- I love mac and cheese, but can’t stand messing around with a roux.
- This recipe from chef J. Kenji López-Alt has just three ingredients and needs 10 minutes to make.
- At just $1 per portion, I often find myself reaching for this recipe as a perfect weeknight dinner.
After a long day at work, I often struggle for inspiration when it comes to food choices. While it’s easy to reach for premade or boxed mac and cheese, it’s never quite as good as when you’ve made it yourself.
Fortunately, a recipe on Serious Eats, from chef and published author J. Kenji López-Alt, solves this problem and makes homemade mac and cheese a perfect weeknight dinner. Not only is it creamier than most recipes I’ve found, it actually contains one less ingredient than boxed mac and cheese and takes around 10 minutes from start to finish at around $1 per serving.
Most traditional recipes rely on creating a flour-based sauce, which can be a laborious task to fully cook out and thicken. This recipe uses evaporated milk as its centerpiece, skipping the need to make a roux altogether.
While uncommon in other recipes, evaporated milk is the key ingredient that makes this recipe work, as it contains a high volume of condensed milk proteins, called micelles. These bind the sauce together and prevent the cheese from clumping and separating while thickening the sauce much faster than using a traditional flour and butter base.
To make Kenji’s mac and cheese for two people, you’ll need:
- 6 ounces (170 grams) of macaroni (or any short pasta you have available)
- 6 ounces (170 grams) of cheddar cheese (I prefer a sharper cheddar)
- 6 ounces (180 milliliters) evaporated milk.
Perhaps the best thing about this recipe is that it follows a simple ratio — however much pasta you need, you’ll need the same amount of cheese, and evaporated milk. Depending on how many people you’re cooking for, it’s easy to scale the recipe up and down.
Similarly, while the recipe calls for macaroni, feel free to use any short pasta shape available. Having tested this recipe numerous times, I often use whatever I have at home and the pasta always comes out perfectly done.
However, do not substitute evaporated milk for condensed milk. While they both contain the same milk proteins that will make this recipe work, condensed milk is sweetened. Unless you want a sickly-sweet mac and cheese, make sure you pick up the right one from the grocery store.
Take your pasta, place it in a pan, and add just enough water to cover the surface of the pasta. Place over high heat and stir often to prevent the pasta from sticking.
This might seem a little alien at first if you’re used to cooking pasta in large amounts of water. The small amount of water will reduce down and concentrate the starch from the pasta, resulting in a more cohesive sauce in the end.
Do NOT salt the pasta water heavily — just a pinch will do. While seasoning the water helps when cooking pasta in a large volume of water, this recipe would concentrate the salt into something unpalatable. I’ve made that mistake before, and you don’t want to follow in my footsteps.
Once the water has started to boil, keep stirring until the pasta water has almost entirely reduced down to a film at the bottom of the pan. The pasta should be almost al dente and retain a good bite to it.
This stage is the place I often add any other ingredients, such as frozen peas, that bring something extra to the recipe, and finish cooking as the dish comes together.
Continue to cook over low heat and stir until it has fully melted into the sauce and it’s at your desired consistency.
If the sauce becomes too thick, add an extra splash of evaporated, or regular, milk and stir to loosen it up.
From here, feel free to customize your mac and cheese however you’d like. Whether that’s adding breadcrumbs and placing it in the oven, topping it with crispy bacon bits, or stirring in any extra spices that you’d normally include in your favorite recipes, anything works.
I find it difficult to justify making mac and cheese the traditional way anymore, as this method is so satisfying and easy to make. Particularly as all three ingredients have long shelf lives, make sure to have them on hand so you can throw it together yourself after a long day at work.