese recipes out there, I would love to see them.
Thanks so much in advance!
Thanks so much to all of you - I can't wait until the craving strikes me again so that I can try some of your ideas. I will be sure to report back on what happens.
The amount of food knowledge on this board continues to amaze me, and I am so grateful that you all are willing to share it.
I think someone mentioned Alton Brown's recipe probably because his show on Food TV "Good Eats" instructs also about the "chemical reactions" in food combining in his recipes.
See link below for some technical information about cheese sauces and fondues.
I think you may have to change the cheese you're using. It may be too fresh ("new"). It seems that the fats and proteins in a cheese vary in the length of their composite units. If your sauce is gummy, then these strands are still too long and are binding together.
Notice the difference in texture of mozzarella or an aged cheddar when you melt them. Those inherent qualities are presentated in the many cheese varieties and indicative of which ones you should use in your sauce. Aged cheddar has much shorter protein units and will emulsify better.
Also, do you add milk or cream to the roux before the cheese? That's one step in most mac and cheese recipes that you didn't mention in your technique. It helps emulsify the cheese to a thinner sauce than just melted cheese.
Other emuslifiers are (1) vinegar and (2) mustard.
I use cream cheese AND maybe milk or cream when I make my cheese sauce, then add the grated or cubed cheeses of choice.
But, again, mozzarella is never going to become a fine sauce. And, some "new" cheeses are never going to work in a cheese sauce either (because of the length of the chemical units - long). And, have you ever noticed how grated parmesan will still often glob when heated? Depends on the age of it, but those little "units" of the cheese grab back together when heated if there is not another chemical in the sauce to allow/manipulate the units to be short. And, then you have gum.
I like to add two or three kinds of cheeses in one sauce. And, I think some fondue recipes add mustard not merely as flavor, but as an emulsifier.
I also skip the roux sometimes, and melt cream cheese with the butter, then add the flavor cheese. Low heat. I like English Cheshire cheese very much.
Carb Lover is right, Cooks Ill, and Alton Brown, reccomend this approch.
Here is my take on their styles.
Baked MACARONI And CHEESE
1 Can, (12 ounces), Evaporated Milk,
2 Large Eggs,
1/8 teaspoon Cayenne Red Pepper,
1/4 teaspoon Sweet Paprika,
1/4 teaspoon Ground White Pepper,
1 teaspoon Dry Mustard,
2 teaspoons Kosher Salt,
2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter,
1/2 Pound Elbow Macaroni,
8 Ounces Sharp Cheddar Cheese, Grated,
One Cup Bread Crumbs, (Optional),
1- Preheat oven to 250F,
2- Into the evaporated milk add eggs, cayenne, paprika and white peppers, mustard, salt and mix. Set aside,
3- Cook Macaroni to firm, and drain cooking water into baking casserole dish to pre-heat dish,
3- Put the drained macaroni back into the cooking pot and at low heat. Add butter to melt.
4. Pour 1/2 egg mixture over noodles along with 1/2 of the cheese; stir until combined. Add the remaining egg mixture and cheese and combine.
5- Pour Mixture into warm casserole dish, add the bread crumbs to the top and bake till firm, about 10 minutes.
I tried this recipe and have no desire to make it again. There was something about the texture of the sauce with the eggs that did not sit right with me (too heavy and gooky if you really want a scientific explanation). I love eggs, but apparently not in mac and cheese. I like the attached recipe from Epicurious better. I've made it many times without fail using various types of cheese (leftovers from the bin like edam, smoked gouda, havarti, along with good aged cheddar) to make it more interesting and get rid of old cheese. I've not had a problem with this roux -- I use a whisk to ensure that the roux does not glop up. The best was when I had some leftover cheese with truffles. Yum!
I reco'd the Cook's Illustrated recipe in my post below. Although I said that I prefer making my own stovetop recipe, I remember the CI episode that I saw used a stovetop then ovenbake method. Yes, their stovetop only recipe sounds a bit weird to me w/ eggs.
For OP: If you go with CI, then use their ovenbake recipe.
I agree. I had the evaporated milk recipe at a friend's house and it was the only mac and cheese I've ever been simply unable to eat. I'll see your "heavy and gooky" and raise you a "slimey." Really, something oddly slick about the sauce. Really creepy. This was the first recipe in which I notice a really strong male/female split - the men were gobbling the meal up, and the women were pushing it around the plate.
I don't use a recipe for mac and cheese, but your recipe looks very close to what I do.
instead of two eggs, i use one. also, instead of seving it immediately, i put it in a baking dish, top it with the crumbs and rather than broil the crumb topping, put it in a low (300-degree) oven for 10-20 minutes. i found it needs that time for macaroni and sauce to fully combine into one.
sometimes i just let it sit at room temp for the 10-20 minutes.
I have tried 2 dif. methods of making mac-n-cheese: stovetop only and stovetop followed by oven baked. I prefer the simple stovetop version (which others have described well) since it stays more creamy and I don't care for the crispy topping. I usually melt my grated/crumbled cheese into warm bechamel (off heat) right before adding macaroni.
Cook's Illustrated version that I saw on TV looked basic but yummy; went to their site to find recipe but couldn't access since I don't have a membership (thought it used to be free access??).
Crucial flavoring for the bechamel: lots of cracked pepper (and/or cayenne if you want that kick) and freshly grated nutmeg. Don't care for "gourmet" recipes that add herbs or anything fancy.
My favorite cheese combo: monterey jack, med. cheddar (orange since I like the color), and a little gorgonzola.
re: Carb Lover
CarbLover -- yes, the Cook's Illustrated web site has paid membership. But I discovered that if you go to americastestkitchen.com, the TV recipes are there for free. You do have to register with your email address, though. I linked the ATK recipe below.
I just made this today as a main course for tonight (it's prepared and ready to be warmed and run quickly under the broiler). Cheese sauce works really well in a microwave. Do your roux in a large, uncovered pyrex cup, whisk frequently (every 15 sec once it warms up). Whisk in milk until it's somewhat thinner than you ultimately want, throw in a few whole cloves of garlic, return to microwave, uncovered, high, until it's at adesired thickness. I use a mixture of cheeses - today cheddar and parmesan. Add it grated, stir, and you'll hardly need to reheat it at all to melt the cheese.Garlic bread crumbs and a sprinkling of parm on top.
Cheese is like chocolate. It's tolerance for heat is fairly limited. You need to make a roux, then white sauce (with milk or broth). WHen you add the cheese, you should have the fire off so that the residual heat of the sauce is what melts the cheese. You may even need to cool it a bit before adding the cheese. A cheese sauce cannot take much heat before it breaks . . .
I improved on my partner's family's Danish mac cheese receipe by using half bacon fat and half butter for the roux, cooking it well before adding whole milk or half whole milk and half half and half. I added some cheddar, some emmanthal cooking slowly before adding the mac. Slow cooking makes it good but baked in the oven for 15 minutes with more shredded cheese on top (my brother in law still likes Velveta) but I use cheddar. I like the mixed cheeses, have also tried some goat cheese and that works too.