Mac and Cheese: 101

Mac and Cheese: 101

A step-by-step guide plus tips and tricks on how to make the best mac and cheese ever.

Mac and cheese

There’s nothing quite like digging into a bowl of bubbly hot and wonderfully indulgent macaroni and cheese. The quintessential comfort food, mac and cheese, as it has affectionately come to be known, is one of the most beloved dishes throughout Canada and beyond.

While there’s nothing wrong with going the route of store-bought or ready-made in a pinch, truth be told, stirring up a pot or baking a dish of rich and creamy homemade mac and cheese can be easy as (macaroni) pie! Here’s how:

Step 1: Make your sauce.

The secret to exceptional mac and cheese begins with a rich, velvety smooth and flavourful cheese sauce. This, in turn, starts with making a white sauce which, at its most basic, consists of roughly equal parts butter and flour cooked in a saucepan until pale golden (called a white “roux”). Milk is then whisked in and simmered until a thickened sauce. Sometimes, diced onion is cooked in butter until softened before the flour is stirred in. Season with salt and add a dash of flavour – Club House Ground Nutmeg, Club House Cayenne Pepper or Club House Ground Mustard are great options.

In classic French cooking, this “Mother” sauce is called Béchamel. When shredded cheese is added, it becomes cheese sauce. Ranging from mild to sharp, Cheddar cheese is most often stirred into cheese sauce for mac and cheese here in Canada. Grated Parmesan may be a close second. Other types of cheese that work well in mac and cheese include Gouda, Monterey Jack, Fontina and Romano cheese. Experiment by trying a combination of favourites, such as shredded Cheddar, grated Parmesan and Gorgonzola. (Another French cookery term: Mornay sauce is Béchamel with shredded Gruyère, Emmental or white Cheddar stirred in – any of which make for exceptional mac and cheese!)

Step 2: Cook your pasta.

Elbow macaroni is the natural pasta shape to choose, as its size and shape is optimal for holding maximum creamy sauce. Cook pasta in a large pot filled with plenty of boiling salted water until al dente, or “to the tooth”, which means tender yet firm to the bite. Just before draining, reserve a cup of cooking liquid – this is a good tip for anytime making pasta dishes, as it’s great for whisking into any overly thick sauces. Drain pasta in a colander, but do not rinse, as starches clinging to cooked pasta will help sauces to adhere better.

Step 3: Stir and enjoy. (For stove-top versions.)

Return pasta to the pot it was cooked in (this helps cut down on the number of dishes to wash!) and fold in sauce until thick and creamy. Spoon into wide, shallow bowls and sprinkle with additional cheese, if desired. Voilà – you have created a perfectly delectable mac and cheese done on the stove-top.

Step 4: Sprinkle and bake. (For baked mac and cheese casseroles and pies.)

The sauce is going to become absorbed into the pasta as it sits so go with more sauce than initially seems ideal. A little bit “soupy” is fine, for once baked, the consistency will be spot-on. For casseroles (that is, baked mac and cheese), spoon everything into a greased (again, to help with ease of wash-up!) shallow baking dish sized to fit the recipe. For 4 to 6 servings, choose a 9- x 9-inch (2 L) casserole dish. For 8 to 10 servings, go with a 13- x 9-inch (3.5 L) dish. Glass, ceramic or enameled cast iron baking dishes are preferable to metal.

To make your casserole more of a “pie”, simply beat a couple of eggs then fold into mac and cheese before spooning into greased casserole dish or loaf pan (add pasta to eggs slowly. If too hot, eggs may scramble). Bake, then cut in wedges or slices.

Now make your topping, which will add a lovely buttery rich and crunchy element to your dish. In a bowl, stir bread crumbs (or crushed potato chips!) with McCormick Gourmet Freeze Dried Chives and a drizzle of melted butter. Stir in more cheese, if you’d like, especially grated Parmesan or Cheddar. Sprinkle evenly over mac and cheese, then bake until bubbly hot and golden.

Experiment with add-ins. Delicious options include:

  • Cubed ham and cooked broccoli florets or peas
  • Chopped, cooked chicken and Frank’s Red Hot® Buffalo Wings® Sauce (add crumbled blue cheese to topping mix)
  • Diced, cooked butternut squash
  • Cooked, crumbled bacon
  • Chopped, cooked lobster or small shrimp
  • Ground beef cooked in Club House® Taco Seasoning Mix (replace bread crumbs with crushed tortilla chips in topping)
  • Sun-dried tomatoes and pitted Kalamata olives (add crumbled feta cheese to topping mix)
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