Thursday, April 15, 2010

Classic Macaroni and Cheese

Some homemade macaroni and cheese is to die for; other versions are not quite as good as that ubiquitous "Kraft dinner" my kids love. This is my favorite homemade version; the keys are lots of salt (part of the charm of the orange boxed stuff) and doing most of the cooking on the stove instead of in the oven.

Side Dish Serving Suggestions: (if you use the mac-n-cheese as a main dish) green peas and baked sweet potatoes

From Cook's Illustrated May/June 2004

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 1 T. plus 1 t. salt
  • 5 T. unsalted butter
  • 6 T. flour
  • 1 1/2 t. powdered mustard
  • 1/4 t. cayenne (optional)
  • 5 c. milk (skim, low-fat, or whole)
  • 8 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
  • 8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)
  • 6 slices good-quality white bread, torn into rough pieces (optional)
  • 3 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces (optional)
  1. For optional bread crumb topping: Pulse bread and 3 T. butter in food processor until crumbs are no larger than 1/8-inch, ten to fifteen 1-second pulses. Set aside.
  2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat broiler (if using bread crumb topping). Bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven over high heat. Add macaroni and 1 tablespoon salt; cook until pasta is tender (not al dente). Drain pasta and set aside in colander.
  3. In now-empty Dutch oven, heat butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add flour, mustard, and cayenne (if using) and whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk; bring mixture to boil, whisking constantly (mixture must reach full boil to fully thicken). Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in cheeses and 1 teaspoon salt until cheeses fully melted. Add pasta and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes.
  4. If using bread crumb topping, transfer mixture to broiler-safe 9 by 13-inch baking dish and sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs. Broil until 2 crumbs are deep golden, 3 to 5 minutes, rotating pan if necessary for even browning. Cool about 5 minutes, then serve.
Serves 6-8 as a main course; 10-12 as a side dish

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