A Smart, Simple Tip for Better Mac & Cheese

Tips from The Kitchn

How would you like to give your favorite macaroni and cheese recipe a super-creamy boost? Well, there's an easy way to make it happen. And in case you were wondering, it does not involve adding extra cheese. It's a simple trick — maybe you've already tried it?

A Smart Tip for Creamier Mac and Cheese

Aside from the cheese, a crucial component of really good macaroni and cheese is the pasta — and it's time to rethink how you've been cooking it. Instead of water, cook your pasta in milk!

Now, you usually add milk later in the cooking process to make the cheese sauce, but for an extra touch of luscious creaminess, incorporate the milk at the very beginning of cooking. The starch from the noodles works to thicken the milk, so it already has a saucy consistency from the start.

How (and Why) This Trick Makes Better Mac & Cheese

When you cook pasta noodles, usually you do so in a pot of boiling water — water that is poured off after cooking.

However, in this case you use milk instead, reserving the milk after the pasta cooks. The use of milk makes the pasta itself creamier, and reserving it keeps any starch washed off the pasta in the milk, which is then used to make the sauce.

Some milk is absorbed into the pasta as it cooks, but you need to reserve enough to make your sauce. So you'll want to measure out a portion that's more than the amount the recipe calls for. The amount will vary from recipe to recipe, but I've been successful with doubling the milk. A lot will be absorbed by the noodles, and some will evaporate.

Remember this: Cook the pasta in milk. Use twice as much milk as called for in your recipe for the sauce.

Stir the milk frequently as it comes to a boil and while the pasta is cooking. Once the pasta is cooked, strain the warm milk into a separate bowl or pot, and proceed with making the cheese sauce according to the recipe instructions.

No matter what kind of pasta you use, and whether or not you use a roux to make the sauce, this method works like a charm for the creamiest mac and cheese you've ever had.

This post has been updated — originally published February 2012.

(Image credits: Kelli Foster)