This baked macaroni and cheese recipe harnesses the amazing emulsifying powers of sodium citrate, the same salt used to make American cheese so incredibly meltable. Simply blend the grated cheese of your choice (we use cheddar) into water that has sodium citrate dissolved into it, and the most gooey, smooth, and silky cheese sauce emerges. Then just toss it with your pasta, some more cheese, top with buttery bread crumbs, and bake. Baked mac and cheese can't get any easier than this.
Why It Works
- Sodium citrate, a type of salt that is commonly added to club soda and processed cheese, can turn the cheese of your choice into a perfect cheese sauce.
- Extra grated cheese folded in creates tiny pockets of stretchy, melted, intensely flavored cheese.
- A buttery panko bread crumb topping bakes up crisp and with a light crunchiness.
- Yield:Makes one 9- by 13-inch baking dish, serving 8
- Active time: 30 minutes
- Total time:1 hour 30 minutes
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound (450g) elbow macaroni
- 5 tablespoons (75g) unsalted butter, divided
- 4 teaspoons (20g) sodium citrate (see note above)
- 1 1/2 pounds (680g) grated sharp Cheddar cheese (see note above)
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) hot sauce, such as Frank's Red Hot
- 1/2 (2g) teaspoon mustard powder
- 1/4 (1g) teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 pound grated Gruyere cheese (see note above)
- 1 cup (2 ounces; 55g) panko bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 400°F. In a medium pot of salted boiling water, cook elbow macaroni until just shy of al dente, about 2 minutes less than package cooking time. Drain, then transfer pasta to large mixing bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons (30g) butter until butter is melted and pasta is evenly coated. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, bring 3 cups (700ml) water to a simmer. Whisk in sodium citrate until fully dissolved. While maintaining a gentle simmer, add Cheddar cheese in small increments, using an immersion blender to incorporate it completely into the sauce before the next addition. When all the cheese is added and the sauce is smooth and glossy, blend in hot sauce, mustard powder, and garlic powder. Season with salt, if necessary.
Scrape cheese sauce into pasta and mix until evenly coated. Let cool slightly, then add grated Gruyere and mix well. Scrape pasta into a 9- by 13-inch baking dish and smooth surface to an even layer.
Add panko to a small mixing bowl. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter, then add to panko and mix until evenly coated. Season with salt. Scatter panko all over surface of mac and cheese in an even layer. Bake on top rack until browned and bubbling, about 45 minutes (ovens can vary, check often to prevent top from burning).
Let mac and cheese rest 15 minutes, then serve. Leftover mac and cheese can be refrigerated for up to 5 days; it reheats surprisingly well in the microwave or oven.