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Favorite macaroni and cheese - bechamel or custard?

fldhkybnva Nov 23, 2012 12:06 PM

Wow, I must have been living in a cave for several decades. Macaroni and cheese is a family favorite and it's so good that I rarely eat it unless someone in my family's hands have touched it. We had a potluck today at work and I was encouraged to try the "best ever macaroni and cheese" and it was completely different from what I'm used to though of course, my sample size is fairly small. It was very tasty but the texture was completely different. When she shared the recipe, I realized it involved a bechamel sauce with a roux base to my surprise considering our custard-based (I think traditional Southern) recipe. A google search has now made me aware that there are in fact two methods of mac and cheese - bechamel and custard. Out of interest, is there a method you prefer?

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  1. s
    sandylc RE: fldhkybnva Nov 23, 2012 12:10 PM

    I think I might do a hybrid. I make a bechamel and put eggs in it. Or sometimes leave them out because hubby wants it creamier.


    Also there might be a third one - my mother never did roux OR eggs - hers was strictly stove-top with milk and cheese. Very gooey.

    2 Replies
    1. re: sandylc
      dtremit RE: sandylc Nov 23, 2012 12:37 PM

      My family did something similar in the oven -- just layered the noodles with lots of grated cheese and butter, and poured a little milk over the top.

      These days I'm more of a béchamel fan -- the eggs distract too much from the cheese. I'm also not a huge fan of including mustard, which seems to pop up in the stovetop/custard ones. (Odd, because I typically love mustard.)

      1. re: dtremit
        DGresh RE: dtremit Nov 15, 2013 04:20 AM

        my family recipe is rigatoni, cheddar slices on top, and a bit of milk, in the oven, till crispy on top. We love it. Totally non-standard.

    2. chefj RE: fldhkybnva Nov 23, 2012 12:15 PM

      Béchamel sauce
      I have never a recipe that was a custard, though a couple of the Béchamel sauce ones call for an egg( Alton Brown's comes to mind).

      1. melpy RE: fldhkybnva Nov 23, 2012 12:37 PM

        We do béchamel in my family but my fiancé does a custard based. I don't like it as much evaluate it doesn't taste like cheese and the pasta tastes over cooked and crumbles.

        1. k
          kseiverd RE: fldhkybnva Nov 23, 2012 12:42 PM

          I've never made it, but SIL did Martha Stewart's recipe once and it was KILLER. Can't remember if had any eggs or bechamel... had TONS of lots of different cheeses. Fed a mob of people, but NOT cheap to make. The crusty corners were excellent!

          10 Replies
          1. re: kseiverd
            jeanmarieok RE: kseiverd Nov 23, 2012 12:53 PM

            I make the Martha Stewart recipe a couple of times a year, it's a bechamel based recipe. It's our family's favorite version.

            1. re: jeanmarieok
              igrove RE: jeanmarieok Nov 23, 2012 07:22 PM

              It's my family's favorite as well. I remember trying Patti Labelle's mac and cheese, which calls for two eggs. Would that qualify as a custard version?

              1. re: igrove
                Jay F RE: igrove Nov 23, 2012 07:36 PM

                >> I remember trying Patti Labelle's mac and cheese, which calls for two eggs. Would that qualify as a custard version?>>


            2. re: kseiverd
              NE_Elaine RE: kseiverd Nov 24, 2012 04:33 AM

              I have been making the MS Mac and Cheese for years and it is a bechamel style. I highly reccommend it to anyone looking for a MacNCheese recipe. I have already received the request to make it for XMAS again.

              1. re: kseiverd
                HeyImBack RE: kseiverd Nov 14, 2013 11:31 AM

                Once I tried Martha's recipe, there was no turning back. There's nothing better IMO. I get serious cravings for that mac and cheese!

                1. re: HeyImBack
                  fldhkybnva RE: HeyImBack Nov 14, 2013 11:35 AM

                  Mac and cheese is critical to our thanksgiving enjoyment so I'm torn Martha vs custard but the Martha reviews are hard to resist. Is it super super creamy? I can't deal if its like an oversauced plate of alfredo from any restaurant chain you'd like to pick :)

                  1. re: fldhkybnva
                    HeyImBack RE: fldhkybnva Nov 14, 2013 12:58 PM

                    I'd say it's more cheesy than creamy, and not soupy at all. As others have mentioned, it is most definitely not a cheap recipe to make, but in all honesty I have never found a better mac & cheese recipe. In full disclosure, though, the last time I made it, my 10-year old took one bite and said he prefers Kraft (obviously I still have some work to do w/ him!). More for me, I say :)

                    1. re: HeyImBack
                      fldhkybnva RE: HeyImBack Nov 14, 2013 01:21 PM

                      I would hate to make both, but would love to try this one especially as Patti didn't work out last year. I am definitely all for cheesy. The baked macaroni custard style seems to work when my grandmother makes it but other than that I can't seem to get it to not be a dry hard mess.

