I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a bad Macaroni and Cheese. Let’s face it, a plate of pasta and cheese sauce going to be pretty good no matter the recipe you start with. But when I enjoyed a bowl of the famous Beecher’s Macaroni and Cheese when I was in Seattle, I realized that macaroni and cheese could be more than just good – it could be really great. I think it was great for two reasons – it had lots of a wonderful creamy sauce and it was made with a really great cheese (and it makes a huge difference!).
So like all food-obsessed people, I turned to the internet to find a recipe that might be a reasonable facsimile. I discovered not a facsimile, but the actual recipe for Beecher’s Macaroni and Cheese (they had apparently published it in their cookbook). Of course, there was still one problem – I was in Canada and Beecher’s cheese was not. Of course, Beecher’s cheddar is great and you can definitely use it if you can get your hands on some, but the British, Irish and my fellow Canadians make a pretty mean cheddar themselves, so it was just a matter of finding a really great, aged cheddar to fill in.
I sampled a number of candidates (all in the name of “research”, of course :) and settled on a mature British Cheddar called “Coastal”. I loved it’s combination of sharp cheddar flavour with a bit of nuttiness. It’s worth seeking out. I found it at my local Walmart, but I believe it’s also available at Costco and probably any place that has a good sized collection of nice cheeses. If you can’t find it, use any great cheddar that you might pick up for a special occasion.
This isn’t the exact Beecher’s recipe, but it is certainly based on it. Of course, the cheese is different, but it is also comes about as a result of a “happy accident” I made when preparing the published Beecher’s recipe for the first time. You see, I failed to properly read the instructions and added all 4 cups of the cheese sauce to the dish, instead of the specified 2 cups. Yes, I accidentally doubled the sauce and found macaroni and cheese heaven! It should be no surprise, of course. If 2 cups of cheese sauce is good, 4 cups has to be great, right? And great it was. The combination of extra, creamy sauce with really great cheddar was perfect.
Experiment with your favourite cheeses and make your own signature dish. I loved the combination of the nutty Coastal with the sharp Canadian MacLaren’s Imperial cold-packed cheese. (Using two different ones gives a nice depth of cheese flavour). I topped mine off with a bit of Extra Old Balderson Cheddar.
- 8 oz. dry macaroni (1 2/3 cups, measured in a 2 cup glass liquid measure. Note that this measure will only work for macaroni and probably not a larger pasta shape. Weighing is recommended.)
- Cheese Sauce:
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups whole* milk (3%) *recommend whole milk here, if you can
- 7 oz./200 g. a really good, really aged cheddar, broken or chopped into small chunks (I used British Coastal Cheddar)
- 2 1/2 - 3 oz. of another variety orange or white old, sharp cheddar, grated (I used MacLaren's Imperial Sharp Cold Pack Cheddar - You'll need about 1/4 of the container for 2.5 oz)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (little less if using table salt)
- 1/4 tsp. (regular) chili powder
- 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 oz. additional old cheddar, grated
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
- Add water and a bit of salt to a large pot and place over high heat for the pasta. While it's heating, prepare the cheese sauce.
- For the cheese sauce: In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and continue to whisk and cook for about 2 minutes.
- Very slowly add the milk, a little at a time, whisking constantly. Once all the milk has been added, cook, stirring frequently until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. (Don't rush this step. The mixture will not be thick, but will noticeably thicken after 8-10 minutes of cooking).
- Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the cheese, salt, chili powder and garlic powder. Stir until the cheese is melted and all the ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. (If the cheese isn't melted completely after about 3 minutes, you can put the pan back on low heat and stir until it is melted). Set aside for a minute.
- Preheat oven to 350° F. with rack in the centre of the oven. Oil or butter an 8-inch square baking dish, an 8-inch cast-iron skillet or individual baking dishes.
- When the pasta water is boiling, add the macaroni and cook for 2 minutes less than the package directions indicate. (The noodles will finish cooking in the sauce in the oven). When the pasta is cooked, drain and immediately rinse well with cold water. Make sure your pasta is well drained.
- Add the cooked pasta and to the cheese sauce and mix gently, but thoroughly. (It might look like too much sauce or too little pasta, but trust me, it will all be good in the end). Spoon or ladle the mixture into a prepared baking dish or individual dishes. Sprinkle the top of each with a bit of additional grated sharp cheddar cheese (you don't need a lot here, as there is plenty in the sauce), then sprinkle with the chipotle chili powder.
- Bake in the preheated 350° F. oven uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, until the sauce has bubbled up around the edges and the top has a nice golden crust. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.