Remember how I said awhile back that a bechamel sauce has plenty of uses? I’ve used it as a base in creamy cauliflower au gratin, a base for a chowder and as a base for chicken pot pie. And today we’ll use it for another great thing: your humble mac and cheese.
It’s amazing like that!
But for those that don’t know what a béchamel sauce is, don’t let the fancy name chase you away. It’s just a white cream sauce made from mixing equal parts of butter and flour together and adding some milk. That’s it! It really is that easy. The starch acts as a thickener for the milk to create a creamy, white sauce. Cook the butter and flour mixture (also known as roux) for a bit to get rid of the floury taste and pour in milk. Simmer for awhile till it’s nice and thick and creamy.
Then you add in freshly shredded cheese with some macaroni elbows and voila: mac and cheese.
But for something so comforting as mac and cheese, you really aren’t left with much thinking room to wonder why on earth American cheese is melted into an English white sauce and served with Italian pasta. Despite the irony, mac and cheese is very much American.
The choice of what kind of cheese you want to use is up to you: sharp cheddar, Pecorino Romano, Parmesan, Fontina, Gruyere, Monteray, white cheddar, Colby Jack etc. I’ll be using staples from my kitchen aka cheddar and Parmesan. No need to go visit the deli section for expensive cheese.
So this was supposed to a recipe for classic mac and cheese but I ended up dressing it up some. It didn’t have enough bite for me so I added in a teaspoon of mustard. Then I tossed in about a cup of bacon bits and some diced jalapenos. Since it was a last minute alteration, I only had pickled jalapenos but feel free to use fresh ones if you like. But yes, bacon and jalapenos. Wow did it taste so much better.
If you’re one for classics, stop just before the bacon and jalapenos. Otherwise, go my route or get creative! Some suggestions are broccoli mac and cheese, smoky mac and cheese, buffalo chicken mac and cheese, lobster mac and cheese…the possibilities are endless.
If you end up with leftovers, a great way to heat it up is to add a tablespoon or two of milk to each bowl to get the creaminess going again. Microwave or heat it up over the stove top. Good as new.
PS: If you hunger for Velveeta instead, here’s an old recipe of mine with it. I’ve found some people don’t like processed cheese while some people are all for some liquid gold.
- 8 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup flour
- 4 cups whole milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 cups sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 1 lb. elbow macaroni, cooked al dente
- 1 cup bacon bits
- 1 fresh jalapeno/2 tablespoons pickled jalapenos, diced
- Melt butter over medium heat
- Add in flour and stir to mix. Cook for about 2-3 minutes
- Pour in milk and whisk until smooth and blended
- Simmer until sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, about 7-10 minutes
- Season with salt and pepper to taste
- Stir in both cheeses in portions until melted. Add in mustard
- Add macaroni and stir to combine until fully coated and creamy
- Add in bacon bits and diced jalapenos, mix thoroughly
- Dish and serve hot
Used in this recipe: