Use Your Noodle II (Macaroni)

The Kitchen

GUEST: Elton

AB: So, Elton. I thought while you're here maybe we could catch a game or maybe catch a couple of fish. You know if we got time, we could even smoke a couple. Does that sound like fun?
ELTON: I don't know, Uncle Alton. I've got this school project to finish by Monday. I haven't even started on it yet.
AB: Oh, yeah? Well, you know your ole Uncle Alton's pretty good at school projects.
ELTON: That's not what mom says.
AB: Oh, yeah? Well, what would my dear sister do if she were here?
ELTON: Well, last month for geography class she made cookies from all around the world. I got an A. And everyone liked me because they got to eat my project.
AB: Well, we certainly can't have your mom out-doing me and we can't have her messing up your education, either. What's the topic?
ELTON: The founding fathers. You know George Washington, the Continental Congress, the Yankee Doodle.
AB: Yeah. Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni.
ELTON: Well, why macaroni?
AB: Well, the song was written by the British to ridicule the Colonists. The implication was is that we were so clueless and unsophisticated that we would stick a feather in our hat and think we were all dressed up. You see, Macaroni was kind of the name of this fancy shmancy dress-up club in London at the time. It's kind of complicated.
ELTON: So what does that have to do with the founding fathers?
AB: Well, Elton my boy, that's a good question. Macaroni. Macaroni ... you know, macaroni and cheese—if I remember correctly—was actually invented at the kitchens at Monticello. You know, the home of Mr. Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. You've heard of that guy, right?
AB: And what's more, macaroni and cheese is kind of the ... it was the original American comfort food, you know, which is kind of important because, well, you know what? It's a symbol. That's what it is. It is a symbol of the great nation that this country became.
ELTON: It is?
AB: Well, sure. Think about it. America's a melting pot, right? So's macaroni and cheese. You've got, you've got curds and noodles, you've got creamy and crunchy, you've got all this contrast. And you know what else? This is it. It's a great testament to Yankee ingenuity because you cook it in the same pot you serve it in. You know what that all adds up to?
ELTON: A "D" in history?
AB: [sighs] Elton. Let's, let's try that one again, okay? I'm going to give you a different cue. You combine history with some really good ingredients and some science and you get ...
ELTON: Oh, yeah. Mom told me I had to say this: good eats.
AB: Yeah. Good eats. Do your homework.

The Kitchen

AB: Elton, I really think we're on to something with this macaroni and cheese business because despite its decline at the hand of, well, power-crazed chefs over the last few years, it really is an art form and it's loaded with history. Take a look at this. Now like the rest of the founding fathers, Jefferson lived during some pretty tense times.

    [voice over] Rewrites on the Declaration of Independence were getting him down. The new dome he had designed for Monticello was leaking ... again. And worst of all, he'd sent off to Italy for a tube pasta maker but instead received a spaghetti machine. Now true foodie that he was, Jefferson set aside all matters of state and settled in to design a macaroni extruder of his own. Once he had a prototype, his cook made up the noodles, boiled them, added a cheese sauce, tossed in some New York cheddar and baked the whole thing in an earthenware dish. The result, well, Jefferson finally had his comfort food.

AB: From that day on, they had honest-to-goodness mac and cheese at Monticello. The rest is history.
ELTON: Not exactly. Jefferson didn't visit Italy until 1807 so macaroni and cheese couldn't be a comfort food for the fathers at the time they were founding.
AB: Boy, you're getting bogged down in details. You've got to keep your eye on the, on the bigger, more marketable picture, okay? You know what? For your presentation we ought to dress you up like Thomas Jefferson.
ELTON: You want me to go to school wearing stockings and a bow in my hair? Think of the emotional scarring.
AB: Hmm. Yeah, I guess you've got a point, there. Well, listen. You just keep tearing through those texts for truth and I'll be back in a few minutes. Oh, and watch out for this pot, will ya?
ELTON: Where are you going?
AB: I've got a date with a real dish.

Bed, Bath & Beyond: Atlanta, GA - 2:09 pm

GUEST: "W", Equipment Specialist

    Since it is an amalgam of ingredients, mixed, baked and served in a single vessel, macaroni and cheese qualifies as a casserole. Now a casserole can be baked in almost anything that's wide and low. I mean even one of these guys [rectangular, metal pan]. But truth is I'm not a real big fan of metal for casseroles because metal is such a great conductor of heat. So good, in fact, that it usually burns the sides and bottom of the casserole before the rest of it has time to heat through. That's probably why the traditional casserole vessel of choice is called—get this—casserole. Heh. In Europe they're almost always made out of earthenware, terracotta, stuff like that. But, I'm proud to say that my personal favorite casserole materials were born right here in the good ole U. S. of A.
    For instance: Pyrex. Now this is a heat resistant glass which was originally developed for use in railroad lanterns. It was converted into bakeware about 1915. But its proudest moment came in the sixties when it was chosen as the window material for the Apollo spacecraft.

