Three Southern Chefs Share Recipes And Love For Macaroni And Cheese
July 14 is National Macaroni and Cheese Day!
July 13, 2022 at 6:05 pm
A warm and gooey baked pan of macaroni and cheese is one of the biggest staples of a soul food meal. Since this dish is so deeply rooted in cuisine culture, there is, of course, an observance day for it. To celebrate this essential holiday, Blavity talked with three Southern chefs about what the dish means to them. And even though we know everyone has different ways of making mac and cheese and they all think their way is the best, we even scooped some new recipes to try.
But first, a history lesson
According to historian Jason Perkins, macaroni and cheese is said to be a recipe brought back from France to the U.S. by Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved chef, James Hemings, in the late 18th century.
“The recipe for macaroni pie — as it was called at the time — was passed on to other enslaved cooks who circulated its ingredients and culinary techniques to other enslaved cooks,” Perkins told Blavity. “As you can imagine, the recipe traveled with enslaved people and cooks wherever they went, which expanded the circulation of the dish.”
Lots of people became familiar with the American origins of macaroni and cheese by way of the Netflix docu-series High on the Hog, during which the show’s host Stephen Satterfield explored Hemmings and an enslaved chef named Hercules introducing the dish to the young country.
“I think that is part of what reclamation movements and moments call for, but I think there is just a real pleasure and heightened opportunity for enjoyment in just simply knowing the story of where something that you love comes from,” Satterfield said in the episode. “And I hope that’s something that people take away.”
Chef Mike's Mac and Cheese
Chef Mike Marina said he first learned to make mac and cheese from his mother.
“In fact, she was the one that taught me how to make a roux and a bechamel sauce in the first place,” Marina told Blavity. “Though I learned the official names for these techniques in culinary school, the technique and skill behind them were all hers. So, I use my favorite cheeses with her technique to make this dish.”
- 1 lb of medium shell pasta
- 3 tbsp of flour
- 3 tbsp of unsalted butter
- 2 tsp of mustard powder
- 1 tsp paprika
- 3 cups of whole milk
- 1 whole egg
- 8 oz sharp cheddar
- 8 oz shredded gruyere
- 8 oz white cheddar
- 4 oz shredded parmesan
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with a pinch of salt.
- Cook pasta al dente. Once cooked, drain the pasta and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.
- In a separate pot, melt butter and whisk in flour, mustard powder and paprika. Whisk the roux until it is smooth. Stir in milk and keep the sauce moving until it thickens. Once it does, add in Gruyere cheese and half of the sharp cheddar.
- Place Shell pasta in a casserole dish. Mix with sauce, parmesan, and whole egg. Mix everything, season, and top with remaining cheese.
- Bake for 30 mins or until golden brown on top.
Chef Traci's Baked Macaroni & Cheese
Chef Traci Vincent Druilhet has done her best to duplicate her grandmother’s baked macaroni and cheese from taste memory as her grandmother never used a recipe.
“Extra-large elbow pasta, Magnalite aluminum turkey roasting pot, sharp cheddar cheese and lots of love,” Druilhet told Blavity. “These were essential ingredients in my grandmother Masel Hurst Vincent, my MoMo’s mac and cheese. Although my Momo never used a recipe, I have done my best to write down and duplicate her mac and cheese. I have consumed mac and cheese at parties and restaurants around the country and even entered mac and cheese cooking competitions.”
Through her tasting experiences, Druilhet concluded that many food lovers understand that all mac and cheese is not created equal.
“Sometimes mac and cheese is dry, breadcrumbs are added, it lacks flavor, the sauce is too wet and runny, or it is made with a white cheese, which can create a debate. My culinary school education taught me that my grandmother didn’t follow a traditional French recipe using a Mother sauce (Béchamel) using flour and oil white roux and then adding cheese to make a Mornay sauce. She made a savory custard and poured that over the cooked pasta to finish off in the oven.”
The custard style doesn’t use flour and is simpler to prepare.
“My MoMo’s mac and cheese had just enough eggs to make your portion stand up on your plate in whatever shape it was cut. It had the perfect ratio of oozy cheese to pasta. It was never over-salted and she always put it in the broiler for a few minutes at the end of the cooking process to make a brown crust on the very top for that crunchy-yet-gooey bite that only seared cheese will allow. Having consumed mac and cheese many times over by now, I realize the secret ingredient is love. My Momo was one of the kindest people you would ever meet, and she loved each of us through her cooking. She gave us only the best ingredients. No processed cheese product is used here. The sense of taste is the strongest memory. I hope you make this macaroni and cheese for those you love.”
- 2-16oz packages of large elbow macaroni
- 4-12oz cans of Evaporated milk
- 1 qt heavy whipping cream
- 6 eggs
- 8 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend (Monterey jack, mild cheddar, queso quesadilla and asadero cheeses)
- 1 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
- 2 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp dry parsley (optional, for garnish)
- In a small stock pot, bring water to a boil and add a pinch of salt.
- Add in dry pasta, stirring occasionally, and boil until al dente.
- Strain in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.
- If a turkey roasting pan is not available, use two 13-by-9-inch baking pans and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
- Place cooked, drained pasta in baking pans until two-thirds full. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- In a large mixing bowl, using a wire whisk, whip eggs, salt and pepper until well blended. Add in evaporated milk, heavy cream and six cups of cheddar cheese (reserving two cups for garnish). Mix well again with a wire whisk until it becomes a well-blended custard.
- Immediately pour the custard into a baking pan with pasta until the liquid is at a level visible through but not covering the top of the pasta. Use the remaining two cups of cheese to garnish the entire top of the pasta in the baking dish. Also, garnish with parmesan cheese.
- Place pans in a 375-degree oven for 30-45 minutes or until the custard has set and the cheese topping has browned.
- Broil at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for an additional five to seven minutes for extra browning if desired. Cool slightly before serving. Makes 12+ portions.
Chef Odom's Mac N Cheese
Macaroni and cheese always makes Chef Brandon Odom think of family dinners filled with laughter and memories.
“Mac and cheese will always carry around a bit of nostalgia for me,” Odom told Blavity. “Even now, I look forward to having family dinners in the country where we are sure to have an abundance of mac and cheese. Our motto at Odom’s Kitchen is ‘where food is family,’ so it was only right that I added mac and cheese to our menu. Of course, this is Louisiana, so while traditional mac and cheese is second to none, you can’t go wrong kicking it up a notch with a little seafood.”
- 1 lb elbow macaroni
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 ¼ sticks of butter
- 1 cup smoked gouda cheese, shredded
- 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 cup colby cheese, shredded
- 8 oz Velveeta, cubed
- 1 1/2 cup of half and half
- 2 large brown eggs
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- In a casserole dish, melt half a stick of butter.
- Fill a large pot with water and bring to a rapid boil.
- Add macaroni and the 1 tbsp of oil.
- Cook for seven minutes (until slightly tender).
- In the pot, melt one stick of butter with half and half.
- Add all cheeses to the pot with the melted butter and milk. (Note: Save some of the shredded cheese to layer on top.)
- Turn off heat.
- Return the macaroni to the pot with the cheese mixture and mix well.
- Season to taste. Mix in the lightly beaten eggs and transfer to the prepared casserole dish.
- Top with shredded cheese.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and bubbly.
- Remove from oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.
Here’s to you all celebrating this day in the cheesiest way possible!