                      1. re: fldhkybnva
                        HeyImBack RE: fldhkybnva Nov 14, 2013 02:15 PM

                        I noticed you posted on the other thread that the Patti LaBelle recipe was bland and didn't reheat well. Martha's recipe isn't bland at all, it's got a bite from the sharp white cheddar and the nutmeg, and it reheats beautifully. Although, I love it so much that I have been known to eat it cold right out of the fridge. Shoot, now I seriously want some!

                        1. re: HeyImBack
                          fldhkybnva RE: HeyImBack Nov 14, 2013 02:45 PM

                          Yea although I might have been to blame, it wouldn't set and once it did was slightly burned on the bottom. Barely any was eaten other than a small serving and the rest suffered but somehow others made it work so I pondered just using different cheeses though I think I should balk my family tradition and try the bechamel

              2. paulj RE: fldhkybnva Nov 23, 2012 12:49 PM

                Another difference in styles - baked or stove top. The Good Eats episode presents a couple of baked versions, and then AB's 'nephew' says he really wants something like the 'blue box', so AB whips up a stove top version using an evaporated milk base.

                1. horseshoe RE: fldhkybnva Nov 23, 2012 01:19 PM

                  I have made it both ways, The bechamel tends to be grainy because of the flour.

                  40 Replies
                  1. re: horseshoe
                    magiesmom RE: horseshoe Nov 23, 2012 02:52 PM

                    a food bechamel is never grainy!

                    1. re: magiesmom
                      Jay F RE: magiesmom Nov 23, 2012 03:16 PM

                      >>a food bechamel is never grainy!>>


                      I've never heard of custard-based M&C. It doesn't sound bad, really--I love quiche, after all. I've never made the box kind--always and only the Martha Stewart bechamel-based type, with extra-sharp cheddar, gruyere or swiss (I've known people who say they dislike gruyere), and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

                      I came from a Velveeta home. It is a miracle I make decent macaroni and cheese.

                      1. re: Jay F
                        magiesmom RE: Jay F Nov 23, 2012 03:16 PM

                        of course I meant a GOOD bechamel, but I am glad you agree, Jay F :=)

                        1. re: magiesmom
                          Jay F RE: magiesmom Nov 23, 2012 03:19 PM

                          And I *knew* that, MM. Or guessed it, at least. :)

                          1. re: magiesmom
                            horseshoe RE: magiesmom Nov 24, 2012 06:46 PM

                            I guess grainy wasn't what I meant, others called it pastey. I have made many a bechamel, in my day.

                            1. re: horseshoe
                              kubasd RE: horseshoe Nov 24, 2012 06:52 PM

                              If the roux is cooked enough, it shouldn't be pasty...

                              1. re: kubasd
                                magiesmom RE: kubasd Nov 24, 2012 06:59 PM

                                right. A good bechamel is a delight.

                                1. re: magiesmom
                                  C. Hamster RE: magiesmom Nov 14, 2013 02:48 PM

                                  A properly made Mornay sauce is neither pasty nor grainy.

                                  1. re: C. Hamster
                                    fldhkybnva RE: C. Hamster Nov 14, 2013 03:42 PM

                                    Any tips? I've never made one though might need to in 2 weeks time.

                                    1. re: fldhkybnva
                                      chefj RE: fldhkybnva Nov 14, 2013 04:01 PM

                                      Make sure you cook the Roux without coloring for a minuet or two before you start adding milk.
                                      I always heat my milk to scalding before adding
                                      Stir covering the whole bottom of the Pan while returning to a simmer.
                                      Do not boil hard.

                                      1. re: chefj
                                        sandylc RE: chefj Nov 14, 2013 04:08 PM

                                        I love my flat whisk for this. It cleans the corner and bottom of the pan amazingly well.

                                        1. re: sandylc
                                          chefj RE: sandylc Nov 14, 2013 04:47 PM

                                          Silicon Spatulas or those flat nosed wooden spoons work very well too.

                                          1. re: chefj
                                            sandylc RE: chefj Nov 14, 2013 05:45 PM

                                            They don't keep things moving enough for me - and I just don't understand wooden spoons. I don't think they're useful for anything but looks.

                                            1. re: sandylc
                                              chefj RE: sandylc Nov 15, 2013 04:05 PM

                                              To each their own. Many times people are over zealous with the Whisk and break the Liaison
                                              Silicon Spats are my preferred or a flat Nose wooden Spoon especially with any thing that I want to be sure that nothing catches on the bottom IE: Curds, Custards and White Sauces

                                        2. re: chefj
                                          fldhkybnva RE: chefj Nov 14, 2013 04:18 PM

                                          Just let milk boil to scalding in a pan on the stove?

                                          1. re: fldhkybnva
                                            biondanonima RE: fldhkybnva Nov 14, 2013 05:55 PM

                                            I actually don't heat my milk before adding to the roux - I find it's less likely to form lumps that way. I add cold milk, bit by bit, whisking well after each addition. I think CI did an article on this and they said that cold worked better due to the speed at which the starches gelatinize. Same principle as adding a cold slurry or beurre manie to a hot liquid to thicken - the two should always be opposing temps.

