Friday, November 20th, 2009

Fundamentalist Macaroni and Cheese

THE SECRET INGREDIENT IS CHEESEThis is the recipe for macaroni and cheese. It is the only recipe there is for macaroni and cheese. Here is what goes into it:

1. macaroni

2. cheese.

It does also include butter and milk. Think of them as more cheese.

"But I make a lovely macaroni and cheese already," you say, "with a rich bechamel sauce, and I-" Shut up, you. Put a sock in it. There are many, many fine and delicious dishes that include some kind of macaroni and some kind of cheese, along with other things. They are not macaroni and cheese. They are other things.

Nor are we talking here about that cafeteria stuff, the thick yellow cheese soup or cheese gravy, with macaroni floating in it. That is trash food. It is a lot of extra work to make something just like what you would make with bright orange powder from a box. Go ahead and eat it sometimes, but don't ask how to cook it.

To make macaroni and cheese, using macaroni and cheese, you start with one pound of elbow macaroni. "I really like to use whole-wheat fusilli," you say, "because they-" Knock it off. Elbow macaroni. If you forgot to buy elbows, you can use some other shape, but it won't be as effective.

Fill a big two-handled metal pot most of the way with water, salt the water, and put it on the stove to boil. Heat your oven. About 350 degrees.

Now if you're the kind of person who likes orderly preparations, grate your cheese. Or if you like procrastination followed by frantic haste, go do something else and wait to grate the cheese till the macaroni is in the water.

For cheese, you should have three half-pound blocks of cheddar. Do not get raw-milk cheddar from heirloom cattle. Do not use other cheeses. "Why, I have found that my macaroni and cheese achieves the perfect balance if I put in two parts of Gruyere, one part Talegg-" No. Go rub some fig paste on your face and cook up a fondue, cheese striver. Store-brand cheddar works swell. Land O'Lakes if it's on sale. Nor should you load up on Pine-Splittingly Fierce Extra-Extra Ouchy Sharp. At least one of your half-pound blocks should be no more than medium-sharp. You can get frisky with one or two of the others, but you need a foundation of mild cheddar.

There is nothing to be gained by using white cheese instead of yellow.

Grate two of your half-pound blocks, including the mildest one, completely. Look at the big pile of cheese you have now. Unwrap the third block, look at it, grate a little off the end, and think about how far you want to go. There are no wrong answers here. Relax your mind and listen to what the cheese is telling you.

When the water is at a full rolling boil, cook the macaroni. Do not overcook it, just because you are making American food. Macaroni is half the dish here, and it should be treated with respect. Al dente.

Drain the macaroni. Mix in several good-sized lumps of butter while the macaroni sits in the colander. Moving quickly and efficiently, take a damp paper towel and wipe the salt and starch from the just-emptied, still-hot pot. Don't be too fussy. Dry it off, chuck in a lump of butter, and rub that around to grease the inside of the pot. Dump the drained and buttered macaroni back into the buttered pot.

Now take the grated cheese, a handful or two at a time, and stir it in with the macaroni. Scrape the accumulated melting cheese off your stirring implement every now and then. Keep adding cheese till you've used 2/3 of the pile. Consider the un-grated portion of your third and final block of cheese. Maybe you are tired of grating. Maybe you suspect there's not quite enough cheese. Make the choice that suits you best.

"If you mix in some chopped ham, it will give it a real-" You aren't getting it, are you? No ham. No eggs. No bacon. This is not carbonara. I love carbonara! Maybe we will discuss carbonara sometime. No nutmeg, no lamb. This is not pasticcio. I adore pasticcio. No tomatoes. This is not lasagna, Garfield. This is macaroni and cheese.

Absolutely no fucking shaved truffles.

Now take the rest of your cheese and spread it over the top in a nice solid layer. "Bread crumbs are great for extra cr-OUCH!" Yes, I just drove a meat fork through your hand. Bread crumbs do not go on top of macaroni and cheese. You know what bread crumbs are good for? Putting inside a meatloaf. A meatloaf is a loaf that contains many other things besides meat. But macaroni and cheese consists of macaroni and cheese.

Finally, get out a jug of milk. Whole milk, from the udder of a cow, by way of a supermarket. Pour a big slug of milk over the macaroni and the cheese. How much? Tip the pot from side to side. The milk should just peep into view, down there at the edge of the macaroni.

Put it in the oven. Maybe it will take 40 minutes. The area around your kitchen will start to smell like macaroni and cheese. Pull the pot out and tip it from side to side again. The important cooking is done when no more milk is flowing down there.

Look at the top. It should be crispy with some tawny patches, depending on how your oven behaves. If you are in China and are using a countertop oven that's basically a double-sized toaster oven and has a quarter-inch of clearance between the element and the pot, the top will have gotten pretty awesome. If your oven hasn't quite delivered enough direct heat, feel free to give it a shot under the broiler for a few minutes for a little oomph.

When the baking is good and done, create a diversion. The people around you will have been smelling macaroni and cheese for a while, and they will be feeling entitled, but they must not eat it now. Draw their attention away-music? Cocktails? Fireworks?-while you take the golden dish out of the oven and put it aside for 10 minutes to set up. Cook a vegetable or something. Maybe a salad.

Finally, put the pot itself on the table, preferably on top of something heatproof. Scoop out some macaroni and cheese. The milk, you may notice, has yielded to the rigorous logic of the dish and become more cheese all on its own. Make sure everybody gets some crust.

Offer around a pepper grinder. Freshly ground black pepper goes great with macaroni and cheese.

Previously: How To Barbecue a Turkey-the Super Easy Way for Morons

Tom Scocca also makes a mean scrapple.

