Macaroni and Cheese
1 lb medium shells, cooked and warm
About 1 lb. cubed cheese (cheddar, fontina, and Gruyere)
1 quart milk
4 Tbsp. flour
Worcestershire to taste
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
Mustard to taste
Cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper to taste
1 shallot, minced
2 Tbs. butter
1) Sautee the shallot in the vegetable oil over medium heat until it is translucent but not brown.
2) Add the butter,
and the flour,
and whisk. This is your roux. It will get pretty thick and doughy soon, at which point…
3) Add the milk. Now, here is where you really, really have to whisk. It is going to be clumpy at first, and might appear like it will never smooth out. Keep whisking, because it will. If you have been going at it for 5 minutes, and there are still clumps, just run it through a strainer and return it to the hot pan. Really, no clumps here.
SECRET #1: THE BECHAMEL
This flour-and-fat sauce is the base to your mac and cheese. This ensures that it is velvety and melty, not grainy or oily. It takes just a bit more time and makes a world of difference. Now it’s cheesy time!
4) Add the cheese, and whisk until all the cheese is melted.
SECRET #2: THE CHEESE
Don’t just go willy-nilly here. Use some thought. A good mac and cheese is sharp, creamy, and nutty. So you need cheeses that embody all of these. Hence, this trifecta of cheddar (sharp), fontina (creamy), and gruyere(nutty). But you can mix and match – use mozzarella instead of fontina, use asiago in place of Gruyere, or pepper jack for the cheddar. As long as you keep those flavor and texture components in line, the mac and cheese will be tasty.
5) After about 7 minutes of constant stirring (so the cheese does not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn), you should have a lovely, smooth, cheesy sauce, to which you should…
add the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and cayenne pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings (including salt and pepper) as necessary.
SECRET #3: SEASONINGS
Mustard and Worcestershire sauce are non negotiable flavor enhancers for this mac and cheese. They add depth, savory character, and an umami flavor to a dish that could otherwise be too heavy or flat. The cayenne pepper adds a kick of heat for those who like it, but even if you don’t like mustard, PLEASE add some to this dish. You don’t taste the mustard, you just taste the flavors of the cheese deeper and more clearly.
6) Mix the sauce with the warm pasta shells.
SECRET #4: THE PASTA SHAPE
Elbow noodles are for the birds. They are thin and break easily, they turn mushy quickly, and they are boring.
You want medium sized shells. They are thick, so they can stand up to the thick sauce, they have a dip perfect for hiding pools of melty cheese, and they just taste better.
Always use shells. Or at least some wagon wheels.
This is the best mac and cheese ever. Incredibly creamy, with a velvety texture and a thick but still liquid sauce. The taste is sharp, umami, and pleasantly salty. You don’t taste the Worcestershire sauce or the mustard at all, but the addition of those ingredients make the sauce taste complex and deep – the nuttiness, the tanginess, and the mild milkiness of all the cheeses come out perfectly. The al dente shells filled with puddles of stretchy, creamy cheese sauce is almost too much to handle. This is almost too delicious and indulgent to eat.