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Choose a cheese, any cheese for modernist macaroni dish

This modernist recipe for macaroni and cheese calls for sodium citrate, which is an emulsifying salt.

Associated Press

This modernist recipe for macaroni and cheese calls for sodium citrate, which is an emulsifying salt.

Imagine your favorite cheese: perhaps an aged, sharp cheddar, or maybe a blue Gorgonzola or a gentle Monterey Jack. Wouldn't it be wonderful to use those really good cheeses you love on nachos or as a sauce on macaroni or steamed vegetables?

But if you have ever tried melting high-quality cheeses, you've experienced the problem: the cheese separates into a greasy oil slick that no amount of stirring will restore.

One traditional workaround is to a Mornay sauce, which combines the cheese with a cooked mixture of flour, butter and milk. But a Mornay sauce can taste as much of cooked flour as it does of cheese. The starch in the flour masks some cheese flavors, so the sauce loses vibrancy.

James L. Kraft discovered a much better solution around 1912. He found that adding a small amount of sodium phosphate to the cheese as it melted kept it from turning into a clumpy mess of cheese solids swimming in a pool of oil. Kraft made canned, shelf-stable cheese and the technique led to processed cheese products.

You can apply the same chemistry to achieve much higher culinary purposes. The chefs in our research kitchen have made mac and cheese with an intense goat Gouda and cheddar sauce, for example, and build gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches using cheese slices that melt like the processed stuff, but are made from feta or Stilton.

In place of sodium phosphate, we use sodium citrate, which like sodium phosphate is an emulsifying salt that helps tie together the immiscible components of cheese: oil and water.

In solid form, cheese is a stable emulsion. The tiny droplets of dairy fat are suspended in water and held in place by a net of interlinked proteins. When cheese melts, that net breaks apart, and the oil and water tend to go their separate ways. Sodium citrate can form attachments to fat and water molecules, so it holds everything together. The end result is a smooth, homogeneous sauce.

>>EASY

Modernist Mac and Cheese

We've offered both weight and volume measurements for this recipe. But as with most modernist recipes, a digital scale is best. Sodium citrate is widely available online. Feel free to substitute an equal amount of your favorite cheeses in this recipe. If you have an immersion blender, you can use it to blend the cheese sauce instead of transferring it to a food processor. But this can cause splattering, so do so with care.

2 cups elbow macaroni

265 milliliters (1 cups) milk or water

11 grams (2 ¼ teaspoons) sodium citrate

450 grams (about 4 cups) finely grated white cheddar cheese

Salt, to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, 5 to 6 minutes. Drain the pasta, but do not rinse it.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the milk or water and sodium citrate. Bring to a simmer. Add the cheese, a spoonful at a time, stirring well between additions. Continue stirring until the cheese is melted and steaming, then transfer the sauce to a food processor. Process until completely smooth, about 30 seconds.

Transfer the cheese sauce immediately back to the saucepan, and return to the heat. Once the sauce is hot, add the pasta, and stir until coated. Season with salt.

Serves 5.

Source: Associated Press

Choose a cheese, any cheese for modernist macaroni dish 05/14/13 [Last modified: Monday, May 13, 2013 4:52pm]
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