                                            1. re: biondanonima
                                              sandylc RE: biondanonima Nov 14, 2013 06:10 PM

                                              I use cold milk, too. I just dump it in, though. Smooth every time.

                                        3. re: fldhkybnva
                                          biondanonima RE: fldhkybnva Nov 14, 2013 04:16 PM

                                          The path to a good bechamel/mornay is pretty well explained here - make sure your roux is cooked to a nice blonde color and nutty smell, whisk vigorously while slowly adding milk to avoid lumps, let the sauce simmer a while (maybe 10 minutes) before adding the cheese to make sure the flour is hydrated, use low heat to melt the cheese.

                                          I do have a couple of tips that are specific to mornay made with cheddar (or other aged cheese) and the recipe you're considering. Mornay made with aged cheese has a tendency to get grainy because cheddar and its ilk are not great melting cheeses. Despite the roux, it will break and become grainy when exposed to heat - this is especially true of sharper, more expensive aged cheddars. There are a couple of ways to get around this - you can add a little sodium citrate (if you have any around) or you can add a little Velveeta or American cheese. Either of these will help keep the proteins and fats in those cheeses more emulsified.

                                          Second, with bechamel style mac and cheese, IMO you want your sauce to be EXTREMELY runny before you add the pasta. It will tighten up A LOT when the pasta releases starch into it and it cooks again in the oven. If I were making Martha's recipe, I would probably cut the amount of flour and butter in half (so 4 T. of each) and increase the milk to 6 cups (actually, I might do 4 cups of milk and 2 of half and half, to make it a little creamier and add back some of the fat from the butter I eliminated). The sauce will seem thin before adding the pasta, but it WILL tighten up in the oven.

                                          1. re: biondanonima
                                            fldhkybnva RE: biondanonima Nov 14, 2013 04:21 PM

                                            Thanks for the advice. I was pondering using Dubliner a fairly sharp cheddar or an aged Leicester which is quite crumbly with Fontina instead of Gruyere. I don't min the addition of Velveeta, how much would you add? Or where does one buy sodium citrate?

                                            1. re: fldhkybnva
                                              biondanonima RE: fldhkybnva Nov 14, 2013 04:36 PM

                                              Fontina is a great melter so that will help. If you want to use Velveeta as well, just an ounce or two will make a world of difference in the texture without significantly changing the flavor. A little sodium citrate (maybe a couple of teaspoons for the amount of cheese you're using) would smooth things out too. You can get sodium citrate pretty cheaply on Amazon or other online retailers - I think I paid $10 for a one-pound container, which will last me probably the rest of my life, LOL.

                                              1. re: biondanonima
                                                fldhkybnva RE: biondanonima Nov 14, 2013 04:42 PM

                                                Yea, now I'm going to need to figure out what to do with it :) It doesn't add a sour taste?

                                                1. re: fldhkybnva
                                                  biondanonima RE: fldhkybnva Nov 14, 2013 04:49 PM

                                                  Not at all. Sodium citrate is different from citric acid (aka sour salt, which does add a sour taste). It's just sort of salty and vaguely bitter, although I felt the cheese masked any bitterness once it was incorporated into the sauce. Go easy on additional salt, though.

                                                  1. re: biondanonima
                                                    fldhkybnva RE: biondanonima Nov 14, 2013 06:13 PM

                                                    Yea, that was my next question. I imagine it acts like regular salt in terms of my body knowing the difference between it and sodium chloride

                                                    1. re: biondanonima
                                                      fldhkybnva RE: biondanonima Nov 14, 2013 06:51 PM

                                                      Wow, I think that'd be some whopper of a sodium dose if it's trisodium citrate.

                                                2. re: fldhkybnva
                                                  rainey RE: fldhkybnva Nov 14, 2013 04:37 PM

                                                  Always use some Dubliner in mine. Also some smoked Gouda and some Comté and a bit of Parm.

                                                  No Velveeta tho. I don't think there's ever been Velveeta in my house since I was old enough to have one of my own and that's the way it will stay.

                                                3. re: biondanonima
                                                  fldhkybnva RE: biondanonima Nov 14, 2013 04:34 PM

                                                  Wow I just looked up the Modernist macaroni and cheese, and the scientist in me thinks this is amazing. Do you think I could just use Martha's recipe with sodium citrate instead of flour?

                                                  1. re: fldhkybnva
                                                    biondanonima RE: fldhkybnva Nov 14, 2013 04:41 PM

                                                    Yes, that should work - I would probably do a dry run before Thanksgiving, though, just to be sure (it sounds like your family loves leftovers so you can always freeze it for leftovers if it's successful). I played with a variation of that myself for my tofu mac and cheese - it was a little too runny without any thickener, but since you're using real pasta (which will release starch into the sauce) I think that would be plenty of thickener, especially if you like it nice and creamy.

                                                    1. re: biondanonima
                                                      fldhkybnva RE: biondanonima Nov 14, 2013 04:45 PM

                                                      Yea, we aren't really into carbs or mac and cheese except probably 10 days out of the year so perhaps I'll make a batch for work and test it out with a nibble or two. I just need to decide on cheeses but maybe keeping it simple with Dubliner or the TJs unexpected Cheddar and Fontina is good. I love Raclette and thought it'd work nicely as well especially since it melts like a champ. I imagine nearly any combination of cheeses tastes great as long as the total cheese/milk ratio is the same.

