First, watch this video. I’ll wait.
I love a classy Mac & Cheese. I do mine with a Mornay sauce (a derivative of the French mother sauce, Béchamel, with Gruyère and Parmesan added) and guess what? Its friggin’ delicious. But sometimes I need my macaroni drowned in that orange-yellow creamy pool of cheese product that we all know and love: Velveeta. I decided to try and make my own.
So call me a molecular gastronomy groupie, but if I had to choose between recipes from Chris Young (Modernist Cuisine and Chefsteps.com), Michael Symon (bad ass chef, turned Iron Chef, turned host of The Chew – what happened!?!???), or Laura Fuentes (entrepreneur/mom/CEO of MOMables – a website I stumbled upon and thought, “wow, what a great idea”) you know which I would go with. Sorry Celebrity Chef Symon and Mommy Mommerson.
What’s interesting about the Modernist Cuisine recipe is that it tackles the number one problem with cheese sauce, which is the separation of fat and proteins when the sauce gets too hot. You’ve seen it. Think about crappy nachos at a bar: the cheese solids harden onto the tortilla chip which is underneath a layer of shimmering grease. Think about a cheese fondue gone wrong (a fondon’t, if you will): A pool of oil on the top, and chunks of curd on the bottom.
What they propose is adding 2% sodium citrate by weight of the whole recipe. Sodium citrate is sodium salts from citric acid and has a tart flavor. It is also known as a sour salt. It is used as an additive for flavor, a buffering agent to regulate pH, and an emulsifier. I’ll leave it to Chefsteps to keep it real science-y up in here with this explanation of why it works.
Salts such as sodium citrate and sodium hexametaphosphate are known in the cheese industry as melting salts and replace the need for using a overly dry and tart wine. Their primary purpose is to swap sodium ions for calcium ions bound to the casein proteins in cheese. In doing so, they loosen these proteins and make them water-soluble.
I followed the Modernist Cuisine recipe for Silky Smooth Mac and Cheese, but decided to infuse the liquid with flavor before adding the sodium citrate and cheese. Also, I was making such a small batch (1/2x the MC recipe) I decided to pour the liquid into the immersion blender cup that already had the cheese in it. That way, the blender blade is fullly submersed in the sauce for better blending. For flavoring I added tomato paste, garlic and Sriracha. PRO TIP: flavor it however you like! Try different cheeses. Leave a comment with your flavor combination.
Recipe for Cheddar Cheese Sauce adapted from Modernist Cuisine
5g tomato paste
5g sriracha sauce
2 cloves garlic, crushed
5g sodium citrate
130g sharp cheddar cheese
– Combine first set of ingredients in a pot. Bring to simmer and keep covered on low heat for 10 minutes.
– Remove liquid from pot and measure out 120g of liquid. Return the 120g of liquid to pot. Add sodium citrate, whisking to dissolve. Bring up to simmer.
– Pour liquid and garlic into the cup that comes with the stick blender, along with the cheddar. Blend until smooth.
– Use sauce on whatever needs cheese. That’s everything.