bechamel vs. cream sauce for mac n' cheese
i need to use up some surplus cheeses and for macaroni and cheese i have always used a bechamel based sauce, but looking at some recipes i see there are plenty with just heavy cream reduced a bit with the cheeses added and they have great reviews as well. what do you prefer and please share recipes!
btw i have goat cheese, cheddar, and gruyere.
I grew up with mac and cheese made with Velveeta, butter, milk and eggs. My mother didn't know what a bechamel sauce was but it didn't matter. She made some of the best mac and cheese I've ever tasted. I sometimes use bechamel, but more often I simply use cream sauce made with the cheese/cheeses I select for the dish, along with an egg. In your case, I might combine the gruyere with the cheddar or the goat cheese with the cheddar but I don't believe I'd combine all three; nor would I pair the goat and gruyere. Of course, there are many varieties of goat cheese and if you have one that you believe might work them, by all means, give it a shot. My family fights over the crispy browned portions of the cheese. I usually drizzle butter on top of the mixture when it's about half done to make it richer and improve the browning.
Macaroni and cheese is like meatloaf in the way that everybody loves it, yet everybody argues about its preparation. It seems like such a simple comfort food, and yet there are as many versions of it as there are people who care about it. So I'd suggest trying different versions until you find something you love. And remember that with so many versions out there, you can continue trying it, and perhaps find multiple versions you love.
As an example, I loved a version that a friend made, fluffy yet rich, baked with things in it I'd never consider, like bell peppers. But I live alone in an urban apartment, I don't care to store tons of leftovers, and I don't have tons of time, so I get lazy and make small batches. For mac-n-cheese, my latest thing is to just boil my macaroni, drain it, quickly (while it's still hot) stir in some butter and sour cream, add some salt and pepper and paprika and nutmeg, then grate in some cheddar. Stir it up. Eat it straight out of the pot. Would I serve this to guests? Certainly not. Does it sate me and comfort me? Yes. Will I continue to explore new techniques and ingredients for this dish? Yes.
I tend to make a not too thick bechamel, because I like to layer the cooked pasta with lots and lots of cheese, and a gal can only eat so much fat in one meal. Here is my version, you could use any cheese you like, just lots of it!
12 oz. macaroni
2 T. grated onion
Salt and white pepper to taste
3/4 lb. cheddar cheese
3 T. butter
3 T. flour
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
4 fresh sage leaves
3 c. whole milk
Heat milk with sage and nutmeg in measuring cup in microwave. Make roux. Add hot milk, bring to boil, season to taste. Simmer while preparing remaining ingredients. Heat oven to 375°. Cook macaroni until barely done in salted water. Drain well.
Place 1/3 of the macaroni in a covered casserole (I use my 5 qt All-Clad that I cooked the pasta in). Sprinkle with half the onion, a third of the cheese, generously with pepper. Repeat with 1/3 of the macaroni and cheese. Repeat with remaining macaroni and cheese. Pour white sauce over casserole. Dot with butter. Cover, bake 30 minutes until bubbly. Uncover, bake 15 minutes longer.
Cream will, obviously, give you a creamier mouthfeel and much more body. The bechamel will be filling but has the potential to be grainy if not made properly, and to not be seasoned enough. I say use a porportion of both. if you have cheddar and gruyere, you have plenty of seasoning from those with some salt and pepper added later on. If you have a recipe that normally uses X amount of bechamel, cut it in half and reduce some cream enough to make up for the missing bechamel. The bechamel, cream, and cheeses should mingle enough anyway that you don't need to do anything but mix them together before putting them in a casserole or whatever you do.
The best mac 'n' cheese comes from a properly made Bechemel, with a touch of powdered hot mustard. Very creamy. The cream-only sauce has a greater tendency towards graininess or grittiness because it isn't stable -- it's a food chemistry thing.
I generally use a bechamel, I've found the recipe on the Mueller's macaroni box to be a very good starting point, with a few modifications. I steep crushed garlic and a few chunks of onion in the milk for a few minutes, then strain before adding to the bechamel. I use 2 cups of shredded cheese for 2 cups of milk in the sauce, then when mixing the sauce and pasta I add about a cup of cheese cubes, so the final product has cheese sauce and melted cheese throughout.