Stovetop Mac & Cheese

Last week I came across an episode of Good Eats on macaroni and cheese. More than half the episode was spent on your typical fancy baked macaroni and cheese casserole, which is wonderful but ultimately not very practical for someone that typical cooks for one or two.

But just before the episode ended, Alton Brown talked about how to make a quick homemade stove top mac and cheese to compete with the powdered Kraft Mac N Cheese and Velveeta Shells N Cheese. It is ridiculously simple and really only requires one or two oddball ingredients, but you can buy and store those ingredients at room temperature almost indefinitely.

Alton Brown's Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese:

  • 1/2 pound elbow macaroni (2 cups dry)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 ounces evaporated milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Fresh black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 10 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded

In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente (6 minutes) and drain, then rinse with cold water. Return to the pot and melt in the butter. Toss to coat.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and mustard. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese in 3-4 separate handfuls. Over low heat continue to stir for 3-5 minutes or until creamy.

I used mild cheddar rather sharp and I just bought bag of shredded Meijer brand. I didn't feel the need to be fancy by buying a block of cheese and shredding it myself, and some of the reviews I had read weren't so keen on the sharp cheddar flavor. I tried to limit my ingredients to whole containers (where possible) so I could get a read on how easy everything would be to buy, store and then make on demand, similar to the boxed macaroni and cheese. Evaporated milk comes in 5 oz containers (not 6 oz) and shredded cheese is sold in 8 oz bags (not 10 oz) so those were the amounts I used. I also skipped the hot sauce because all we had was habanero hot sauce and I didn't feel like taking that risk.

As far as the ingredients are concerned if you are in the habit of weekly grocery shopping, butter and eggs should be staple ingredients that you'll have on hand for your other needs. Here is a complete price break down. A "serving" in this case means the amount of ingredients you'll need to make one batch of mac and cheese.

Elbow macaroni - $0.46 per serving (servings per box)

Butter - $0.25 per serving (2 servings per stick)

Evaporated milk - $0.69 per 5 oz
Shredded cheese - $2 per 8 oz
Eggs - $1-$3 per dozen ($0.10-$0.25 per egg)

Dry mustard - $0.35 per serving ($2.35 per oz, 6 teaspoons in one oz)

Give or take some sale prices this comes out around $4 per batch. The difference is that when its all said and done this 8 0z of mac and cheese can easily feed four adults. My experience with the 7.25 oz Kraft mac and cheese and the 12 oz Velveeta shells n cheese is that you're looking at feeding about 1.5-2.5 people if you're lucky. So in the end when you weigh all the pros and cons of the various macaroni and cheese preparations, they all come out pretty close to even in price per meal. Which means the winner should be decided on taste, and nothing comes close to the home made stove top macaroni and cheese.

In my opinion this is the kind of mac and cheese you're going to want to put out at family gatherings/work parties/potluck dinners as a side dish. A little bit goes a long way, people will love the taste and then you can impress them by telling them how simple it is to make.

Lastly, I didn't take a picture of my mac and cheese because its hard for a picture to capture how it tastes any different than any other mac and cheese.

Also worth noting is that if you refrigerate it and heat it up later (like I did for lunch today) the cheese doesn't get all clumpy and oily and the noodles don't get weird and rubbery. I'll stop short the hyperbole of saying "I'll never buy mac and cheese again" and just say that I don't see any reason why I shouldn't make a habit of keeping all the ingredients on hand so I can have it on demand.


Rach said...

I wish I could eat Mac & cheese without getting sick....stupid lactose. Do you think you could freeze small portions like those tv dinners? I really like those....even though I shouldn't eat them.

Rach said...

btw - I am obsessed with that black bean croquette recipe. I make it all the time. I've made it with chicken for peter & yesterday I made it & put it in shallow baking dish, topped it w/ bread crumbs, Parmesan & delicious!

baorao said...

I was thinking about that and I am not sure. I don't know how well cheese freezes in general. But I think the biggest problem would be with how you reheat it. I don't think the cheese or noodles would hold up from frozen to recooked.

And then I just thought "it doesn't take more than 10 minutes to make this, so I shouldn't really need to freeze it. I'll just make it fresh"

melissa said...

oh, Ba - this looks so yummy and easy!!!!