Kitchn Love Letters

The One Essential Ingredient for the Easiest, Creamiest Mac and Cheese

updated Mar 5, 2020
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Credit: Jesse Szewczyk

If I had to live off of only one food for the rest of my life, it would be mac and cheese. The cheesy, melty pasta is the definition of comfort. And it’s not just reserved for self-care Sundays (and Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays): It’s my go-to dish for dinner parties and celebrations, too. I love an involved recipe, but sometimes I want to just put a super-simple mac and cheese on the table, something I can whip up on a weeknight.

That’s where this genius three-ingredient stovetop mac and cheese recipe from Serious Eats comes in. It’s every bit as creamy and delicious as the kind I might spend a lot more time on, but it’s very fast. And it all comes down to one ingenius ingredient.

Credit: Kelli Foster

Evaporated Milk Is the Secret Ingredient to Ultra-Creamy Mac and Cheese

What’s the one clever, cheap ingredient that makes this mac and cheese perfectly smooth and luxurious? Evaporated milk (the one on the bottom in the photo). Not to be confused with sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk can be found in the baking section of most grocery stores, next to the other shelf-stable milks. It has 60 percent of its water content removed, making it the perfect base to combine with cheddar cheese to create a silky smooth sauce. Unlike with regular milk, the cheese is able to melt into it to create a homogeneous mixture that won’t break or curdle.

Credit: Jesse Szewczyk

How to Make Serious Eats’ Genius Three-Ingredient Mac and Cheese

To make this mac and cheese recipe, you’ll start by putting your dry noodles in a saucepan and just covering them in water before cooking them. This saves time (you don’t have to wait for the pot to boil or mess around with straining it) and, as the pasta absorbs all the water, it concentrates the starches. (This is the same reason Instant Pot spaghetti tastes so good.)

When the water is absorbed, you’ll add evaporated milk, bring it to a boil, and add a generous amount of shredded cheddar cheese. After a few minutes the cheese will start melting into the milk to create a silky-smooth sauce, magically free of lumps. It’s a bit of kitchen alchemy as the sauce thickens and perfectly coats the noodles.

At this point you could dig right in, but I like to dress it up with some cooked broccoli, a generous amount of cracked black pepper, or bits of crispy bacon. It’s a super-solid mac and cheese recipe that takes less than 20 minutes to come together.

At Kitchn, our editors and contributors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.

Your turn: What’s your favorite mac and cheese recipe? Tell us in the comments, below.