                                                      Wow you reminded me that I am really in mac and cheese indecision land. I had your recipe linked in my Thanksgiving spreadsheet as the one to make. I know it's different but your husband likes it better right? What do you think?

                                                      1. re: fldhkybnva
                                                        biondanonima RE: fldhkybnva Nov 14, 2013 05:48 PM

                                                        For Thanksgiving, I would go with real pasta. The tofu version is delicious, but I doubt anyone will be watching their carbs on T-day, and people who don't LC are usually less open to the types of subs that regular low-carbers accept as a matter of course. When I made the tofu version for my stepdaughters for the first time (both of whom LOVE mac and cheese and LOVE their carbs), they both said "this is good, but it's different from mac and cheese." I'm sure your family is expecting the real deal, so give it to them!

                                                  2. re: biondanonima
                                                    chefj RE: biondanonima Nov 14, 2013 04:45 PM

                                                    I turn off the heat when cheese is added. There is enough heat in the sauce to do the work and you minimize the chances of breaking or getting grainy.

                                                    1. re: chefj
                                                      biondanonima RE: chefj Nov 14, 2013 05:50 PM

                                                      Yes, low heat definitely helps keep the sauce from getting grainy, but there is also the issue of the baking step, where you end up reheating an already melted sauce. I think that's where graininess typically develops, and unless you just run the casserole quickly under the broiler, it's a little harder to control the heat there.

                                                    2. re: biondanonima
                                                      Mlm0971 RE: biondanonima Nov 21, 2013 03:58 PM

                                                      Hi, I wondering how much sodium citrate you would add to a 4cup mornay sauce. I have tried 4 mac and cheese recipes and none are perfect. The best tasting one was one I started with a béchamel. While the taste was amazing it did break in the oven. I have some sodium citrate on the way. I am just afraid the recipe with just that might be too cheesy since the one I tried with evaporated milk was. I'm hoping to combine my mornay recipe with the magic of sodium citrate. Any advice would help. Thanks!

                                                      1. re: Mlm0971
                                                        paulj RE: Mlm0971 Nov 21, 2013 09:46 PM

                                                        This Chow Modernist Kitchen recipe calls for 14g of sodium citrate for 13 oz of cheese. 14g of table salt is about 2 tsp. - so you don't need a lot.

                                                        1. re: paulj
                                                          Mlm0971 RE: paulj Nov 24, 2013 02:02 PM

                                                          Ok, so I just made it and it's perfect! 2 1/4c milk, 3Tb butter and flour, 6 1/2oz cheddar, 2oz parm,2oz asiago,garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, 1 1/4tsp sodium citrate. 8oz pasta.
                                                          Perfect texture and creaminess!

                                                    3. re: fldhkybnva
                                                      C. Hamster RE: fldhkybnva Nov 14, 2013 09:44 PM

                                                      The MOST IMPORTANT thing is to add the cheese off the heat.

                                                      Otherwise it can break and be irretrievably grainy

                                                      Make your bechemel (I use silicone spatula to work the butter and flour together and then you must use a whisk for the liquid. ). When it's ready take it off the burner and let it cool for like 30 seconds and then gradually add the cheese and whisk like mad.

                                                      1. re: C. Hamster
                                                        fldhkybnva RE: C. Hamster Nov 14, 2013 10:28 PM

                                                        "When it's ready" meaning it's thickened? How do you judge ready?

                                                        1. re: fldhkybnva
                                                          C. Hamster RE: fldhkybnva Nov 14, 2013 11:10 PM

                                                          When it's ready is when the bechemel is done. The butter and flour have been smoothly combined and the liquid briskly whisked in with no lumps and stops thickening.

                                                          The thickness of your Bechemel depends on the thickness of your roux and how much liquid you use

                                                          Use a thinner Bechemel for Mornay sauce used for Mac and cheese ... And more of it than you think.

                                                4. re: kubasd
                                                  AnnieWilliams RE: kubasd Nov 25, 2012 03:50 AM

                                                  I have made many roux bases before and cook it very well. In mac & cheese it still seems pasty to me. I just like the custard better, because it's firmer and the cheese is a little stringy, which I like.

                                          2. re: magiesmom
                                            rainey RE: magiesmom Nov 14, 2013 04:18 PM

                                            I'm not sure you'd turn even a lousy béchamel grainy.

                                            You whisk the flour into the butter and give it a minute. I don't know how, if you do that, you won't get a very nice one.

                                            1. re: rainey
                                              C. Hamster RE: rainey Nov 14, 2013 09:46 PM

                                              She's making Mornay sauce, not bechemel.

                                        4. splatgirl RE: fldhkybnva Nov 23, 2012 02:27 PM

                                          My favorite is the Cooks Illustrated version, a bechamel. IMO the secret ingredient is a bit of gorgonzola or bleu cheese in addition to two other types, IIRC.

