If you’re anything like me, you’ve been making some sort of boxed mac and cheese since you were maybe 12 years old. Boil the water, throw in the macaroni for about 10 minutes. Drain the water, pour in cheese packet, add milk and butter. Stir. Eat. It’s not rocket science right?
In fact my friends were recently joking around about how easy it is to make mac & cheese on social media. One friend quipped: “Boil water, add pasta, slightly al dente, drain, add more butter and less milk than the recipe calls for, pour in powdery cheeeeeesy goodness. Yup… I still got it!!”
Sure its easy. And while its certainly no homemade culinary feat, it fulfills the quick-fix + comfort-food need in life. Still, there seems to be a ton of room for variation.
We switched to Annie’s Mac & Cheese exclusively some time ago. I love the shells and I like that Annie’s at least has less junk in it that other brands but still has great flavor.
But it never comes out as good for me as it does for Dan. The cheese would get clumpy. There would be unmixed cheese stuck in the shells [ick]. It was always uneven at best. Too runny or too thick. Was it terrible? No. But Dan’s was always so much better. How could that be? We use the same box and the same ingredients…
So finally I asked him: “Why does yours always come out so much better than mine?”
Dan: “Because I’m awesome.”
True, but entirely unhelpful, and likely not the reason for his success. Finally, he taught me the secret. So simple and yet so effective!
Do you want to know what the secret is? Here goes:
Step 1: Boil water. Throw in pasta with a little olive oil to prevent it from sticking. Let boil for length of time listed on the box (around 9 minutes).
Step 3: Drain the water from the pasta and leave pasta in the sink to fully drain.
Step 4: Put the pan back on the stove. With the burner off, but still conducting the remaining heat, put the butter into the hot pot and let it melt down [and yes, adding more butter than it calls for is usually a good call].
Step 5: Add milk, powdered cheese mix & seasonings and whisk. Start with less milk than you think you need. As you stir in the cheese, you’ll likely find you need a little more, but go slow until you get a handle on it so it’s not too runny (unless that’s how you like it).
You’re creating a roux which is what you’d do if you were making homemade mac and cheese so why this thought never occurred to me I don’t know. This allows the cheese to fully mix with the wet ingredients before you add it to the pasta where the dry powder can easily get stuck inside the shells.
Step 6: Stir in the pasta & mix.