39 Comments / Post A Comment

HiredGoons (#603)

It's true. Elbows all the way.

Shells are good, but that's 'Shells n' Cheese.'

Matt (#26)

I cannot wait to read Balk's recipe for that classic of Americana, bourbon and cigarettes!

jolie (#16)

Oh God, no. I cannot get behind this. I'm still traumatized from the time he posted his mint julep recipe that INCLUDED SPLENDA. Or Equal. Or something I dunno TRAUMATIZED.

jolie (#16)

[Insert "familiar with entire body of work" joke here]

Matt (#26)

Holy shit I'd forgotten all about that. But I was thinking? In keeping with the other two? It would just be like, "Pour bourbon into glass (maybe). Take wrapper off pack and commence chain-smoking," do you know?

mathnet (#27)

"Go rub some fig paste on your face and cook up a fondue, cheese striver."

HiredGoons (#603)

"I got a stirring implement for ya' right here!"

I am a conflicted cheese striver as I use equal parts of Velveeta, cheddar and Gruyere.

Bittersweet (#765)

The Velveeta cancels out the Gruyere, so you're good.

badthings (#1,903)

Stop holding out, we're dying for the scrapple recipe!

WellThen (#1,251)

I wasn't aware that one needed a recipe to make scrapple.

I don't like the word "flowing" near the phrase "down there" in a recipe.

riggssm (#760)

Incredible. I may cook tonight instead of sipping dinner out of a rocks glass.

Regardless, the Awl's got you covered. See above for Bourbon and Cigarettes recipe.

Curmudgeon (#2,273)

I've made your macaroni and cheese. It really sucks. The cheese sticks to your teeth. The cheese is too fatty to stick to the mac without some gluey binder added. That is why bechamel exists. Why don't you stick to shooting moose from a helicopter and cooking it over an open fire.

Peteykins (#1,916)

Isn't that what the milk is for? Doesn't it act like a cassein glue to stick the cheese to the macaroni?

Tom Scocca (#48)

Yessir. Maybe this guy needs better teeth?

Peteykins that is why I use Velveeta. So I don't have to make a bechamel. Whatever Vaseline-like chemical they use in it seems to work.

Peteykins (#1,916)

May I offer some cheese trivia? Somebody told me once that Velveeta is clear until they add the coloring. Clear cheese food!! Why don't they market the shit out of that?

Ew, I guess it would seem like cheese-flavored vaseline. But still!

HiredGoons (#603)

There's a market for cheese-flavored vaseline I'd wager.

listen to what the cheese is telling you At this point, even the cheese is telling me that I could lose a few lbs., and why don't I have seconds on salad instead?

Bittersweet (#765)

Funny. The cheese always tells me that more is better, and my heart attack is 20 years off, so why skimp now?

southernbitch (#2,141)

As a southerner, I will just say, breadcrumbs abso-fucking-lutely go on top of macaroni and cheese. And right now I've got a big-ass pan of it I've been eating off of for two days in my fridge, and yes, I serve it with collards and hamhocks, and it's GOOD.

iplaudius (#1,066)

I know. I liked this article, but I feel the mantra of simplicity becomes oppressive, like those restaurants where they won't permit ketchup. He should take a hit off the Choire peace-pipe: It doesn't matter!

davelog (#2,310)

The fuck you say. You're no southerner. Bread crumbs on mac n cheese is yankee shit. If you have to pollute your macbake, you do it with busted up potato chips.

jaimealyse (#647)

This is the best thing I've ever read in my life. I'll never pick up a keyboard again. Tom Scocca, you win!

Pintonator (#2,236)

There are no wrong answers here. Relax your mind and listen to what the cheese is telling you.
This should be cross-stitched on a pillow in every American home.

girlmonk (#2,301)

The hunks of butter being added to the mac in the colander scares me. Doesn't the butter melt and drip away through the colander holes? Butter waste! No!

Acharn (#2,309)

Oh, wow, this is just awesome. But I still miss my bright orange powder stuff from a box — haven't had it for years. Oh, how I loved that when I ate it five times a week!

TOM. I made this (almost to the letter) on Friday. I got to eat mac and cheese all weekend because of it! Have you ever had mac and cheese with a fried egg on top of it when you are hungover??

Sir. You have changed my life.

The trio of gentleman's guides released in too quick succession last week had me feeling like a conflicted foodie in a blazingly hot restaurant must, when forced to choose between his desert island dish, things he knows he likes, oddball twists on the otherwise mundane and the 'what-the-hell, who knows what marvel awaits?' rest on offer. But mac n cheese isn't my thing– or a showboater outside of the Waverly, right?– so I initially glossed over it.

I've been back to have yours several times since, though– and my conclusion is? This was fucking amazing, Tom. I'm glad I took the route I did around the menu– each one compliments the others brilliantly, and they are probably best read together, if one is to appreciate the tweaks of pitch (or whatever)–but it bears saying that I can't get this visit out of my head!

Now I can't get "bears saying" out of my head. So it's all cool then!

BardCollege (#2,307)

Shit needs eggs to. TRUST me.

bronwyn (#3,351)

@BardCollege @GailPink

EGGS?! This is too much.

GailPink (#9,712)

I dunno. I like what adding an egg to the milk does to the finished product.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Needs more swears.

I made this tonight. It was fecking delicious! Just like Grandma used to make. Grandma was no fig faced, shaved truffle muncher.

mughal12 (#245,016)

Eating mass quantity of food typically in 15 minutes or less is very unhygienic. More than 10 million Americans are suffering from bulimia and anorexia because of this unhealthy diets. I have read your last two blog posts on the same topic, those were excellent too. Keep it up and keep posting blogs on related matterRugby shirts

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