The Fancy Chef’s Guide to Homemade Mac ‘n’ Cheese
Celebrity chef Michael Schulson shares a recipe for grown-up macaroni and cheese
A staple of your parents’ pantry (OK, maybe also yours), grocery-store aisles in all 50 states and campus dorm rooms everywhere, macaroni and cheese of the instant variety is as American as red, white and blue despite its unnaturally orange coloring. Thing is, though nothing produces nostalgia like a plate of sticky pasta decked out in Yellows 5 and 6, many of us graduate from eating mac in favor of other pasta dishes once we have more time, more money or both to spend on food.
According to Philadelphia-based chef Michael Schulson, who serves macaroni and cheese at some of his restaurants, including Harp & Crown, that doesn’t need to be the case.
Schulson, who remembers getting double orders of the dish during childhood trips to IHOP with his parents, says there is always an argument to be made for ordering mac ‘n’ cheese provided it isn’t made with processed cheddar that comes in a packet, no matter our age.
“We all grow up at some point and it’s okay,” he tells InsideHook. “But here’s our opportunity as adults to have something that brings us back to our childhood, but is elevated in such a way where we don’t feel like a 10-year-old. You’re not going to go out to a restaurant and ask for Kraft macaroni and cheese.”
Soft pasta and gooey cheese is simple, but that doesn’t mean its flavor profile has to be basic.
“I think a lot of food is about making something simple taste amazing,” Schulson says. “If you have a good cheese and a good pasta, you’re going to have something that’s amazing. If you’re using a garbage cheese and a garbage pasta, you’re going to have something that’s garbage. You can elevate mac ‘n’ cheese to whatever you want it to be or you can dummy it down to whatever you want it to be. One of the big things I go by is K.I.S.S.: Keep it simple, stupid. Sometimes when you add too many things and the more you mess with something, especially a comfort food or dish you grew up with, the bigger of a disaster you’re going to have.”
At Harp & Crown, Schulson serves a refined version of the childhood classic that’s made with homemade elbow pasta and Parmesan and Fontina cheese as well as ingredients such as coriander, thyme and bay leaves. The combo results in a dish that has layers of flavor without being too rich, a common issue with dressed-up versions of macaroni and cheese.
“If you use aged Gouda, sharp provolone or aged Swiss, I think you’re going to have a really rich mac ‘n cheese that you probably wouldn’t be able to eat,” Schulson says. “The Parmesan gives it the baseline and the Fontina is a really rich, creamy, heavy cheese. So that’s giving it another layer. To me, cooking is about creating these layers of flavor and not just having people say, ‘Oh my God, that’s the richest, heaviest mac ‘n’ cheese I’ve ever had.’”
Ready to grow up? Schulson’s recipe for adult mac ‘n’ cheese is below.
Michael Schulson’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese
- 1 qt. heavy cream
- 5 oz. white onion
- Coriander whole, 1 pinch
- Black peppercorns whole, 1 pinch
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 pc. bay leaves
- 2 oz. Parmesan
- 2 oz. Fontina cheese
Directions for the sauce
- Tie coriander, black pepper, thyme and bay leaf in cheesecloth.
- Sweat the onions in canola oil until translucent. Add cream and the sachet of herbs and spices.
- Bring to a simmer without boiling. Simmer for about 25–30 minutes.
- Let cool slightly and remove the sachet of herbs and spices.
- Blend cream, onions and cheese in blender until smooth.
Directions for the macaroni
- Pre-cook your pasta of choice only to al dente.
- Warm up cheese sauce in pot/pan with sharp white cheddar cheese (grated).
- Toss noodles with sauce and season with salt.
- Finish with bread crumbs.
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