Put down that blue box. You’re about to master the best macaroni and cheese ever. And it’s almost as easy as opening a package and boiling some water. The payoff? An ultra-cheesy, uber-gooey cream sauce, and elbow macaroni that never had it so good.
First, some history. In 1937, Kraft introduced boxed macaroni and cheese as a way to market processed American cheese and Tenderoni macaroni. We all know what happened next. The boxes swept the nation, as did culinary copycats. I think we can all agree, the boxed meal is easy, but it’s not the mealtime “hug” it could be. The cheese isn’t stretchy and there aren’t layers of flavor.
I mean no disrespect, but if you have five extra minutes, I can make it worth your while.
First, a few tips:
The Pasta: Although elbow macaroni is classic, you can choose any small pasta shape you want, just stop cooking it 1 minute early. You want al dente pasta because it adds more texture (plus it cooks a little more in the sauce).
The Roux: This is melted butter and flour, and ultimately what thickens the sauce (the starch in the flour expands in the milk). Whisk the combo until smooth and golden before adding milk. Cooking flour removes the “raw” taste, and the golden color adds flavor.
The Cheese: The creamy white sauce in macaroni and cheese absorbs a lot of flavor, so you need cheese with oomph. I prefer sharp cheddar and Parmesan. But cheddar and Parmesan aren’t stretchy, so I add mozzarella too. Now you have equal parts vivacity and cheese-pull glory. If possible, shred your own cheese — pre-shredded varieties contain anti-clumping agents that may hinder melting.
Seasoning: Although not traditional, I enhanced the sauce with onion and garlic powders. They add depth and layers you can’t get from a boxed meal.
Primer complete. Now let’s talk toppings. Obviously, really good macaroni and cheese needs no festooning, but here are some ideas anyway:
- Crumbled bacon
- Crushed Ritz crackers mixed with melted butter (1 cup crackers + 2 tbsp butter)
- Chopped fresh parsley
- Chopped green onions
Perfect macaroni and cheese
- 12 ounces elbow macaroni
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving
Cook the pasta according to package directions, stopping 1 minute before the recommended cooking time. Drain and cover with foil to keep warm.
Melt the butter in a large, high-sided pan over medium-high heat. When the butter is bubbly, whisk in the flour. Cook for 1 minute, until golden, whisking constantly. Gradually whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the onion powder, garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Simmer for 2 minutes, until the mixture thickens, stirring frequently.
Reduce the heat to low and stir in the cheddar and mozzarella cheeses.
Once the cheese has melted, fold in the pasta. Remove the pan from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Top with grated Parmesan cheese and serve hot.
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