Mac ‘n’ Cheese, it’s everywhere! It’s almost impossible to go anywhere that isn’t serving some version of it, or be online and not be bombarded with lists of the best mac ‘n’ cheese here, or there, or to try before you die, or even to die for; yet more lists came out last week, this time in The Handbook and yet another from the ever generating source of such things, Buzzfeed.
It’s not that I dislike mac ‘n’ cheese, in fact I think some of the things being done with it are remarkable, not just for the flavour combinations, but also the uses – grilled mac ‘n’ cheese toastie anyone? How can you not drawl over the idea of mac ‘n’ cheese with truffle, or Hawksmore’s mac ‘n’ cheese with lobster, or even The Don Macaroni (basil oil, fresh basil and bacon) by Anna Mae’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese?
However, the problem comes, or so I find, after the first few mouthfuls. My mouth starts to dry out and become claggy from the thick and slightly dry sauce. What’s worse though is that I get bored, and I hate being bored by my food, there are few things that annoy and depress me more. When it comes to mac ‘n’ cheese I’ve never not been bored and it’s thanks to the repetitive flavour profile, which is usually so rich, that not long after you feel sick. I may love it for the first few bites, but as soon as that boredom hits, that’s it I’m done; and I remember why I so rarely bother to eat the stuff.
I know I’m not alone in feeling this way about mac ‘n’ cheese, just as I know there are plenty that will defend it to their final breath, Sarah Canet the boss here at Spoon PR HQ is one such person. Nathan Myhrvold and his Modernist Cuisine team however have come up with the perfect mac ‘n’ cheese that is sure to get all doubters to love it and all lovers of it to fall head over heels for the cheesy coated pasta once more.
The Modernist cuisine website is a veritable goldmine of interesting facts about food and the science of it. It turns out that the claggy texture, and indeed over richness, I so dislike, comes from how the cheese, milk and flour react with one another when heated to create the Mornay Sauce. For instance did you know the reason that the flavour can be lacking in your mac ‘n’ cheese is that the starch in the flour inhibits the release of the flavour in the cheese? I’m willing to bet that this leads many a mac ‘n’ cheese cook to add extra cheese, meaning the sauce becomes thicker and drier, hence the claggy effect I dislike so much.
The other issue when making mac ‘n’ cheese is the sauce splitting as the fat molecules and water molecules separate. This happens because the fat and water molecules, that hold together when cheese is solid, can’t hold their bonds when heated, leading to the splitting of the sauce.
Modernist Cuisine presents a solution to both these issues, and it’s based on a 1912 discovery by one James L. Kraft. Kraft, he of the famous food company, discovered that adding sodium phosphate to the cheese and liquid mixture enables the molecules to hold together, allowing the cheese to melt but not split, and thus processed cheese was born.
Modernist Cuisine use sodium citrate rather than sodium phosphate, but it produces the same results. It really is the perfect way to make mac ‘n’ cheese. It consists of just 4 ingredients: sodium citrate, milk, cheese and pasta. The swapping of the flour for just a small amount of sodium citrate is brilliant, it means no time consuming roux, no split sauce and no flavourless or claggy sauce. You can then adapt it to any cheese you could want, nor does it prevent you from using other ingredients for additional flavour, put simply, you’re on to a mac ‘n’ cheese that it’s hard not to love. It might be molecular gastronomy and that might put you off trying it at home, but it really is as simple as adding a pinch of the sodium citrate to the milk as it heats up, what could be more simple.
For more on Modernist Cuisine’s perfect mac ‘n’ cheese, including the recipe, click here.
by Joss Bassett