Okay, guys surviving. Of course you know how to make mac&cheese. The instructions are the back of the box. I’m going to take you through the paces of real macaroni and cheese that isn’t made with orange sawdust.
Along the way we’ll learn how to do four cooking basics of 1) boiling water, 2) making a roux, 3) making a béchamel, and 4) baking a casserole. Cool, huh?
Get these ingredients together:
- Water (1 gallon)
- Salt (4 teaspoons)
- Dry Macaroni (1 pound)
- Flour (½ cup)
- Butter (½ cup = 1 stick)
- Milk (5 cups)
- Grated Cheese (4 cups. Cheddar or Colby/Jack or go wild and use half cheddar and half Swiss, whatever. Divide this in 2 halves of 2 cups each.)
- Garlic Salt (1teaspoon)
- Black Pepper (½ teaspoon)
- Oregano Leaves (½ teaspoon)
- Parsley (1 tablespoon)
- Italian Seasoned Panko Bread Crumbs
- Canola Cooking Spray
You’ll need these tools:
- Stock Pot
- Medium Pot
- Large Bowl
- Liquid Measuring Cup
- Dry Measuring Cups
- Casserole Dish (9×13 glass)
- Wooden Spoon
- Oven Mitts
1. Boiled Water – The Pasta
Grab a stock pot and measure out a gallon of water.
Yep, that’s right, a gallon. For every pound of pasta you want a gallon of water. Add in 4 teaspoons of salt, put a lid on the thing, and crank the burner to high.
Once the water gets to a rolling boil – and this will take several minutes – remove the lid and dump in one pound of dry macaroni. Stir hard from the bottom to keep the pasta from sticking, keep the lid off, and boil for about 8 minutes. Use a colander to drain the macaroni.
Pasta is not hair; it doesn’t need a rinse.
2. Roux – The Base
A roux is a cooked sauce of equal parts fat and flour. That’s all there is to it. The French gave it a fancy title probably to intimidate Americans. No matter. The roux is the base or thickener for our cheese sauce.
While the pasta water is getting up to boiling, take a medium pot and on medium heat melt a stick of butter, that’s ½ cup. Just as the butter slumps add ½ cup flour and stir for 1-2 minutes. You want the butter to bubble and the flour to incorporate in the butter.
You’ve just made a roux. Congratulations. Pass out cigars.
3. Bechamel – The Sauce
Forward to the béchamel.
A béchamel is a sauce made by adding milk to a roux. It got a fancy title, too. I don’t know why. Some French reason I’m sure.
As you get started on the roux, put 5 cups of milk in a large bowl and microwave for about 3 minutes. You just need to get the milk hot so the béchamel won’t be lumpy.
Add the hot milk to the roux and stir. Here’s the most labor intensive part of the macaroni and cheese. Tell the kids not to bother you because you’re stirring béchamel. Let the voice mail take the calls. You’re stirring béchamel.
“No, I can’t look at your homework right now. Can’t you see I’m stirring béchamel? Give your pa a break.”
If you don’t stay pretty much right with it, the stupid milk will scald on the bottom of the pot and that’s a mess to clean up.
So stir, man, stir.
You can get a few things done while it’s cooking, like spraying the casserole pan with Canola Cooking Spray, like watching your pasta water for boiling, like making the ice tea. But don’t go folding the laundry or watching the big game or tick-dipping the dog.
Use a medium heat for the béchamel. Later as you do this more, you might throw caution to the wind and try a medium-high heat (how’s that for wild living?), but there’s more chance of scalding.
The milk will start to swell (this is pretty cool) and you’ll think boiling is right there. But it’s not. Milk is a cranky thing to boil. Just keep stirring.
Once the milk starts to bubble, turn the heat down to medium-low and dump in 2 cups of the cheese and all the spices: 1 teaspoon Garlic Salt, ½ teaspoon Black Pepper, ½ teaspoon Oregano Leaves, and 1 tablespoon Parsley.
Though you may wonder if you’ll ever stop stirring, continue to stir for 2 more minutes.
Voila! You’ve got an absolutely fantastic cheese sauce. Take that, Kraft!
4. Casserole – The Finish
Preheat the oven to 350º either convection or regular bake.
If you’ve set the oven to preheating, started the water on the stove, put the butter in the pot, and shoved the milk in the microwave at about the same time, then everything comes together pretty quickly once your béchamel has transformed into cheese sauce.
Dump the drained macaroni in your pre-sprayed casserole. Pour the cheese sauce over this and use a fork to stir these together.
Now top this with the remaining 2 cups of cheese. Then sprinkle the whole with the Italian Seasoned Panko Bread Crumbs. You could make your own bread crumbs, but if you simply pick up a box of these at the grocery store, then you’ve added a extra layer of flavor and reduced your work.
Put the casserole in the oven for 20 minutes. Time 30 minutes if you’re not using convection.
Once the top is browned but not burnt and the sauce bubbling, it’s time to remove the macaroni and cheese to a trivet. Let the dish sit for 5 minutes.
Enjoy! This is real macaroni and cheese. For a family of 3 or 4, this is about 2 meals. The leftovers are amazing. I use the mac and cheese as an entrée and only sometimes add a vegetable.
Now you’ve boiled water, made a roux, stirred up a béchamel, and constructed a casserole. Pat yourself on the back. You are surviving!