Nothing says comfort food like a nice bowl of macaroni and cheese. Creamy and velvety, this meal is an American classic. And while preparing mac and cheese is no rocket science, more often than not people are complaining that the final outcome is either too dry, too oily, or not creamy at all. Well, there’s no need to worry over this anymore. We have compiled a list of the best tricks and tips that will lead to a perfect mac and cheese followed by some of the best recipes.
But first things first, let us learn a thing or two about the origins of this great dish.
Mac and Cheese throughout the Years
DISCOVER GREAT RECIPES, TIPS & IDEAS!
Although mac and cheese is a quintessential American dish, it traces back its roots to Italy and England. In fact, it was in Medieval times (the 14th century to be more precise) that pasta and cheese casseroles and a dish referred to as makerouns were first mentioned in Liber de Coquina, and the Forme of Cury. An Italian and an English cookbook respectively.
According to one story, the American mac and cheese recipe is a result of Thomas Jefferson’s short stay in Italy. This situates the story around 1787 when America’s third president visited the areas around Genoa, Turin, Novara, and Milan. He had brought back a pasta machine which his daughter, Mary Randolph then used to create the very first mac and cheese. However, this early interpretation of the classic dish was made with parmesan cheese (unlike today’s version with cheddar) and it was a result of Jefferson’s visit to Rozzano.
Another story, which is not as exciting as the first one, is that mac and cheese was a simple casserole served at a New England church supper. Yet another version is, it was known as simply macaroni pudding in southeastern Connecticut.
While all of these stories are interesting we can’t know for sure who was the first one to invent or bring mac and cheese in the States. However, we are very grateful to whoever is was that brought this creamy pleasure into our everyday lives.
Now that we’ve said our graces, it is time to give out all the secrets for the BEST macaroni and cheese ever!
Pick the Right Mac
If you haven’t noticed already, we love this creamy meal’s name. And here “mac” stands for macaroni i.e. the pasta in this meal. Choosing the right type of pasta is crucial for a delicious mac and cheese and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. When choosing the pasta for this dish bear in mind that it should have the right shape and texture for taking the best out of the cheese sauce it is in. This means that it should not only catch the cheese, but also be able to hold it. What does this mean? Well, a pasta type with plenty of surface area and nooks and crannies is the best option. The classic elbow macaroni (in North America synonyms with macaroni), or varieties like the campanelle, or the shells work the best. This being said, don’t be tempted to use thin pasta varieties like spaghetti and linguine, there is a reason why it is not called spaghetti and cheese :).
Another very important thing to do is not overcook the pasta. Now, this is a tip you should follow whenever you are preparing a recipe that requires cooking the pasta a second time. However, while the usual way to go is to cook the pasta al dente, we would recommend cooking it for a couple minutes less i.e. it should still be slightly firm. The thing is, if you cook the pasta properly the first time around, then the final result will be a soggy, soft dish more soup like than casserole like :).
Pick the Right Cheese
Now we’ve gotten to the second part of the dishes name: the cheese. And just because it comes second to mac, it doesn’t mean it is less important. In fact, it is crucial for a perfect mac and cheese. Don’t be tempted to use the pre shredded mixes. Do it yourselves! Not only do these mixes have stabilizers, they have a drier texture, and grating your own mix of cheeses will leave room for making your own stamp. You should bear in mind. though, that some cheeses have a greater melting factor than others, and some will offer more flavor than others. In fact, you can check all about the different types of cheeses you can use on the blog post on How to Prepare the Best Cheese Sauce if you missed it out.
Optimally, your cheese mix should have a high melting factor and consist of mellow cheeses and those that have a sharp flavor. Some of the types that go great together are the types that have excellent melt like the Gouda, Gruyere, Monterey Jack, and fontina combined with cheese types that have a richer taste like the classic cheddar, but also parmesan and Roquefort.
One last tip: less is never more when it comes to the cheese in this comfort food! The cheesier, the creamier, the creamier the better!
