The ultimate mac’n'cheese. April 25, 2008Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
Tags: Crock-Pot recipes, macaroni and cheese, slow cookers
Silence Dogood here. This week, our fabled Friday Night Supper Club is gaining a few more members as a friend’s relatives drop in from out of town. (See our earlier post, “The Friday Night Supper Club,” to find out all about this excellent weekly gathering.) We were conferring about what to make as the main dish when a plaintive cry arose: “Make your macaroni and cheese!!!”
Now, mac’n'cheese hadn’t been uppermost in my mind when I was contemplating today’s menu, but hey. Who doesn’t love mac’n'cheese? Deliciously satisfying in winter, yummy with a crisp salad or cole slaw and iced tea in warmer weather, it’s the ultimate comfort food. And this is without doubt the ultimate mac’n'cheese recipe. So, since I’m going to make it anyway, I thought I’d share the recipe with you.
Credit where credit is due, though: This is not a Silence Dogood original. Instead, it’s the brainchild of our good friend Delilah. So I don’t even have to strive for false modesty when I tell you that it is without question the best mac’n'cheese any of us have ever eaten. And better still, it’s made in a Crock-Pot (that’s a slow cooker, for you benighted souls who use a different brand from the one and only original), so it takes no more time and effort to make than mac’n'cheese out of a box. (Fans of mac-in-the-box, you know who you are.) Cook the pasta, put it in the Crock-Pot, stir in the other ingredients, turn it on, get along with your day. Talk about fix it and forget it convenience! But trust me, no one’s going to forget it once they’ve tasted it.
Before we get to the recipe, though, let’s take a moment to discuss what distinguishes great from gross when it comes to macaroni and cheese. In the gross category: Mac’n'cheese that’s pretty much all mac and no cheese. Mac’n'cheese that’s soupy. (Lonely elbow-fish swimming in a sea of sauce just does not work for us. Eeeewwww!) Mac’n'cheese that’s a lurid orange, a color dreamed up in the mind of some mad scientist for something called “processed cheese product.” Keep your products to yourself, please. Mac’n'cheese that’s tasteless (in this case, we’re referring to flavor, not to the Day-Glo orange color just described). Mac’n'cheese that’s gummy. Mac’n'cheese that’s bitter (a failing of many an otherwise lovely mac’n'cheese made by well-intentioned folks using globs of orange Cheddar). Mac’n'cheese with under- (ouch!) or overcooked pasta (eeewww, this is macaroni, not pudding, people). And finally, mac’n'cheese with a crust so hard it can chip your teeth and knock out your fillings, because, face it, you know that’s the best part and you’re going to try to eat it anyway.
Moving on to what makes a good mac’n'cheese great: Lots of yummy, crunchy (as opposed to hard) crust to contrast with the creamy interior. Plenty of luscious flavor of the cheesy, buttery, creamy variety. Elbows cooked just right, so they’re fully done but still hold their shape rather than disintegrating. And finally, a sauce that’s the right texture. This is key, in my opinion, and in fact is key to all great pasta sauces: It has to cling to the pasta rather than floating, concentrating the flavor thickly around each elbow, but there has to be enough sauce so it isn’t simply absorbed by the pasta, leaving a dry mac’n'cheese that pleases nobody. The closest I can come to describing the perfect mac’n'cheese sauce texture is to say that if you’ve ever eaten an exquisitely prepared corn pudding (the ones served at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky come to mind), you know the texture I mean.
If your mouth’s not watering by now, you must’ve forgotten to put your teeth in this morning. So let’s get back to the recipe. But first, I have to play Moses (or at least Chef Boyardee) for a minute and give you the Four Mac’n'Cheese Commandments: 1. Thou shalt not cook this dish on high or the cheese will burn. 2. Thou shalt not use sweetened condensed milk instead of evaporated milk. 3. Thou shalt not use fresh milk, because it curdles in the Crock-Pot. 4. Thou shalt not cook this dish for more than 4 hours or the pasta will disintegrate. Okay, let’s do it! (Confession: This isn’t Delilah’s exact recipe, it’s the Hawk’s Haven version, which we of course think is even better. But we’re eternally grateful to her for passing along the original, so we’ve named our version after her.)
Delilah’s Crock-Pot Macaroni and Cheese
1-pound package of elbow macaroni, cooked al dente (I have to admit that I find that regular macaroni holds its texture better in this recipe than any of the “healthier” versions, and I keep trying different ones in the hope of proving myself wrong.—Silence)
2 12-ounce cans evaporated milk
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups (2 packages) shredded sharp white Cheddar (use extra-sharp if you want more flavor)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Set aside 1 cup of the Cheddar, the Parmesan, and the paprika. Stir all other ingredients together in the Crock-Pot. Top with reserved Cheddar, Parmesan, and a hearty sprinkling of paprika to give the top a lovely warm color. Cook on low 3 to 4 hours. (I like to cook it for the full 4 hours for a crunchier crust.—Silence)
That’s all there is to it, and boy, is it delicious! Of course, you’re free to try your own variations once you’ve enjoyed the basic recipe. Our heat-loving friend Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame thinks adding sliced jalapenos would be nice. I myself contemplate replacing some or all of the Cheddar with grated Swiss or Gruyere for a different taste, but haven’t tried either yet. (Why mess with perfection?) I could see adding sauteed mushrooms, sweet onions, and/or red or gold peppers, too. If you try any variations, please let me know how they turn out! And if you have a favorite mac’n'cheese of your own, please share it with us. Maybe some day we’ll do a Great Mac’n'Cheese Cookoff!
‘Til next time,