Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I say macaroni, you say mac'n'cheese

Apart from the name - mac'n'cheese in the US, macaroni cheese in Britain - is there a difference in this homely pasta dish either side of the pond? The main one, judging from my recent trip to New York is that you Americans like breadcrumbs on the top - you rarely have it that way in the UK.

Yanks being so much better at comfort food than us I was hoping to find the ultimate mac'n'cheese but only one came near that from the cheese-centred brasserie Artisanal (above) which serves it in two sizes for a main course and a side. Having already tried their French onion soup (3 types of onion and 3 cheeses. Very good) I settled for the side which was about the size of a British main course. It wasn't quite piquant enough for my taste - I like a bit of mustard and Worcestershire sauce in there - but it did have this great crust of crispy, buttered, faintly cheesy crumbs - a good addition.

I was even more excited about going to a dedicated mac'n'cheese restaurant called S'Mac in East Village - and so was everyone else it seemed. On a Saturday lunchtime there was a lengthy queue to even get into the place but once I saw the dishes that were being taken to the tables - and spotted one of the chefs coming in with large plastic bags of pre-grated cheese I decided against it. It looked like deep dish pizza - shame as some of the riffs on macaroni cheese looked fun.

Another side of mac'n'cheese (served oddly with a sandwich at City Winery which does a weekly cheese brunch) failed for being too claggy - the sauce should be light rather than dense IMO, which means adding a little more milk than you might think it merits - but without,of course, making it thin.

In my new book I experimented with two types - an Extra-Crispy Macaroni Cheese where you make cheddar crisps and break them up in the sauce for extra crunch and a extra healthy one made with semi-skimmed milk and added greens - both yummy, I think. I also like it made with leeks and bacon or ham but how do these additions go down with you?

In short what makes the perfect mac/macaroni cheese? Best type of cheese(s)? Best added ingredients - or none at all? What type of seasoning? A crunchy crust or a crispy one? Over to you!

21 comments:

Josordoni said...

for me, the important thing is sliced tomatoes on the top. Without these to cut the richness it is just too much. I like their light acidity.

So for me it is Tom MacCheese..

Lizzie said...

I now have an insane macaroni cheese craving. At 10am.

Having never been to America, I can't really compare but I also love a crispy top. I also like to stir some spinach (the robust, market kind, not the sad bagged supermarket stuff) into it if I'm feeling healthy - and to use a combination of cheeses, including a blue.

Without question though, one must have ketchup to dip it into.

Josordoni said...

oh and I forgot to say I like it made with the thin macaroni, not the thicker Italian macaroni, less claggy like that as the pasta is less absorbent.

Lizzie, I def go with your ketchup, like my sliced tomatoes, you need that fruity bite, yes?

Patrick said...

I think mustard really brings the cheesy flavours out (useful especially if using ordinary "cheddar"). At home as children we always had it served with cans of tuna running through it and we used to fight over the cheesy crust on top. Ketchup was de rigueur.

Fiona Beckett said...

I have 'issues' with tomatoes I'm afraid. And - God forbid, Lizzie - ketchup! (Would rather have brown sauce) But I do like spinach (I used that in my mac'n'greens along with lightly steamed broccoli)

See your point about cutting the richness, Jo, but would rather do it with a green salad . . .

Fiona Beckett said...

And you're spot on about mustard, Patrick but not tuna, please. Bleugh. What do the rest of you think?

Josordoni said...

I am not keen on tuna & pasta, something about the textures? Although I like tuna and hot rice...

green salad, lovely in the summer Fiona, but not in the winter. Maybe some kale or purple sprouting (which looked very good today) would be the thing at this time of year?

Lynne
x

kparsnip said...

Mac & cheese needs the follwoing added to make it really delicious -bacon or lardons, onions and grainy mustard. Ketchup optional although Reggae Reggae ketchup is the new fav with my husband.

Lizzie said...

TUNA?! Bleurgh. Though I am a hypocrite as I sometimes like a tuna melt.

Brown sauce is an interesting idea, but goes along with the tangy point.

Encona hot sauce is also great with it.

Fiona Beckett said...

For me it's hot tinned tuna that's the problem Lynne (memories of student days being given tuna in mushroom soup topped with crisps . . . Double bleugh) Rice is definitely better tho'

Onions, yes, kparsnip - good point. And your other additions

And hot sauce sounds do-able, Lizzie, but edges it slightly away from comfort zone

James said...

My mum & nana always made topped with tomatoes and breadcrumbs - must have been in a 60's/70's mag.

If I'm after a big mac these days chorizo or blue cheese is good (not at the same time tho). The tuna's good too. I bet nettles would be good too - like the spinach already mentioned (I'm a nettle fan - they're free too).

If you make your own pasta (if you don't have a macaroni/ penne attachment you can just make spaghetti) too it goes crispy on top.

Josordoni said...

Fiona : yes, I agree, I should have qualified that I mean tinned tuna not fresh... fresh with gnocchi on the side is V good!

Catherine said...

My version is West Indian - it will have a little bit of hot sauce in the sauce, along with some finely chopped spring onion, fresh tomato and scotch bonnet and thyme - nothing but cheese on top and I tend to use cheddar. The milk for the bechamel will be infused with onion, bay, mace and allspice.

Helen said...

I just can't ever stop myself from putting bacon in it. Then again, I have that problem with most things.

Fiona Beckett said...

Chorizo sounds a great addition, James - not so sure about the nettles (tho' probably similar effect to spinach?) And homemade pasta sounds very posh.

Love the sound of the West Indian version, Catherine - hope you'll enter that for the Great Mac'n'Cheese Challenge I'll be announcing later today. Ta-Taaaa!

And bacon - agree Helen. That has to be a favourite addition

mathildescuisine said...

I just read about a pasta recipe with Leek b├ęchamel and i'm thinking that leeks would definitely be nice touch. Although traditional Mc&Cheese are cooked with cheddar, i will give a try with a mix of gruyere and mimolette with a pinch of nutmeg.

mathildescuisine said...

And yes, Mc&Cheese should be served with salad

Dex said...

For me tis always been the swiss who make the best. but then its called apfel macaroni. always a fav when we go skiing, its got a potatos and friend onions as well on top and best of all it comes with apple sauce. otherwise its just mac and cheese. can't beat it.

Fiona Beckett said...

I often make it with leeks, Mathilde. I do like some kind of oniony element.

Love the sound of your apfel macaroni, Dex. Reckon you could do a version for the Ultimate Macaroni cheese challenge?

meemalee said...

Ready salted crisps are my (not so) secret ingredient for my perfect mac and cheese

I heart cupcakes said...

Pity you didn't try S'mac - we visited in March, with raging hangovers and needing comfort food. And the food was very comforting and very, very tasty. There were lots of choices, including size which is good as portions were typical NY and rather large.