W: What are you trying to do? See yourself?
AB: No. But I can't help but notice you look a lot better through it.
W: And you look better through this.
AB: Oh, thanks. I was looking for that.

    Corning Ware: developed in the fifties by scientists at Corning when they discovered that if they took photosensitive glass and put it in a very, very hot furnace, it would convert into an opaque, heat-resistant, and extremely durable ceramic. Just another happy accident of science.

W: Which is more than your mother can say about you.
AB: Oh, now that hurts. Why don't you just take me to where your favorite macaroni gear is.
W: Come on.

    That was low.

W: For casseroles I prefer opaque to clear.
AB: How come?
W: Since you can't see through it, people at the table won't see any smudges, stains, or scratches on the inside.
AB: Wow. You're making a strictly cosmetic decision. I didn't know you had it in you, W. Any particular sizes or shapes you like?
W: Round because it eliminates dry corners.

    Ah. Dry corners. A very big deal with casseroles. You see if you work with a rectangular or square vessel, this right angle means that the food right here [near the corner] is going to get about twice as much heat as the food down here [near the middle]. Thus, dry corners. So, from now on we will stick with round or oval for mac and cheese. Unless, of course, you like dry corners.

AB: Thanks, W. Gotta go. My nephew's waiting on me.
W: [to self] Think of the emotional scarring.

The material in Corning Ware was first developed for missile nose cones.

The Kitchen

AB: Now that we've got the right dish in hand, it's time to find the right noodle.
ELTON: The macaroni noodle?
AB: Well, yes and no. You see, macaroni refers to any semolina and water pasta, okay, that doesn't have eggs in it. There are hundreds—no, strike that—thousands of shapes and sizes to choose from. Now when it comes to this dish, shape matters. Now it's become very popular lately for chefs to use really big tubes. I mean things like rigatonis and, of course, pennes and fusillis and even shapes like farfalle which is really silly because farfalle's got egg in it, so it's not even macaroni.

AB: Nope. When it comes to macaroni and cheese, I go with the traditional elbow noodle. Now take a look at that. See the size of that hole?That is the perfect size for letting in just a little bit of melted cheese sauce but not so much that the noodle collapses.
    And check out the angle of that bend. What do you think that is? Thirty-five, forty degrees?* Something like that? What that means is that the, the noodle's going to interlock with each other as they cook and that is going to produce a compact slice-able product which is exactly what we want. So, drop that [noodle] and take these [elbow macaronis]. Next up, we've got to find the right cheese.

Elbow Noodle

Macaroni and cheese is Ronald Reagan's favorite dinner.

AB: Elton, the world is full of great melting cheeses: fontina, gouda, gruyére. But I only know of one cheese that's got the backbone and bite needed to stand up to the blandness of macaroni.
ELTON: Do you mean the orange stuff?

AB: The orange stuff. Well, if by the orange stuff you mean English cheddar, you're absolutely right. Did you know that the word cheddar actually refers to the process by which they cut the fresh blocks of cheese and stack them up on each other, let the weight naturally squeeze out the extra whey. The result, a very, very firm texture and a very, very good melter I might add. It also refers to the town of cheddar where cheddar was first cheddared. Now we're going to need 12 ounces of this grated. So get to work, okay?

English Cheddar

ELTON: Why can't we just use this? It's already grated.
AB: Yes, this is already grated but it's for something else. Now go ahead. Get to work. You need the experience. And believe it or not, it will go a lot faster while it's cold. Off you go. Off you go.
ELTON: Oh, okay.
AB: Off you go.

    Hee, hee. I knew I'd get some work out him.

Archaeological evidence dates the dawn of cheese making at 8000 BC.

ELTON: Finally I am done with that cheese you wanted me to grate.

12 oz. Grated Cheddar

AB: Great. Hee, heh. Great. Never mind.
ELTON: [noting large pot of water] You must be planning to cook a lot of noodles.

AB: Nope. Only half a pound. That's two cups dry to you and me. But I never, ever, ever cook pasta unless I boil an entire gallon of water.

1/2 pound = 2 cups Dry

ELTON: Why so much water?
AB: Well you see, pasta needs room to move around if it's going to cook evenly. It needs room to expand, it needs room to release starch. That's just the way ... hey. Didn't you watch our pasta show?
ELTON: Mom doesn't let me watch your show.
AB: [sighs] Remember when I was talking about those, those little tubes staying open enough so that you could get a little bite of cheese out of it? Remember that?
ELTON: Uh, yeah.

