How to Make the Perfect Mac and Cheese
January 22, 2013
Simply put, cheese is the answer to all when it comes to mac and cheese, says Werlin, and almost any cheese works — it just depends on how you use it.
"A creamy cheese like Brie becomes pure seduction when it's part of a mac and cheese, and a hard cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano won't melt, but its cheesy crunch on top of a mac and cheese is legendary," she says. "A fresh goat cheese is not only creamy, but it also serves as the tangy yin to the casserole's rich yang. And basically anything you would put in a grilled cheese sandwich or use in fondue is an excellent candidate. The important thing is that if it's a firm cheese, you must take the time to grate it. Slices of cheese just won't do. You'll more likely end up with cheese clumps instead of a smooth sauce."
Small Is Good
Just as mac and cheese is versatile, so is the type of pasta you can use for it. Werlin recommends not getting caught up in all of the shapes and sizes, though. "Just because there are so many choices doesn't mean they're all good for mac and cheese," she says. "Quite the opposite. Large-size pasta is almost always a poor choice… because the focus becomes the pasta, not the cheese or the other ingredients that may be in the sauce," she says.
Salt the Water, Not the Pasta
It should be said to anyone making any kind of pasta, but salting the water once it boils is just as important when making mac and cheese, too, says Werlin.
Stir It Up
Patience is everything, warns Werlin.
"It's easy to be impatient with mac and cheese. Who doesn't want that cheesy goodness right now? But as with all good things, it's about patience. In mac and cheese terms, this means getting the sauce to the right consistency before going on to the next step. That right consistency is pretty much like cake batter. You want it thick but pourable, which you achieve by stirring over a relatively low heat and waiting. It will tell you when it's ready, even if that moment comes well after you are," she says.
The Secret to Smoothness
If you want that velvety, luscious sauce that you crave for with your mac and cheese, then don’t overcook it, and pay attention to the sauce. "I've found [that] the best-tasting combination is milk and cream; not all milk and not all cream, and the main things is that you don't need equal parts butter and flour for the [roux], you can use half the amount of flour as butter," says Werlin.
And just as she mentioned that almost any cheese works as long as you know how to use it, it’s important to remember the unlikely cheeses when creating your sauce, as well. For a creamy, oozy sauce, use a creamy, oozy cheese like fontina or goat cheese.
Carroty Mac and Cheese
Melissa Clark created this recipe for her daughter, Dahlia, because it was kid-friendly and comforting, but she also sneaks in some carrots so that she gets her vegetables, too. We can't get over the perfectly crunchy crust.
Jalapeño Bacon Mac and Cheese
For those of you who are constantly looking to spruce up your mac and cheese, this recipe calls for two no-fail ingredients: jalapeño and bacon. That’s not only our favorite part, though, because we’re pretty sure this is the first version we’ve seen with Boursin cheese.
Sauce-and-Meatballs Mac and Cheese with Burrata
"My friends Linda and Kelly Hayes are big meatball fans. (Well, let’s face it: They’re equal-opportunity foodies.) They’re also great cooks. One time I was enjoying yet another delicious meal at their house, and Linda suggested I do a riff on spaghetti and meatballs for this book. What a great idea, I thought. This dish is unquestionably hearty, and yes, it takes a bit longer than some other recipes in this book, but I promise you, the results are totally worth it..."
— Laura Werlin
Spicy 'Home Fries' Mac and Cheese
"To me, the ultimate diner breakfast isn’t the eggs you find there, but instead it’s the potatoes, especially when they’re in the form of home fries. In this mac and cheese, those home-fried potatoes get their just due by acting as the crowning glory on the creamy, cheesy pasta underneath..."
— Laura Werlin
World's Best Mac and Cheese
It doesn't get much better than Macaroni and Cheese featuring Seattle and New York's Beecher's Handmade Cheese. As owner and inventor of the recipe Kurt Dammeier says, "The proportion of pasta to cheese sauce is crucial to the success of the dish. It will look like a lot of sauce for the pasta, but some of the liquid will be absorbed."
Zesty Kale 2 Ways Fontina Mac and Cheese
"Kale seems to have become the vegetable of the moment, which is good news for kale lovers like me. In this mac and cheese, the hearty vegetable appears two ways: mixed into the casserole and also as a crispy topping. Because of this, it almost seems like it’s two different vegetables, which makes this not only delicious but also fun to eat..."
— Laura Werlin
The Ultimate Mac and Cheese
"I call this the ultimate because of the sauce — it's perfectly smooth and creamy, just the way I like it. If you prefer a less smooth cheese or a different flavor profile, feel free to substitute your favorite cheeses in. Just remember what Laura Werlin says when it comes to cheese: an infinite number of cheeses can go into your mac and cheese, but what matters is the results you're looking for. Choose the cheeses that will give you those results..."
— Anne Dolce, Cook Editor