                                          1. smaki RE: fldhkybnva Nov 23, 2012 02:33 PM

                                            Grew up eating cheap Kraft macaroni and cheese out of the box. If want to step it up and go home made, it is hard to beat Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine recipe - he was the CTO who helped create Microsoft and once worked with Stephen Hawking expanding world knowledge when in college. Is a retired billionaire foodie who happened to study such things as Mac & Cheese with his expensive team of food experts and lab. Video and info about Nathan and his team including their Mac & Cheese recipe with directions is shown at: http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/mac-c... Tastes great if you can find the ingredients and sometimes I experiment with different cheeses to change the flavor. This is my personal favorite way to make macaroni and cheese so thought would share.

                                            "Nathan Myhrvold, a master French chef, scientist and computer genius, applied scientific research to the technology of cooking, along with fellow food scientists Chris Young and Maxine Bilet." Together they created "Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking" book set six waterproof volumes in its own plexiglass case >40 pounds using >4 pounds of ink to print. Also created Modernist Cuisine at Home a 456 page volume which happens to have this Mac and Cheese Recipe in it.

                                            Note: Nathan with team cool the cheese mixture after cooking to room temp then refrigerate to make a healthier better tasting home version of Velveeta - to grate and use as needed on demand. Find melts easily into macaroni and cheese, omelets, sandwiches, over broccoli, on top of cauliflower, ...

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: smaki
                                              paulj RE: smaki Nov 23, 2012 04:30 PM

                                              Roughly the same cheese sauce is here on CHOW
                                              and a CHOW video

                                              1. re: smaki
                                                igrove RE: smaki Nov 23, 2012 07:38 PM

                                                Thanks for that link. What a great story!

                                                1. re: igrove
                                                  smaki RE: igrove Nov 23, 2012 07:59 PM

                                                  Your welcome. Glad you enjoyed it as much as I do.

                                                2. re: smaki
                                                  calumin RE: smaki Dec 9, 2012 07:50 PM

                                                  I just tried this recipe and have to agree this is way better than dissolving your cheese in a bunch of bechamel.

                                                  It's interesting though that even though I used sharp cheddar, the sodium citrate makes it taste somewhat like Velveeta. In the end it's still much better to me than the other methods.

                                                3. AnnieWilliams RE: fldhkybnva Nov 23, 2012 04:36 PM

                                                  Custard here, and I'm kind of in the south. My aunt has always made hers with the custard. I always loved how hers had strings of cheese when she would serve it. I just don't care for the pasty texture of a bechamel.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: AnnieWilliams
                                                    fldhkybnva RE: AnnieWilliams Nov 14, 2013 10:26 AM

                                                    Do you have a recipe to share?

                                                  2. s
                                                    sandylc RE: fldhkybnva Nov 23, 2012 04:37 PM

                                                    Southerners, still looking for the custard recipe for MC

                                                    7 Replies
                                                    1. re: sandylc
                                                      AnnieWilliams RE: sandylc Nov 23, 2012 04:44 PM

                                                      Here you go! I don't think my aunt ever used the dry mustard, but I'm sure it's good. I remember her using evaporated milk and eggs, then pouring it over the cooked noodles.


                                                      1. re: AnnieWilliams
                                                        sandylc RE: AnnieWilliams Nov 23, 2012 07:36 PM

                                                        Thanks! Very straight-forward and delicious-looking. I do put dry mustard (but less) and also cayenne and a bit of parmesan in mine. Gives it just a bit of a flavor-boost.

                                                        1. re: sandylc
                                                          tim irvine RE: sandylc Nov 25, 2012 05:06 AM

                                                          Agree on adding zip. I go with Bechamel based but sprinkle Sriracha into the Bechamel to turn it light pink before folding in sharp cheddar and Gruyere.

                                                          1. re: sandylc
                                                            jmcarthur8 RE: sandylc Nov 25, 2012 06:47 PM

                                                            I include some dry mustard, paprika and a few good shakes of hot sauce in mine. It really does perk up the flavor.

                                                          2. re: AnnieWilliams
                                                            paulj RE: AnnieWilliams Nov 23, 2012 08:35 PM

                                                            How different would it be if you omitted the egg? I suspect a lot of the milk is absorbed by the pasta.

                                                            1. re: paulj
                                                              AnnieWilliams RE: paulj Nov 24, 2012 02:59 AM

                                                              I'm not sure, Paul. It has a firm texture and the noodles hold together, without being rubbery. I think without the eggs it might be a little more loose.

                                                              1. re: AnnieWilliams
                                                                fldhkybnva RE: AnnieWilliams Nov 21, 2013 04:09 PM

                                                                You prefer evaporated to half and half or whole?

                                                        2. e
                                                          escondido123 RE: fldhkybnva Nov 23, 2012 05:00 PM

                                                          Neither one. No eggs. No flour. Just cream and cheeses-Parmigiano, Comte and Roquefort being my favorite this month.

