Macaroni and cheese and I have a very long history together, so let me give you a short summary.
When I was growing up I LOVED the boxed stuff. So much so that as a little kid, when my grandmother made homemade macaroni and cheese for me, I was disappointed that it was not the box stuff. When I got older, boxed macaroni and cheese was something I would make for myself if, say, the rest of my family was at my brothers’ baseball game and I hadn’t wanted to go.
Fast forward to college, where I started noticing this certain type of macaroni and cheese in all kinds of restaurants. It was creamy and cheesy, but with a texture I couldn’t quite pinpoint. I can tell you now that it is custard-like, because I know what goes into it, but at the time I couldn’t figure it out. I loved this macaroni and cheese though.
And because I was in college and had yet to actually learn about cooking, I thought that perhaps the macaroni and cheese was like this because it was homemade. So I made some homemade macaroni and cheese. I made a bechemel sauce and melted cheese into it and poured it over macaroni and baked it in the oven, and it came out like any old macaroni and cheese. Good, but not what I had been hoping for.
I made macaroni and cheese a couple of times after that, but for the most part I gave up. The macaroni and cheese that I love must be some kind of secret, because none of the google searches I did for various macaroni and cheese recipes led me to anything special.
Then, a couple of months ago I was thinking about macaroni and cheese again, particularly how it relates to Southern cuisine, and for some reason I thought to type “southern macaroni and cheese” in the search bar.
And lo and behold, there it was. The secret to making the macaroni and cheese that I love. Eggs.
(And I felt completely not worth my weight as a food blogger and self-professed super taster for not being able to figure that one out.)
But that was it. Eggs. Eggs are what gives the cheese sauce a custard-like texture. (And if I say curdled will it turn you off? But it is…the texture is like delicious creamy cheese curdles and I don’t know a better way to describe it. But hey, we’ve already learned this year that dairy curdles as part of your meal can be absolutely wonderful.)
I’ve tried over the past couple of months to get this recipe exactly how I wanted it. You have to have the perfect sauce to egg to cheese to noodle ratio. It took me awhile, but I think I’ve finally found it. And I’m so glad I can share it with you.
To me, this is the macaroni and cheese of down home southern cooking, and it is my favorite. I realize the egg addition might not be for some people, and that is fine. Just make it without adding the egg. But if you've never had macaroni and cheese with egg added before, I hope you will try it. It gives the macaroni and cheese such a unique and comforting texture. One other note--please use freshly grated cheese. The stuff that comes pre-grated does not melt nearly as nicely.
- 1 lb. elbow macaroni
- Kosher salt
- Olive oil or vegetable oil (for drizzling)
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups milk, slightly warmed
- 2 eggs
- 16 oz. extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
- 8 oz. Gruyere, grated (or another 8 oz. of Cheddar)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the macaroni. Cook according to package directions, usually about 6-8 minutes. Drain, toss with a bit of oil to keep the pasta from sticking, and set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Slowly begin adding the milk, a couple of tablespoons at a time, stirring constantly. Once a thick sauce seems to be forming, you can add the milk in larger batches, continuing to stir. Once all the milk has been added, continue cooking and stirring until the sauce has thickened slightly. Turn the heat down to low.
- Crack your eggs into a small bowl, and whisk to scramble slightly. Use a ladle or cup measure to scoop out about 1/2 a cup of the warm sauce and slowly add it to the egg, drop by drop, whisking constantly, until the egg has gently been brought up to the temperature of the sauce. Then pour the egg mixture into the sauce and stir to combine.
- Stir in the cheese, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a small pinch of nutmeg. Add the macaroni and stir until all the noodles are coated with the cheese sauce.
- Pour the macaroni into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is beginning to turn golden brown in spots. Serve warm.
adapted very slightly from Ina Garten