Homemade Southern Mac and Cheese
Oh, mac and cheese, how I love thee! This isn’t just comfort food, it’s soul food in the deepest sense. Some of us can’t live without a good homemade macaroni and cheese. This is the most popular cheese based dish in America. Half of the country will eat some form of the iconic dish this week. Some believe that mac and cheese originated with the travels of Thomas Jefferson, but there is no consensus. Online, you will find an abundance of recipes, but there really is no wrong way to make it. Let’s see if we can come up with a really good version.
Actually, this dish comes down to a few basic ingredients.
The Pasta Story
You really should use elbow macaroni. It’s the right size and shape for this dish. Anything else just doesn’t feel right to me. To start, salt the water used to cook the pasta. It adds flavor to the somewhat bland macaroni. Cook the pasta al dente, or firm to the bite. This keeps the macaroni from becoming soggy, as it further cooks in the oven. Just back off on the package directions by a couple of minutes. By all means, please don’t rinse the pasta after it’s cooked. This washes away the flavor, and makes it difficult for the sauce to stick to the macaroni. I like to add a little butter to mine, to give it more smoothness and richness.
Cheese is King
There are a lot of different cheeses that you can use in your mac and cheese. You really don’t need nine different cheeses, but texture and meltability are the main considerations.
- Sharp Cheddar – Has a low melting point, and a nice strong flavor.
- Gruyere – This too melts well, and is a tad salty. It will cut some of the fat.
- Cream Cheese – This keeps everything creamy.
Some folks struggle with a grainy sauce. This can be attributed to using a roux as a thickener. Also, the texture of the cheese is a factor. When using cheddar, go with sharp and not extra-sharp. The extra sharp is denser, and takes longer to melt. Also, it’s better to grate the cheese yourself. The pre-grated stuff has stabilizers that can make the cheese harder to melt.
Homemade Mac and Cheese Comfort
Homemade mac and cheese is a beautiful thing. You can serve it with practically anything. One of the best southern meals is fried chicken, collards and mac and cheese. I like to serve it with meat loaf, and a salad. Also, anything tomato based really is great. This will last three to five days in the fridge, and you can make it ahead. Just increase the amount of dairy a little bit, so it maintains it’s creaminess. You can refrigerate it unbaked for a couple of days, and when you are ready, bake it. You can also freeze it for up to three months, but it’s better to do this before baking. Heating it, freezing it, and then re-heating it will make it grainy. No what you do, you’ve got universal comfort food that will give you the melted carbs you love!
Homemade Mac and Cheese
- 16 Ounces Elbow Macaroni
- 2 Teaspoons Kosher Salt
- 4 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
- 1 Cup Half and Half
- 1 Cup Heavy Cream
- 3 1/2 Cups Sharp Cheddar Cheese, Grated (1/2 Cup Reserved)
- 1 Cup Gruyere Cheese, Grated
- 4 Ounces Cream Cheese, Cubed
- 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Mustard
- 1/2 Teaspoon Black Pepper, Freshly Ground
- 1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
- 1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
- 2 Large Eggs, Beaten
- Paprika For the Top (Optional)
- Pre-heat oven to 350°. Butter a 9 x 13 baking dish.
- Fill a large pot with water, and the salt. Bring to a boil, and add the pasta. Simmer until the macaroni is al dente, a minute or 2 less than the package directions.
- While the pasta is cooking, grate the cheeses. In a large bowl combine the cheeses (reserve 1/2 cup of the cheddar for the topping). Add the half and half and cream. Season the mixture with the mustard, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder and mix well. Taste the blend to make sure it's seasoned well. Adjust as needed. Add the beaten eggs, and combine throughly.
- Drain the cooked pasta, and swirl the butter into the hot macaroni until melted. Combine the cheese mixture and the pasta. Using a wooden spoon, stir together until well blended. Turn your mac and cheese out into the prepared dish. Top the dish with the reserved grated cheddar cheese. Sprinkle with paprika if desired.
- Bake at 350° for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the top is browned and the mac and cheese is bubbly. Don't overcook, as it can become mushy and dry.
- Remove from the oven. Let the mac and cheese cool for ten minutes to fully set.