A dish like mac and cheese is all about the creamy sauce. Mind you, CREAMY, not soupy. So yes, you will need liquid to prepare the cheese sauce, but you should not use too much of it. In fact, go for a combination of milk and cream, this will provide the best texture ever. You should remember to add the liquid a little bit at a time. This way you can easily pour more if needed, and not go through the trouble of thickening all over again. The same goes for the cheese, whisk in the cheese in three stages. This will allow the cheese to melt to the desired consistency in each stage i.e. to the best velvety sauce ever!
There is another trick people are claiming to work. That is, instead of cooking the pasta in boiling water, you should cook it in milk. The pasta will release starch which will then thicken the milk, so it will be saucy from the start. Of course, you should not throw the baby out with the bathwater, you should reserve the milk! (ok maybe this is a poor choice of idiom, but you do get a sense of what we are saying :)). If you decide to go for this way of preparing the sauce you should bear in mind that the pasta will absorb some of the milk and some of it will evaporate, so you will have to increase the amount the recipe calls for. Although not very economical, this trick has proven to work for many people, so it is definitely worth a try :).
The Seasonings and Toppings
Spicing things up is crucial in every aspect of our lives, and the same goes for mac and cheese. Adding a dash of cayenne pepper, black pepper or nutmeg will enhance the cheddar’s flavor with a subtle heat and make for an incredibly tasty bite for that matter. If you want to take things up a notch, add some mustard powder, trust us when we say this: it makes all the difference!
As for the topping. A casserole won’t be a casserole if it weren’t for the topping. You can prepare your own breadcrumbs (a great way of reusing your leftover bread), or if you want a crispier result, go for the Japanese variety, panko. These crunchy breadcrumbs are made from bread which has been baked by electrical current. This manner of preparation results in a bread that has no crust, and once ground, it results in breadcrumbs with a crisper, airier texture than the types we know. You can always cook your breadcrumbs in butter and garlic for a little bit of extra flavor. This method works like a charm and the result will be a creamy mac and cheese with a crunchy flavorful topping.
An extra tip we have to offer here is if you choose to prepare the mac and cheese a day or two prior to serving them (Because casseroles can easily be made ahead), add the topping just before baking.
The Best Mac and Cheese Recipes
Now, all the talk about mac and cheese would be in vain if we didn’t share our favorite mac and cheese recipes. So here you have them, our top 5!
A great idea to get your kids to eat their veggies! The carrots, broccoli, and cauliﬂower will not only contribute to the taste department, but they will also bring health-boosting properties. An ideal side dish or a proper lunch depending on the number of people you are to feed. Either way, a combination that once you’ve tried, you will want to prepare it day in day out!
Remember all the sauce talk above? Well, you will be surprised at how much an ingredient like evaporated milk can do in regard to the creaminess. A quick mac and cheese recipe that is not only a classic, but it will become your family’s favorite! Why is that? The answer is: crispy bacon! (one cup of it). If you want to balance things out a little bit, add the same amount of cooked broccoli.
Talk about an interesting crunchy topping. The bagel chip crumbs are maybe the best topping we have ever tried, and the fact that the pasta is cooked in chicken broth only goes to show how creative one can be when preparing mac and cheese.
And how about a pumpkin twist? The cheese sauce this recipe provides us with is something you should definitely try! Seasoned with all the classic spices that go hand in hand with pumpkin like allspice and nutmeg, plus mustard, cayenne, and paprika, these mac and cheese are guaranteed to satisfy the pickiest of palates. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve them either in one big casserole pan or several smaller ones. Enjoy!
Since spring is almost here, we decided a recipe called spring mac and cheese is a good idea. Ok, that and the recipe is actually super tasty. The best part is you can prepare it two ways, either on the stove or in the oven, and you can’t go wrong with either! With ingredients that include pancetta, garlic powder and cheeses like fontina and gouda this is a recipe that you will be going back to every time you need delicious mac and cheese.
There you have it, the basics to avoid gloppy, tasteless mac and cheese. Remember: pick the right pasta, add a variety of cheeses, and don’t forget to season and experiment. By following these steps, you will get a great result every time you set to prepare macaroni and cheese. And better still, go for one of the recipes above, they will never fail to surprise you both in terms of taste and presentation. Happy cooking!