Macaroni and Cheese is my favorite food… in theory. Pasta? Check. Cheese? Double check. But Macaroni and Cheese (capitalized because this blog is my world and there could be no more proper noun than the food I love most) is a ticking time bomb. Your great-aunt-whatsherface brings it to every get together, and you always dive in, hoping for melty, gooey glory… but what you get is a block of solidified béchamel or grainy slivers of weird where sauce used to live.
I have tried for YEARS to make the perfect roux, the perfect béchamel , the perfect base to allow REAL cheese (read: NOT VELVEETA) to shine its countenance upon the buffet tables of my life. I want it to be every bit as good at the age of one hour as it is fresh off the stovetop or piping hot from the oven. I want it to be creamy and delicious, with a perfectly cooked pasta delivery device to ferry this cheesy perfection of my dreams into my mouth. But that is not the way of Macaroni and Cheese.
Translation: I have failed. Often, and repeatedly. With good cheese, with bad cheese, and even with… Velveeta (don’t you judge me- desperate times call for desperate measures). It’s always the same story- overly squishy pasta once it gets to your family reunion; a block of béchamel – a béchablock, if you will; and cheese that used to be magnificent but has now been reduced to an oily, grainy mess with an awkward skin on top.
But then… I opened a bakery, and science, the backbone of pastry, won. Somehow, I’ve been so stupid for all of these years, with the answer buried beneath layers of pastry cream and citrus fruit applications.
We can fix this, you guys. And it’s as simple as salt.
Sodium Citrate is a type of salt. It’s the sodium salt of citric acid– to explain it most simply, that’s the stuff in lemons and limes that makes them sour. Sodium Citrate is already in your diet, I would guess, daily. It’s in club soda, most processed meats like bratwurst, Kool-aid, Jello, candy, yogurt, soda, and wine, just to cover some basic bases.
Now. Where do you get it? Here, through this handy-dandy Amazon link, for starters: Sodium Citrate. You can also find it anywhere ingredients for molecular gastronomy are sold- that’s the science-y division of cheffing. You will also be pleased to know that this doesn’t cost an arm and a leg- if you have Amazon Prime, you’re looking at $6 for PLENTY for a dozen batches of cheese sauce.
Sodium Citrate will allow us, with just a few ingredients, to make silky, smooth, creamy, and glorious cheese sauces that manage to hold that way- not only for Macaroni and Cheese, as we will do today, but also nacho cheese, beer cheese, fondue, and topping for vegetables. Order it now, you’ll have it in a day or two, and then you can message me your thanks from your cheese coma.
The Last Macaroni and Cheese Recipe You’ll Ever Need
- 12 ounces by weight of grated cheese (I used sharp cheddar- it is very important that you GRATE THIS YOURSELF, no matter what variety you use- we don’t need to add cellulose from pre-shredded cheese to this party. This Microplane will make it easier- you’ll note that this is not the first time I have recommended this Microplane … it’s because you will use it nonstop)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 teaspoons Sodium Citrate (use a metal measuring spoon, not plastic or ceramic, for accuracy)
- 1 pound of cellentani or cavatappi pasta (you can use less if you want a higher sauce-to-pasta ratio, but don’t go below 3/4 pound)
Boil your water for your pasta, but do not salt it. This is likely the only time you will ever hear me say this- but the cheese sauce in this recipe has enough salt in it between the cheese and the sodium citrate, which, you will recall, is a type of salt. Once your water is boiling, add your pasta and PAY ATTENTION. You want your pasta al dente– so just under what you probably consider “done”. Remember, it’s about to spend some time sitting in cheesy liquid, too.
Meanwhile, bring your 1 cup of whole milk as well as your 2 teaspoons sodium citrate to a simmer. Not a boil. A simmer.
Once it simmers, you can begin whisking in small handfuls of your grated cheese. The idea is to gently add it, without overwhelming the milk. So add a small amount, whisk until smooth, and add some more. Keep going until it’s all in. Then immediately remove it from the heat. It is at this point that you can add some other seasonings to your cheese mixture, based on your personal preferences. I added some ground mustard, maybe 1/2 teaspoon, to mine. You might like paprika, chili powder, onion powder, jalapeños, bacon, ground beef, broccoli… or you might just want to leave it as cheesy as possible. I’m not here to judge.
Once your pasta is done, drain it well and then add it back to the pan. Pour your cheese sauce over the top and stir.
It’s ready to eat now…
Or you can optionally put it in some greased ramekins or a baking dish, and sprinkle some panko bread crumbs on it, and toss it under the broiler for a few for a crunchy delight on top of this creamy masterpiece.
I’ve had it both ways, and can’t say I was disappointed in either.
As it cools, it will certainly become thicker… but it will not turn into a weird block, nor will it be grainy and off-putting… and YOU will be the star of your next pitch-in.
As always, let me know how you like it, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog by clicking the FOLLOW link. And feel free to share this post with your friends!