Friday, March 9, 2012

Un-Revolutionary Mac and Cheese Revisited

Perhaps I just get excited easily, but it made my whole day when I received a link to a blog post Diedre did about our Un-Revolutionary Macaroni and Cheese post. She decided to take on the challenge and see if she could figure out a fix to the recipe. Diedre did a test run of the original recipe and then tried some of her ideas for improving it. Here's what she had to say on her blog:

I recently became a follower of the blog Pinstrosity, which I'm loving so far. If you don't know what it's all about I suggest going and checking it out. There's some really fun stuff on there! A few days ago they posted a recipe for Revolutionary Macaroni and Cheese, and after reading through the recipe I was intrigued. I decided to give it a try for lunch today and see what I could find out about it.

Since it was just me at home I decided to only make a half a batch, so that I wouldn't have mountains of questionable mac & cheese on hand. Then I split that half batch between two pans, one to make following the original directions exactly(the control batch) and one that I could play around with(the test batch.

For the control batch I followed the directions from the recipe as exactly as possible. The only deviation was that I think I ended up using almost twice as much milk as it said to. If I had let that pasta go for 20 minutes without adding some milk, it wouldn't have had enough liquid to cook the pasta and it would have burned to the bottom of the pan. I'm not sure exactly how much I added, I just put in a few drops every time it got too dry. The recipe says to add the mustard to taste so I put a little in at a time, but for my taste preferences it needed all the mustard. I also followed the recipe's suggestion to add more milk at the end to make it more creamy, otherwise it would have been inedibly dry. I was skeptical about the need to cover it and let it rest for 5 minutes after cooking, but the pasta seemed to absorb even more liquid as it sat and that may have enhanced the richness of the pasta, though I can't prove that.

For the test batch I made several changes. The original recipe says to cook your pasta for 20 minutes, which seemed like a huge amount of time to me, so I only cooked my test batch for about 15 minutes. I also made a few other changes like adding the salt to the pasta while it cooked instead of afterwords, adding more cheese, and using ground dry mustard instead of the prepared Dijon mustard. I skipped the step where you let your pasta rest for 5 minutes.  

So what were the results you ask? Well, here we go. I'll start with the test batch. I think the pasta itself had more flavor from being cooked in the salt instead of the salt being added at the end. I thought the more subtle flavor of the ground mustard would be better for this dish but I didn't end up liking it. Granted, I do think I got too much in there, but I still think it wouldn't have been that great. The texture was rich and creamy, but tasted incredibly bland (except for the overpowering mustard) even though I added extra cheese. This recipe could be called Creamy Macaroni, but I wouldn't add cheese to the name. That's more than a little misleading. What surprised me most was that the noodles were definitely under cooked, despite the unusually long cooking time. I realized though that instead of boiling your pasta like usual, you're just simmering it so it makes sense that you'd have to cook it longer. Duh! 
Now for the control batch. It was rich and creamy, the hint of Dijon mustard was a nice addition. Again, the flavor was incredibly bland. If it weren't for the mustard there would have been no flavor at all. There is such a small amount of cheese that I really couldn't taste it at all. The pasta was cooked to just about the perfect doneness and yet still had a really odd texture.
After thinking about it and doing a little research, here's my hypothesis as to the weird texture. Pasta contains starch which normally cooks out into the water and is drained off. What little starch remains stays in the pasta to help give it texture. Since there was no liquid to drain off along with the starch it all stayed right there in the sauce. Also, if the starches in pasta are similar to the starches in rice, than the more you stir it the more starch is released. That is how risotto gets its creamy richness. This means that not only are you not getting rid of the starch that comes out during cooking, but because milk requires frequent stirring while cooking, you're actually encouraging the release of MORE starch into your sauce, hence the bizarre texture.
So my final conclusion? The original recipe is just not that great, but it makes an edible product if you're not too picky. The sauce is too starchy, there's not enough cheese, it just isn't great. If you want good Mac 'n' Cheese, then either stick to the beloved blue box, or make your own with a tried and true recipe (once I've finished scraping pasta starch off the roof of my mouth I'll have to make my mom's recipe).


  1. I tried this method and I thought it was pretty good. My children and I ate every bit of it. I made a few amendments though. I omitted the nutmeg/mustard and added a few dashes of Tastefully Simple Onion Onion, some season salt, a dash of poultry seasoning, and a bit of black pepper. I also added a bit more milk, a piece of crumbled turkey bacon, and a heaping tablespoon of plain greek yogurt. For the cheeses, I added a couple of slices of American cheese and a little mozzarella along with the shredded cheddar (I put in extra cheese because I didn't think the recipe was cheesy enough). I used elbow macaroni for my pasta base. I didn't need to put it in the oven. I tasted fine right out the pot. You have to constantly stir it so the milk won't stick the pot and the noodles will cook evenly. You also have to keep the burner on low. We really enjoyed it.

  2. I know this post was written a while ago, but I just wanted to add my own experience with this recipe. It's my husband's favorite now. I don't measure the exact amount of time that I let the pasta cook. I just make sure it's soft, then I consider it done. I'd say it's about 15 minutes. I also add a little extra milk because, like you, I found that the milk was gone before the pasta was cooked. I always add extra cheese (we use Monterrey Jack) because we like it really cheesy. And we use spicy brown mustard instead of Dijon. The result has been great for us. We've done it straight out of the pan as well as cooking it in the oven and like it both ways. I'm sad that other people haven't had such great results.

  3. i made regular kraft macaroni with milk instead of water. it wasnt any better than just using water and adding the milk at the end and the pot was harder to clean.

  4. I made this the other night. Followed everything and it ended up thick and a little dry. Very favor less.

  5. This is my new way of making mac and cheese. It worked out great for me. The only changes I made were omitting the mustard, and adding salt from the beginning. Came out perfect, especially for someone with limited cooking skills.

    The brand and shape of pasta you use makes quite a difference. The texture was perfect when I used elbow, not as perfect when I used a different shell shaped brand.

    And ofcourse you need quality cheese.


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