Slow cooker mac and cheese?
- sbp Sep 24, 2012 04:57 AM
Want to make mac and cheese for a crowd where there will be no kitchen available. I looked up some slow cooker recipes, but they all call for cooking the pasta first. Then cook for hours in the slow cooker. I can't imagine that's the best way. I suspect with such a long moist cook, you could use raw macaroni. (The recipes also don't use a bechamel, just milk and cheese.
Has anyone done this? Any tips?
The mushy pasta is the issue. If you just make regular mac and cheese, with the pasta cooked very al dente before finishing, it will still turn to mush in 4 hours in a slow cooker. If I start with raw pasta, it might be OK with a long cook and come out just right, slowly absorbing moisture like a lasagne.
I'll bet it would be good if you cooked the pasta slightly short of al dente and used an egg based recipe. Bread pudding works great in a crock pot and this is along those lines. I would cook it, though,to get rid of some of the starchiness.
Okay, I did the tiny test. Strong hint of the positive but I sorta Fell Asleep For Too Long lol! So the batch was lost but I think it can work.
In a butter-rubbed 2-c mini-crockpot:
a short 1/2 c penne (Barilla Mezze Penne, ridged)
1 c thick milk made from powdered milk (didn't measure the dry, was too much though)
3 slices Havarti, chopped
2 cheesesticks, chopped (Frigo Cheeseheads)
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp homemade grainy mustard
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
small crunch of Maldon salt
Went in pot @ ~ 1000. Checked every 15 min; butter and cheese melting nicely, sauce very rich and mellow. At about 45" there was some clumping of the cheese that I stirred down, and could see the pasta growing. Then I lay down for "just 15 minutes" and awoke around 2:00 pm.
The pasta had cooked nicely and was not mushy (not al dente but comfortably home-baked texture). I think small ridged pasta will hold up better than elbows.
I made the milk too thick. As the pot got warmer and I stopped stirring (sleeping!) the water absorbed well and I think the milk may have precipitated with the fat and got browned and a burned flavor. Next time I will make a thinner initial mixture; can always make up and add a couple of thick or thin shots if needed. (Why did I use powder? I don't keep fluid milk around.)
I would stir in the cheese next time after the pasta has cooked/swollen; it doesn't need to be "cooked" so much as melted in. Could let the cheese get to room temp on counter for 15" before adding. I had planned to add some goat chz but it was fuzzy. I might split the butter next time and put half in with the milk, half with the cheese.
I might consider a bit less butter, especially if I scaled up.
I did not add the egg that some recipes suggested. Wanted to try for a liquid-y cheesy sauce.
Seasoning was approp, and gentle. I considered tossing in some poblano bits that I have frozen but the pot went down in flames before that.
I'm guessing this (very small amount) would have been done at 2 hours. Can't extrapolate to larger cooker. The pot would need much more attention than many slow-cooker recipes, incl initial stirring/checking, varied times for ingredient additions, and stirring to avoid burning during dinner.
Will not go for nap next time. :)
Considering a retry tomorrow.
Alright, I woke up too early today and repeated the test. This time with thin milk, adding cheese when pasta almost done. Punched up spice amounts a bit.
Pasta tasted a bit cardboardy before cheese added (may have been age; was stored in plastic). Still had trouble getting cheese to melt without clumping. May have been cheese choice (cheesesticks aren't fab melter/blenders). Difficult to stir well without risk of breaking up pasta. Decided to pour off the whole into small baking pan and will use for dinner, flavor is okay, cheese will probably melt better in oven.
Personally, wouldn't repeat. A bit too fussy (esp in your kitchenless environment) for possibly unpredictable results. Flavor is okay but much better results from stovetop or oven. (Edited to add: enjoyed the challenge though!)
If I desperately needed mac-n-cheese in your sitch, I'd pre-make the whole batch with juicy sauce, bring in a cooler, and just warm in slow cooker. Or bring parcooked mac and fully-mixed/prepped cheese sauce and combine those in slow cooker.
Good luck! :)
I'm sure sbp's event is long done, but just wanted to update the thread with my recent attempt. (I need closure lol!)
Ordered "Slow Cooker Revolution" to see if I was missing anything. I had read some happy reviews of their mac-n-cheese and wanted to try.
Made a quarter serving of their recipe (they use a 6-qt, I wanted a sample in my 1.5-qt). Not thrilled that their recipe uses condensed soup and evaporated milk to help stabilize it, but tried it anyway. They make the sauce in a saucepan: I elected to heat the sauce in the crockpot and added the raw pasta when the sauce was hot.
Results: creamy sauce, freshened by the shredded cheese added, nice flavor; pasta still too soft despite pulling off 30 minutes early. Needed frequent checking and stir. I think the starch added from cooking the pasta with the sauce adds that faintly negative cardboardy flavor.
Final decision: would be willing to heat the sauce in a crockpot next time, cook the pasta separately, then combine. Why crockpot for sauce vs stovetop? - less risk of scorch/burn.