Mac and cheese remains to be one of those versatile and simple dishes requiring two basic ingredients which go hand in hand: Macaroni and cheese. This means that you can have yours home-made in just a few minutes, meaning that it’s also one of the easy and affordable ways to have healthy snacks as a family. There are so many ways you can make this based on whether you want to have it as a whole meal or side dish. At the same time, you also have to consider the guests you’re about to feed because if there’re kids in the picture, you have to go slow on the seasoning and instead leave it plain and simple.
One thing that remains true is that mac and cheese should bring you comfort, irrespective of the method you use to prepare it. Now, back to the preparation methods, the commonly known ones are baking and boiling. Traditionally, mac and cheese belonged to the oven but now you don’t have to be confined, having in mind that you can have yours prepared on the stovetop, with no baking needed.
As usual, America’s Test Kitchen has you covered with this as well after they released the America’s Test Kitchen Mac and Cheese Recipe. One thing I love about their stovetop macaroni and cheese is that it gets ready in just minutes and at the same time yields enough to serve the whole family. So, if you equally find the traditional way of making mac and cheese exhausting and would like to try the modern stove-top option, here’s the recipe:
Classic Mac and Cheese Recipe-Inspired by America’s Test Kitchen
- 1 ½ cups water
- 1 cup milk
- 8 ounces elbow macaroni
- 4 ounces American cheese, shredded (1 cup)
- ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
- Small pinch cayenne pepper
- 4 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (1 cup)
- ⅓ cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tbsps. grated Parmesan cheese
Add water and milk to a medium-sized sauced pan and boil over high heat. Stir in the macaroni then reduce the heat to medium-low. Let it cook for about 6-8 minutes or until the macaroni is soft and in that time, remember to stir frequently so that all the macaroni pieces are evenly cooked. Considering that the liquid used here is in small quantities, ensure that the elbow macaroni you use are of the same shapes and sizes.
After that, melt in the American cheese and in that you can also add the mustard and cayenne. Cheese can take some time to melt, a process you can speed up by stirring constantly for about 1 minute. It also helps in ensuring that the dish is not lumpy. Once done, turnoff the heat and stir in the cheddar cheese only enough for it to be evenly distributed, but then it should not melt. Cover this mixture and set is aside for about 5 minutes.
As it sits, you can get the topping ready. Combine panko bread crumbs, virgin oil, 1/8 tbsp. of salt and 1/8 tbsp. of pepper in a large non-stick skillet until the bread crumbs are evenly moistened. Bring the mixture to cook over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes or until it’s evenly browned. You can also save time by having the bread crumbs pre-roasted in the oven and only adding the spices to an already browned set. Once brown, turn off the heat and add the parmesan cheese to the mixture and once combined, transfer this to a small bowl.
Stir in the macaroni sauce until it is smooth. At this point, it sometimes can be runny or too thick. Either way, you have the option of adding in milk to dilute it a bit, or adding extra cheese to get it to the desired paste. At the same time, the sauce usually tend to thicken as it cools, meaning that you can also be patient and see how it goes. With the perfect sauce at hand, season with extra salt and pepper to your perfection then transfer to a serving dish. Season this with the panko mixture and serve immediately.
Tips on How to Make the Perfect Mac and Cheese
Here’s a list of the things you need to remember in order to come up with a tastier bowl of mac and cheese:
- Don’t be afraid to taste. This tip goes out to all the beginners and also all those who love trying something new, especially with cheese. There are a number of cheese brands that you can use for the recipe, some which might not necessarily work well for you, just because it did work well for someone you know. Apart from the type used, it’s also important to consider the quantities used. Most recipes allow you to add in an extra cup of cheese without necessarily ruining the whole meal, however, it’s advisable to taste after adding just a little to see if the favour will work for you. Quantities also extend to ratios used, in the event that you want to use two or more different cheese combinations. So the key thing here is, start small and of course, taste.
- Balance is key. If you’re trying out something for yourself and decide to go stronger on the flavours, remember to balance them with milder options. At times, you might be tempted with going overboard with the flavours, only to overpower the distinct flavour you wanted in the first place. The same applies to cheese combinations, as we had highlighted earlier. In the recipe, we combined the emulsifying content of American cheese with a more sharply-flavoured cheddar option because with the two, you’ll get a richly-flavoured dish which is equally safer for everyone. So the best thing is knowing what would blend perfectly with the other.
- Get the sauce right. If you’re one of those people who can’t have their mac and cheese without bringing in the cheese sauce, this one is for you. One of those which goes well with any bowl is béchamel, which basically comprises of whisked flour and melted butter which is then cooked until the raw flour taste disappears, after which milk is added. Now this will only be a perfect base when prepared correctly. This means that you have to watch out for the heat levels, the flour and butter ratio and of course consistency when whisking and remember that it’s meant to be saucy and not soupy.
- The topping. Most people are slowly shifting from baked mac and cheese to the stovetop gang because of how easier the latter is. However if you love yours buttery and crispier, baking is the way to go, meaning that you’ll need to use bread crumbs as the topping. Instead of using them directly from the package, you should try toasting them until they attain the golden brown colour, before proceeding for the oven.
- What tools do you use? As you sort out the ingredients for the day, it’s also important to pay attention to the tools in place before you start the cooking process. Mac and cheese is probably one of those meals that don’t call for any fancy tools and equipment, but at the end of the day, you need to get it right in order to enjoy every bit of your home cooking. This ranges from what you use for cooking or baking and also what you use when preparing the ingredients especially when it comes to shredding or grating the cheese for those who buy them in blocks.
One thing you probably noticed is that water used in the recipe was in smaller quantities unlike the traditional way which tends to soak the whole thing. This is one way of avoiding the step where you have to strain out excess water once the macaroni has softened up, to ensure that no flavour or nutrients are lost. It also minimizes the messes created afterwards and the number of utensils needed for preparation.
Apart from investing in the right cheese and macaroni brands, you can also make your dish better and fuller by bringing in add-ins, which can either be vegetables or proteins. With that you can easily turn the America’s Test Kitchen’s mac and cheese from a side dish to a family dinner.