Ultra Creamy Stovetop Macaroni & Cheese

I have (literally) travelled the world in search of the best macaroni & cheese. A few summers back, we travelled to the mac & cheese mecca that is the Southern U.S.A. From Nashville to New Orleans, we ate mac & cheese every chance that we could get. It is amazing how a dish SO simple can be done SO wrong in SO many places.

Let me start by talking about what mac & cheese is NOT: Macaroni and cheese is NOT penne and cheese. It is not rigatoni and cheese. It especially isn't orzo and cheese. Macaroni and cheese is meant to be made with, you guessed it, macaroni. Stop trying to change this. Stop lying to me on your menus. Your penne in bland béchamel sauce with parmesan on top? IT'S NOT MAC AND CHEESE.

There. I've said it.

Now. Here is why THIS mac and cheese works best. Mac and cheese needs to be creamy - and it needs to not congeal and separate after 10 seconds of serving. A big problem that most recipes have is their lack of understanding of basic food science - more specifically, cheese science. Yes. There is science behind mac and cheese. The geniuses over at Serious Eats / The Food Lab discuss this in detail in their book. (You can find that book, which I HIGHLY recommend HERE!) The secret is in the proteins.

PROS: reasons why this mac and cheese is better than all the others you've ever made.
NO BÉCHAMEL NEEDED. No. Seriously. We are going to make a mac and cheese that is absolutely creamy and delicious without white sauce.
ULTRA GOOEY - no separation of oils here.
ONE POT WONDER - No joke. This is all made in one pot. You cook the pasta AND the cheese sauce in the same pot. Can't be easier.
REHEATS DECENTLY - I won't say "well", because you it is BEST served the day it's made, but of all the macaroni & cheeses that I've made, this one reheats the best when you add a little milk.

CONS: Are you kidding me? There is no con to good mac & cheese. Except for maybe that it isn't the healthiest item on the menu - but come on. This is comfort food that nourishes the soul.

Calling in your unexpected superstar: evaporated milk. Yes, that's correct. That canned weird stuff that you thought was only for baking in the 1970s? That one. The proteins are concentrated and will result in a much creamier mixture than a starchy floury béchamel. (Be careful when shopping though, you want evaporated milk and NOT sweetened condensed. Two very different foodstuffs. I recommend using Carnation Brand 2%.) You also want to choose a cheese that holds together as it slowly melts - not one that separates. The right blend of processed yellow (also known as American) cheese and something like processed smoked gouda (or just regular young gouda, if you aren't a smoked fan). Do not choose any cheeses aged more than a year. Though they have a powerful flavour, they will separate as they melt and won't work well here. For the American cheese, try to find a deli block if you can. It has a nicer flavour than those individually wrapped singles. My personal preference is to use Kraft Extra Cheddar cheese slices. (I find them at any grocery store, but they are also online here.)

Now - if it's all tl;dr to you, or if you actually read all the way up to here (awesome!) and you just want the recipe - here she is, folks!

Best Classic Stovetop Macaroni & Cheese
recipe adapted from "The Food Lab" by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

454g (1lb) macaroni noodles
114g (1/4 pound or 1 stick) butter
1 can (12oz) evaporated milk
2 eggs
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp cornstarch
400g grated smoked gouda *
* (or young gouda or young gruyère, or jack cheese or a mixture of any of these)
225g cubed, torn or shredded American Cheese (I like to use deli cheese or Kraft Extra Cheddar)
1 cup chopped green onions / scallions

Place the macaroni in a large, wide-bottomed pot. Cover with about 2 inches of water.
Bring to a boil & stir. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, until al-dente.
While pasta is cooking, in a separate large bowl, beat eggs and add evaporated milk, mustard and cornstarch. Whisk until combined, and toss with cheeses.
Once pasta is cooked, drain and return to the pan. Add butter and stir until melted.
Add cheese / milk mixture. Stir.
Cook until mixture is melted and creamy. Add in green onions at the end and stir.
Serve hot, preferably while wearing elastic-waist pants.


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