                                                          12 Replies
                                                          1. re: escondido123
                                                            CocoaChanel RE: escondido123 Nov 24, 2012 04:22 AM

                                                            I'm in the "neither" camp as well; (occaisionally, I will do a bechamel, but I dislike the custard)

                                                            Elbow noodles, butter, a bit of sour cream (or cream) and (*hangs head in shame*) - McLaren's Imperial cheese -- sooo sharply good,,,

                                                            If not McLaren's then a sharp white cheddar and parmagiano

                                                            1. re: escondido123
                                                              RetiredChef RE: escondido123 Nov 25, 2012 05:44 AM

                                                              I'm surprised not more people are in this camp, gives the best results, is the easiest.

                                                              1. re: RetiredChef
                                                                magiesmom RE: RetiredChef Nov 25, 2012 05:57 AM

                                                                well," best results" is subjective. That's kind of the point.

                                                                1. re: RetiredChef
                                                                  chefj RE: RetiredChef Nov 25, 2012 07:53 AM

                                                                  Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too rich.
                                                                  Makes my Liver hurt just thinking of it.

                                                                  1. re: chefj
                                                                    RetiredChef RE: chefj Dec 1, 2012 03:00 AM

                                                                    Couldn't disagree more. The roux and bechamel based versions are much thicker and cheesier. Since you use much less cream you need less cheese so this is usually the lightest yet most flavorful version out there.

                                                                    1. re: RetiredChef
                                                                      chefj RE: RetiredChef Nov 14, 2013 11:11 AM

                                                                      Really I think you need to look at some recipes.
                                                                      If you are using heavy cream as opposed to a lightly bound Milk Béchamel you are starting with 10x the butter fat.
                                                                      Even if you are reducing the Cheese by 25% it does not balance out and you end up with less Cheese flavor to boot.

                                                                  2. re: RetiredChef
                                                                    escondido123 RE: RetiredChef Nov 25, 2012 10:49 AM

                                                                    And then there is the "Cucina Simpatica" recipe where you parboil the pasta and then toss with cream, cheeses and such before baking in a shallow pan until crunchy on top. Amazing.

                                                                    1. re: escondido123
                                                                      Jay F RE: escondido123 Nov 25, 2012 11:07 AM

                                                                      I made a cream & cheeses version about ten years ago, after reading a book on staff meals at Chanterelle in NYC. It was okay, but didn't make me want to give up "real" M&C, i.e., made with roux. It called for Worcestershire, which has been sitting on my shelf ever since.

                                                                      1. re: Jay F
                                                                        sandylc RE: Jay F Nov 25, 2012 11:26 AM

                                                                        Worcestershire. (Ha, did you have to look at the label to spell it?) There's a puzzling ingredient. I always think it should taste better than it does. Seems like mostly MSG. I use a speck of it once in a while, but I don't want to be able to actually taste it in anything!

                                                                        1. re: sandylc
                                                                          smaki RE: sandylc Nov 25, 2012 01:58 PM

                                                                          I mix Worcestershire with catchup then put on top of Mac & Cheese sometimes. Is good. Is like an inexpensive steak sauce. Depending on mood may also put a few drops of hot sauce in as well.

                                                                        2. re: Jay F
                                                                          escondido123 RE: Jay F Nov 25, 2012 12:06 PM

                                                                          I would never put it in Mac and Cheese, maybe a tuna noodle casserole though where again I use no flour or eggs.

                                                                          1. re: escondido123
                                                                            Jay F RE: escondido123 Nov 25, 2012 12:54 PM

                                                                            My mother used to make a sauce for bluefish of lemon juice, Worcestershire, and butter, and I used to put it in canned tomato soup when I was a kid, but those are the only things I've ever used it for.

                                                                  3. jmcarthur8 RE: fldhkybnva Nov 23, 2012 07:17 PM

                                                                    Always the bechamel. I love love love it. I've tried Alton Brown's stovetop (meh), somebody or other's Southern style with eggs (too quichey), and one from Cooking Light with butternut squash in it (looked prettier than it tasted).
                                                                    I finally decided after trying everyone else's favorite or best mac and cheese, that I simply like my own, and there's no point in messing around with any other recipe. I may mix it up with a few different cheeses now and then, but my favorite will always be a white sauce with sharp and mild cheddar.

                                                                    1. paulj RE: fldhkybnva Nov 23, 2012 08:47 PM

                                                                      It also possible to make cross over sauces. For example, beaten egg (or just egg yolk) can be added to a bechamel, usually to add some richness, but also some thickening. Pastry cream is a stove top egg custard that stabilized, and further thickened, with a starch (flour or corn). I haven't read of making savory (no sugar) version of pastry cream, but can't imagine why it would work.

                                                                      But something that complicates matters in M&C, is that the macaroni ends up absorbing moisture form the sauce, especially in the baked version.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: paulj
                                                                        magiesmom RE: paulj Nov 24, 2012 04:46 AM

                                                                        I find that a nice thick bechamel and plenty of it works wonderfully.

                                                                      2. jw615 RE: fldhkybnva Nov 23, 2012 10:00 PM

                                                                        I use a bechamel based sauce, and prefer it over an egg based mac and cheese.