AB: Yeah, well, if this noodle overcooks, okay, it will mush flat when we build our casserole and you're not going to get that. So, we're going to bring this back to a boil, then we'll turn the heat down to medium and let it cook for six minutes. Not a minute more. Not a minute less. You never watch it?

Cook For 6 minutes After it Comes To A Boil

ELTON: Nope. Sorry.
AB: [sighs]

AB: As soon as your timer goes off, carefully drain your pasta—always away from you, Elton, always away from you—and give it a quick bath in cold water.
ELTON: Well why cold water?

Cold Water

AB: Well, because, right now it's perfectly cooked. We want to keep it that way by putting cold water on it will stop the cooking process.

AB: There. Okay, that will do it. You can turn it [the water] off. Now we don't want it to water log either so we'll shake some of that off. Now, take a look at this. That is perfectly what I call "super al dente". That'll stand up to just about any cheese sauce we'd ever want to use. [tries one] Mmm. Here you go.

Super Al Dente

ELTON: Thanks.
AB: Now let's get to that sauce.

AB: You see, Elton, it takes more than macaroni and cheese to make macaroni and cheese.
ELTON: Why's that?
AB: Because if we just cook that stuff [macaroni] together with that stuff [cheese]  it'll end up looking like this stuff [mac and cheese goop]
ELTON: That's not good eats.
AB: Good call. See, what we need is to bring these things together with a kind of edible glue.
ELTON: Ehh, like library paste?
AB: Kind of like library paste but maybe something that tastes a little better than that. Come on. You've got some whisking to do.
ELTON: [sighs] Oh bother.

AB: First step is to melt three tablespoons of butter over medium heat. And we're going to wait and let it completely finish foaming and bubbling so that the water's all out of it. And then after that we're going to whisk in exactly the same amount, three tablespoons, of flour. Go ahead, tap that in there.

Melt 3 Tbs. Butter

3 Tbs. AP Flour

ELTON: So this is the glue?

AB: Well, it's going to make the glue. It doesn't turn into glue until we've got it completely whisked in and we've got to let it cook for a little while. In fact, once we've got this smooth, we're going to cook it over low heat until it is the color of, well, about the color of your hair.

Cook 2 - 3 minutes To
Achieve A Blond Color

ELTON: Now that looks like library paste.

AB: Yes, but it's not going to taste like library paste because you are going to add a tablespoon of dry mustard powder. Just dump that right in here. And half a teaspoon of paprika—that's the red stuff there. Perfect. Good. Good. And about half a cup of chopped onions. Right in there. And one bay leaf. Perfect. And we're also going to add in a teaspoon of kosher salt. There you go. Now kind of shake it to level it off. There you go. Dump that in. Perfect. Now we're going to bring that together into a kind of a paste. There. Okay. Now slowly pour in three cups of milk. It's going to steam a little so watch your arm, okay? There you go. Right down the middle. There. Nice and slow. You're going to whisk the entire time. Keep going. Great.

1 Tbs. Dry Mustard Powder

1/2 tsp. Paprika

1/2 cup Chopped Onions

1 Bay Leaf

1 tsp Kosher Salt

3 Cups Whole Milk

AB: Now here's the thing. That flour is not going to start to thicken this sauce until it almost comes to a boil, right? So you've got some whisking to do.
ELTON: Uh, okay.
AB: I'll be back.

Bechamel is one of the 5 French "Mother Sauces",
from which many other sauces are made.

The Kitchen

ELTON: So, how's that?

AB: That is perfect. But I tell you what. Let's get the bay leaf out. That's a little chewy even for me.

Remove Bay Leaf

ELTON: So what's the egg for?
AB: Ah, that's a little bit of a secret ingredient. It's going to add some richness, some extra creaminess. But we can't add it directly to the sauce because it's hot. It'll turn this into scrambled eggs. So, I'll tell you what. Take your little spoon there and just put about a tablespoon or two of that [mixture] into here [the eggs]. That'll increase the temperature slowly which is what we need. There you go. Good, good. One more. There. See it's starting to thicken. Great. Okay. Now you stir and I'll pour it right back in there.
ELTON: Okay.
AB: There. This is called tempering and you do it with a lot of sauces. Whisk fast. Great. Now the last ingredient is, of course ...

1 Egg Beaten

Add 1-2 Tbs. Hot
Milk Mixture to Egg

Add Tempered Egg
Back To the Pot

ELTON: ... the cheese.
AB: The cheese. But we're only going to add about three quarters of it. We've got to save some for the top. Keep stirring. Now once we've got all that worked in, all we have to do is fold in our noodles and add to the casserole.

Add 3/4 Of The Cheese

AB: Now last but not least, a layer of Japanese bread crumbs.
ELTON: But why Japanese?

