In Japan you can buy cheese by the slice. It turns out that one slice (30g of cheese, or about 1 ounce, to be exact) is just the right amount to make a single serving of macaroni and cheese. This is important when cheesperation (desperation due to lack of regular consumption of cheese) sets in. Luckily, the other ingredients required for a simple cheese sauce are readily available in Japanese supermarkets. Thus armed with disproportionately expensive cheese slices (at 100 yen for a single slice, it costs more per kilo than Norwegian Salmon), I learned to whip up a classic bowl of mac ‘n cheese.
I finally perfected this prototypical American dish in South Africa, which is important because South Africans tend towards a very liberal understanding of what constitutes “macaroni and cheese.” It seems to be that any grouping of ingredients, as long as it includes macaroni noodles and cheese, can be called “macaroni and cheese.” While many American recipes are admittedly flexible about permissible inclusions, I would argue that the dish demarcated as “macaroni and cheese” at least requires a cheese sauce. My next requirement is probably more of an opinion– I would say it’s really a tradition– but I would further argue that the cheese sauce should be partially, or even predominantly flavo(u)red with cheddar cheese.
Original, Classical, Quintessential, Traditional Mac ‘n Cheese
Yield: about 4 servings
- 2 cups [uncooked] macaroni noodles*
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus extra for garnishing
- 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- salt and pepper
*any noodle with a textured or varied surface, such as shells or fusilli, will also work just fine. Avoid thinner noodles like spaghetti or tagliatelle, since they won’t hold their shape or the sauce as well.
Preheat the oven to 200C (400F). Cook the macaroni noodles in salted water for half the time cited on the package instructions, and then drain and set aside. While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Stir in the flour until a uniform paste forms. Slowly add the milk, whisking as you go. Continue stirring slowly but constantly in order to make a smooth sauce. When the mixture starts to thicken, add the paprika, cheddar, and Parmesan, and continue stirring until the cheese is melted and the sauce is thick and uniform. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Combine the par-cooked noodles and the sauce in a baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheddar cheese over the top of the mixture. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese garnish starts to bubble and brown. Don’t delay, eat right away.