Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Technique Tuesday: Macaroni and Cheese

Perfect macaroni and cheese is one of those delicious, soul-warming dishes that just makes you happy all over. I make it often with barbecue or with burgers and switch around the cheeses to get some variety. I typically don't bake my macaroni and cheese (mostly because it's just a timesaver), but that is always a delicious option (and you can't beat the awesome crust on top). Just a few simple tips will help you make amazing, creamy mac and cheese in no time at all.
1. Make a roux
Cook equal parts flour and butter (I usually do 1 tbsp. butter to 1 tbsp. flour), stirring frequently before adding any liquids (about 1 minute). This will thicken your sauce without it tasting like raw flour.

2. Don't use low-fat or skim milk
I typically use heavy cream and a few splashes of 1 or 2% (if my sauce gets too thick). You'll have a runny, icky sauce if you forgo the fat.

3. Choose your cheese wisely
Some cheeses don't melt well. Make sure that you're choosing a cheese that melts smoothly. Some great choices are gruyere, swiss, cheddar or jack. Mix and match your cheeses for a really great macaroni and cheese. You can even try a more adventurous blend by adding a small amount of bleu or roquefort.

4. Season your sauce
You still need salt and pepper to balance your flavors. Make sure you are aware of the salt content of your cheese when salting your sauce. The saltier the cheese, the less salt you'll need.

5. Make it grown-up
I whisk in about a teaspoon of either whole grain or dijon mustard before adding the cheese. It gives it a delicious depth of flavor that will make you want seconds. You can also add some yummy fresh herbs like chives or basil to give it that extra 'wow' factor.

6. Reserve a little pasta water
Keep a few tablespoons of pasta water to thin out your sauce if it gets too thick. The starch in the pasta water will keep it from thinning too much.

7. Choose your pasta wisely
The best choice for a macaroni and cheese is a sturdy noodle that will hold the sauce well. My favorites are ditalini, macaroni, oriechiette (little shells) and fusili. Just make sure you're using a more substantial noodle than, say, a spaghetti noodle.

8. Make sure you bring your sauce up to a boil before adding your pasta
The rolling boil is what will cause the roux to effectively thicken the sauce. Turn it down to low after a minute or two and stir in your cheese and pasta.

Please check back for my macaroni and cheese recipe on Thursday!

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