                                                                        Fair disclosure: I'm allergic to eggs, but that happened late in life (mid twenties, about 4 years ago), and I've had both, and at least think that I remember well enough to judge.

                                                                        1. PotatoHouse RE: fldhkybnva Nov 24, 2012 05:30 AM

                                                                          I make a Bechamel with a three cheese blend.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: PotatoHouse
                                                                            fldhkybnva RE: PotatoHouse Nov 14, 2013 04:24 PM

                                                                            What are your preferred cheeses?

                                                                          2. twyst RE: fldhkybnva Nov 24, 2012 05:37 AM

                                                                            Just noodles, cheese, and sodium citrate to stabilize the (quality) cheese so it melts like velveeta

                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                            1. re: twyst
                                                                              fldhkybnva RE: twyst Nov 14, 2013 04:24 PM

                                                                              This is interesting, can I just buy sodium citrate online? Do you have a recipe?

                                                                              1. re: fldhkybnva
                                                                                paulj RE: fldhkybnva Nov 14, 2013 06:28 PM


                                                                                1. re: paulj
                                                                                  fldhkybnva RE: paulj Nov 14, 2013 06:36 PM

                                                                                  Thanks, just found that link. I'm really pondering giving this a try though I think am understandably cautious.

                                                                            2. r
                                                                              ratgirlagogo RE: fldhkybnva Dec 1, 2012 10:36 AM

                                                                              Bechamel all the way. My favorite is still the bechamel-based one in the old Vegetarian Epicure, with fontina and gruyere and tons of black pepper. Mr. Rat prefers the cheddar/custard kind. It's one of the few things we really disagree on.

                                                                              1. w
                                                                                wetdog2 RE: fldhkybnva Dec 4, 2012 11:52 AM

                                                                                I like the texture of bechamel but the cheese is more pronounced with the custard version, and it's easier. For every 8 ounces of dry macaroni, puree in a blender: a cup of milk, one egg, 8 ounces of cheese (I do 2/3 cheddar, 1/3 gruyere), half a sauteed onion (maybe some sauteed garlic) and a couple ounces of cream cheese. Pour the mixture over the cooked pasta, sprinkle with grated cheese and bread crumbs and bake. Super easy, super decadent, easier cleanup than with the bechamel.

                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                1. re: wetdog2
                                                                                  sandylc RE: wetdog2 Dec 4, 2012 12:13 PM

                                                                                  That looks really interesting and easy as a method. I like seeing the 8 oz cheese per 8 oz pasta ratio. I like ratios.....

                                                                                  Do you have any problems getting it all out of the blender jar? That's one of my pet peeves with blenders - the food left behind!

                                                                                  1. re: sandylc
                                                                                    wetdog2 RE: sandylc Dec 4, 2012 01:18 PM

                                                                                    Pours right out! I adapted it from the Splendid Table recipe. Once you know the ratios, you never have to look it up again. They use raw onions but I found sauteing them first makes the dish more breath-friendly.

                                                                                    1. re: wetdog2
                                                                                      sandylc RE: wetdog2 Dec 4, 2012 02:10 PM

                                                                                      Oh, and there's another 8 oz there - the milk!

                                                                                2. eperdu RE: fldhkybnva Dec 4, 2012 01:48 PM

                                                                                  My favorite is actually sour cream and mayo mixed with raw onion and cheeses. It's folded into the cooked noodles and baked. It is amazing. It is best served hot and not re-heated. It came from Elaine Corn of the amazing book, "Now You're Cooking"

                                                                                  Everyone I make it for loves it and I do as well but I'm tempted to try other types. :)

                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: eperdu
                                                                                    smaki RE: eperdu Dec 5, 2012 10:01 AM

                                                                                    eperdu, that sounds great. Similarly, for decades a favorite way to make fish is sour cream and mayo (50/50 or 2/3 sour cream 1/3 mayo) with onion put over crusted fish (nut, crumbs, etc.) then bake until brown and bubbly. 1" chunks of halibut are very tasty this way, and works for other fish also. Use tin-foil or a pan you don't care about as when burns to it very hard to clean. Do an online search for: Halibut Caddy Ganty or Halibut Olympia and get links like these:


                                                                                    NOTE: The Gustavus Inn received a 2010 James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Award. This is a national culinary award which is only given to five locally owned restaurants per year. Halibut Caddy Ganty is their signature dish (they are also known for beach asparagus and kelp salsa).


                                                                                    1. re: eperdu
                                                                                      eperdu RE: eperdu Dec 9, 2012 08:18 PM

                                                                                      Replying to my own comment but .. after reviewing the Modernist Cuisine version of Mac & cheese with sodium citrate, I have to wonder if a little bit would help my Mac & Cheese hold it's shape for reheating. Basically the cheese breaks down after it cools off and it becomes greasy.

                                                                                      I've also made this with gluten-free noodles and it works well. Because most GF noodles are more fragile, I only cook the noodles half the recommended time because it does get baked as well.

                                                                                    2. r
                                                                                      rainey RE: fldhkybnva Nov 14, 2013 04:15 PM

                                                                                      Sorta neither.