1 Cup Japanese Bread Crumbs

AB: Well, because they are very, very course and so they are going to brown up a lot crisper. Hand me that melted butter over there, will ya? I got a cup of these [bread crumbs] and a quarter cup of this [melted butter]. There we go. Now the butter is going to help them to brown. And brown means crisp and crisp is what a lot of this dish is about. It's about contrast between a crunchy top and a creamy interior. So I'm just going to smear those on the top. There. Now half an hour in a 350 degree oven.

4 Tbs. Melted Butter

1/2 Hour At 350°

    Soon, cookies of the world will be long forgotten.

ELTON: Uncle Alton?
AB: Yeah?
ELTON: Who are you talking to?
AB: Nobody.

If you can't find Panko bread crumbs,
coarsely chop 2 cups of seasoned salad croutons.

AB: Mmm. Mmmmm. So, what do you think?
ELTON: Well, it's good, but I can't take it to school.
AB: What are you talking about? This is the best macaroni and cheese this side of a church social.
ELTON: Well, you see, my friends and I like the kind from a box.

[dramatic chord]

AB: [biting knuckles] You really know how to hurt a guy.
ELTON: Sorry, Uncle Alton.
AB: I don't think you're sorry. But, okay. All right. If you've got to have stove-top macaroni, we'll make it. It'll be 50 times better than the box. But you've got to do the work. Deal?
ELTON: Okay. Deal.
AB: Let's go.

Thomas Jefferson once received a 1,235 lb. wheel
of cheese as a gift giving us the phrase "the big cheese".

[no dialogue: Elton is whisking and Alton is adding ingredients to the bowl]

2 Eggs
6 Oz. Evaporated Milk
1/2 tsp. Hot Sauce
3/4 tsp. Dry Mustard
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
Fresh Black Pepper

[Elton adds salt to boiling water and then macaroni is added]

Salt 1 Gallon Boiling Water
1/2 Pound Elbow Macaroni

[Elton drains the pasta, shakes, repots and stirs in butter]

4 Tbs. Butter

[Elton stirs while egg mixture and cheese are added]

Add Egg mixture
Add 10 oz. Shredded Cheese

ELTON: [tasting a bite] Now that's good eats.

Evaporated milk is basically unsweetened condensed milk.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Marsha, Suspicious Sibling

ELTON: [reading the fictitious book, "The Big Book of Culinary Lies"] This is the best day I've ever had. Touring a refrigerator factory and bowling, too. All in one afternoon.
AB: Yep, your old Uncle Alton knows a little something about having fun. Hey, you hungry over there?
ELTON: What's you making?

AB: Something special, my boy: fried macaroni and cheese. And it's easy. All we do is take the mac and cheese we baked yesterday and turn it over a couple of times in some flour that's got a little cayenne pepper in it—just for fun. Dust it off. Knock it into a little bit of beaten egg. Okay, you got that? And then into some of those Japanese bread crumbs. Just kind of pack those on all around like that. And what I like to do is I use this thing called a spider, this little wire guy right here. And we just put that on there and drop it into 375 degree oil. In just a few minutes it comes out golden brown and delicious. Why don't you put a little kosher salt on there and, I'll hit you with a little pepper sauce. Great. And you've got a delicious treat.

Leftover Baked Macaroni & Cheese, Slice

1 Cup Flour +
1 tsp. salt +
1 tsp. Cayenne Pepper

Beaten Egg

Japanese Bread Crumbs

375° Peanut Oil

ELTON: Heart attack on a plate.
AB: I hadn't really thought about it that way.

[door knocks]

AB: Hey, look what the cat drug in.
MARSHA: Where's that boy of mine? What are you eating?
ELTON: Hi, mom. Fried mac and cheese. Want some?
AB: Yeah, sis. It's, uh, for, uh, school research.
MARSHA: Is that right?
ELTON: And we've learned that by making a béchamel sauce, we can use starch to bind our macaroni and cheese to a custard that won't curdle. And there's a reason why elbow noodles are a historically popular pasta for the job. And guess what, mom? You can make your own stove-top version with milk in a can. You don't have to use that box stuff any more.
MARSHA: Heh. Honey, you know good and well I don't make macaroni and cheese from a box.
ELTON: Oh, sure you do.
MARSHA: Oh, shh. Okay. Shh. Let's talk about that later.
AB: You know sis, why don't you try one of these? I think you'll find it's better than the box stuff that some "other" people use.
MARSHA: [eating a bite] Mmm. Good gracious.
ELTON: No, mom. Good eats.
AB: Good boy you got there.

*I'm not sure what type of macaroni Alton buys, but most of the bends of macaroni I've seen, including the one Elton is looking at, are closer to 180°, i.e. the curve returns back on itself.

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Last Edited on 05/01/2011