This recipe is from Alton Brown, who is perhaps the greatest cook out there. Not only does he share the most delectable recipes but he also gets into the science of food and why things are put together the way they are and the physics and chemistry behind the mixing bowl.
Here is a link to his recipe and I will reproduce it in it's entirety in this Instructable.
I am attending a fourth of July celebration today and made a double batch as there will be about 10 people that will be partaking in this nummyness. Of course there will be several other dishes present at said event but as usual most of these get-togethers are a veritable feast with way too much food and glorious heaps of left-overs for all to take home and I gather this one will be no different.
It filled one large 13" x 9" dish and a smaller dish for my honey (and for my tasting just to make sure it wasn't poison) since he would not be able to attend and would not think of him not being able to partake in such deliciousness.
Step 1: Ingredients
8 ounces elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons unsalted butter*
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground (powdered) mustard
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (Hungarian is the best!)
1/2 cup onion, diced very small
3 cups whole milk
1 large egg
9 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly grated
3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
*I have a savory/salty tooth as opposed to a sweet tooth and always use salted butter even when recipes call for unsalted. True to Mr. Brown's recipe I've listed unsalted above. Your choice.
Step 2: Preparing Your Ingredients and Work Space
Before you start cooking it's a good idea to get some of the prep work done in advance.
Chop your onion. You're not going to want huge chunks in your finished dish so be sure to chop it very finely. The result is that the onion will literally 'melt' into the cheese when baked and just provide sassy, savory flavor and not be present as crunchy chunks. Who wants chunky Mac & Cheese! No!!! Wrong! #macandcheesefail
Grate your cheese and separate for the main dish and for the topping (9 oz & 3 oz). I used a blend of the Tillamook Extra Sharp Cheddar from Costco* and our local grocery store brand Extra Sharp Cheddar.
Get your egg ready in a small bowl by slightly beating it. (I made a double batch so there are two in my picture)
Measure your butter (3 Tbs & 3 Tbs) and spices (1 Tbs dry mustard & 1 tsp smoked paprika) (1 tsp kosher salt & 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper) and put in small dishes so you can add quickly.
*ALWAYS have to give a shout out for Costco. It is my happy place. Not only do they have incredible prices but treat their employees right, pay them a liveable wage and are just awesome all around, unlike other warehouse/big box retailers that get a big fat "F" in my book for oh so many reasons.
Do something good for the planet and the economy. Stop shopping at the big W and get yourself a Costco membership. You'll be glad you did.
Step 3: Cook the Pasta
In Alton Brown's recipe he suggests the following directions on how to cook the pasta. This works SO MUCH BETTER than the directions on the darn box (boil water, add pasta, wait for the water to get back up to temp and boil the holy crap out of it until you think it's done). This actually cooks the pasta faster than the box instructions too! BONUS!
A better way: (in his words exactly)
Place dry pasta in a large pot and barely cover with cold water. Bring just to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, then test for doneness*. You're looking for al dente, that is the noodles should put up some resistance to the tooth but not so much that it gums up in your back teeth. Drain pasta in a colander but do not rinse.
*mine were ALMOST done by the time the water was boiling rapidly. I let them go for about another minute and a half before draining. I also tossed the hot noodles in about a teaspoon of butter while they were sitting in the colander so they didn't stick together while waiting for the cheese sauce to be done.
Step 4: Start the Cheese Sauce
I used the same pan I used to boil the pasta as I knew it would be big enough to hold my double batch.
Melt the first three tablespoons of butter in your pot. Once melted and using a whisk (I have a great nylon one that won't scrape my non-stick pans) mix in the flour making sure there are no lumps. Cook until your roux* is a pale blonde and has a slightly nutty aroma, about 3 minutes.
*Roux definition: A cooked mixture of butter or other fat and flour used to thicken sauces, soups, etc.
Whisk in the mustard, paprika and onions and cook for another minute. You will have a thick paste that you might have to stir with a spoon until you add the milk.
Step 5: Finishing the Sauce
Now is a good time to turn on your oven. I hate when recipes have you turn on the oven when you begin the process. I'd rather turn it on so it pre-heats just in time to put things in the oven instead of wasting energy while your're in prep mode. Set oven to 350 degrees while you're finishing the sauce, it should pre-heat in just enough time.
Whisk in the milk slowly over low heat, making sure that there are no lumps and you're blending it smoothly. Turn the heat up to medium-high and cook for 7-8 minutes*, whisking very often to make sure it's not sticking to the bottom of the pan until slightly thickened. (that's what the roux does when milk is added and it's cooked for a while).
*mine took a few minutes longer to thicken. The sauce will have a turning point when it thickens. It's kitchen MAGIC! Actually it's science but it's kind of neat when you see it happen before your eyes!
Turn the heat off while you prepare to add the egg. DO NOT ADD THE EGG directly to the hot liquid! If you do you will have chunky bits of scrambled egg in your Mac & Cheese and that is no bueno! :-(
Lightly beat the egg in your smaller bowl if you haven't done so yet and take about half a cup of the hot sauce mix out of the big pot with a measuring cup and WHISKING CONSTANTLY drizzle the hot mixture into the egg. KEEP WHISKING! This is called tempering and prevents the egg from scrambling by raising the temperature slowly. Once you have this step done, you can add the egg/sauce to the main pot.
Step 6: Finish in Pot
Stir in nine ounces of shredded cheese and the salt and pepper.
Fold in the cooked pasta and stir until thoroughly mixed.
Step 7: Preparing for Baking
As I stated earlier I made a double batch and was able to fill a 9x13 glass pan and a smaller pan.
A single batch will fill a 4 quart casserole dish or a 9x9" glass pan well.
Top with the remaining three ounces of shredded cheese.
Melt the remaining three tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan and once melted, stir in the breadcrumbs then distribute evenly over the top.
Step 8: Bake and Dig In!
Bake, uncovered for 30 minutes or until the breadcrumbs start to turn a lovely shade of toasty goodness!
Let cool for five minutes then try and keep from eating the entire pan yourself.
Thank you Mr. Brown for such a great recipe! You are my hero!