                                                                                      My mother made mac & cheese by layering cheddar and elbow mac and adding milk to the top. It makes a very sturdy mac & cheese where the flavor of the cheddar is front and center. I don't know anyone else who makes it that way.

                                                                                      Today I use that method but substitute a blend of cheeses and a béchamel made with half & half & buttermilk (the buttermilk only goes in at the end so it doesn't have a chance to curdle). It's still definitely sturdy rather than creamy and the cheese is the star. I like it of course but the funny part is that when my family introduce me to their friends I always get "oh you make that mac & cheese _____ is always talking about".

                                                                                      1. h
                                                                                        Hecetamom RE: fldhkybnva Nov 14, 2013 05:52 PM

                                                                                        Bechamel. For my granddaughter I go a bit easy on the cheese and throw in a handful of frozen peas at the end. For adults, more cheese and a cheesy top to brown in the oven.

                                                                                        1. s
                                                                                          Springhaze2 RE: fldhkybnva Nov 14, 2013 10:13 PM

                                                                                          A simple bechamel sauce is easy in a microwave. I don't use my microwave oven for much other than reheating, but I do make cheese sauce for mac and cheese in the microwave.

                                                                                          The basic recipe for the white sauce is 2, 2, 1. (2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons flour, 1 cup milk)
                                                                                          Use a large 6 or 8 cup glass measuring cup or large microwave safe bowl.
                                                                                          2 tablespoons of butter, melted in the microwave for 20 or 30 seconds.
                                                                                          Whisk in 2 tablespoons of flour. zap in microwave for about 20 seconds, and stir with whisk.
                                                                                          add 1 cup milk, Add dry mustard, salt and pepper. stir and microwave for 2 minutes. Stir and microwave for 2 more minutes. Stir with whisk. At this point you have a basic white or cream sauce.

                                                                                          Add very generous 2 cups of high quality extra sharp cheddar cheese. Stir, microwave for about a minute and stir until cheese is melted.

                                                                                          Mix this with about 2 1/2 cups cooked macaroni in a buttered casserole dish. Stir in some extra cubed cheese (1/2 inch cubes, whatever you have on hand). Bake in the oven at 350 for about 1/2 hour.

                                                                                          1. Shrinkrap RE: fldhkybnva Nov 22, 2013 12:23 AM

                                                                                            Custard. But I do a hybrid.My Aunt Helen meets Cooks Illustrated meets Alton Brown meets Patti LaBelle meets John Thorne. And uncooked elbows, stirred intermittently. Lately I am leaning toward shorter baking times for a looser finish.




                                                                                            1. i
                                                                                              Isolda RE: fldhkybnva Nov 24, 2013 07:10 AM

                                                                                              Béchamel. Not a fan of custard-based mac and cheese, although that is what my southern grandmother made. I am convinced that the way to make a recipe for anything "southern" is to add more. More sugar, or fat, or eggs, or bacon. Just more.

                                                                                              1. eatzalot RE: fldhkybnva Nov 24, 2013 12:33 PM

                                                                                                I'm just seeing this long existing thread and maybe this point was already covered, but I wanted to mention to the OP that (despite constant repetition of a couple of standard US styles) there are many other established ways to great macaroni-and-cheese dishes besides "Béchamel " and "custard." Keep in mind it's an international dish, even more traditional in some European food cultures than in the US.

                                                                                                Examples offhand:

                                                                                                JUST cheese, or cheese and butter, with pasta. Baked or not. Many cheeses like aged Cheddar, Parmesan, Stilton will melt into hot pasta very nicely if they are already at room temp. (Basis of classic Northern-Italian fettuccine al burro, popularized 100 years ago by Alfredo di Lellio and known in the US as fettuccine al' Alfredo. Much later, Americans started adding cream, next case.)

                                                                                                Cheese with cream, or cream and butter. Cheese will dissolve into heated cream (even evaporated milk) and form a cheese sauce WITHOUT added binders. A basic version of this in Italy is pasta "alla panna" and lately mislabeled "Alfredo" in the US. Or you can use multiple cheeses, making another version familiar in Italy.

                                                                                                Cheese and a meat-based sauce (Velouté, reduced meat stock, or especially, pan gravy or pot-roast gravy). Elizabeth David in one of her classic Mediterranean books mentions something I've also seen taken for granted in some books from France and Italy, the serving of braised meat dishes "a la Macaronade." You ladle out some liquid from a meat braise, toss with noodles or macaroni and a suitable cheese, and bake it in an oven for a while to absorb the cheese and maybe brown the top. Very Good Technique -- either as a side dish, or main course in itself -- I seldom go a week nowadays without making some version of this.

                                                                                                (Add mushrooms, truffles, and other savory tidbits, use a clear Madeira sauce and Gruyère and/or Parmesan, and you have the classic French delicacy "Macaroni a la Lucullus," official versions can be found in the Larousse Gastronomique or the Guide Culinaire. That the French are traditionally great pasta fans with their own stable of standard recipes has been regrettably long ignored in the US).

                                                                                                And this is long enough already without even touching on the Greek or German traditions...

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