Best Macaroni and Cheese Recipe Ever
Mac and Cheese is the quintessential comfort food. You can serve it for a celebration, a cheer-up-it-will-be-better-tomorrow meal, or a family favorite on a cold day. This version will have everyone asking for seconds. And thirds. This recipe is one my family has tried and critiqued for years, and now thinks is practically perfect. It also makes a great day after Thanksgiving meal, when no one wants any more turkey.
Be warned – this is not vegetarian Mac and Cheese, and bacon will be used repeatedly. In fact, this recipe tries to use every bit of the bacon possible.
While measurements are given, and helpful the first time you make this, eyeballing the quantities is fine – it is a forgiving recipe.
- · 8 oz uncooked elbow macaroni
- · 1lb sharp cheese - the sharper the better
- · 1 C chopped onion
- · ½ lb bacon, thick sliced if possible
- · 1 C milk
- · ¼ packet Ritz crackers (a tube)
- · Ground pepper
- · Chopped garlic/garlic powder (quantity to personal taste)
- · Flour for thickening
Pots and Pans etc.
- · Large pot for boiling macaroni
- · Colander
- · Non-stick frying pan
- · Non-scratch spoon – I use a bamboo one
- · Cutting board
- · Sharp knife
- · Cheese grater
- · Paper towel for draining bacon
- · Large mixing bowl
- · 9” x 12” baking pan
- · Clean empty tin can
- · Coconut (to be explained later)
This will take about 20 – 25 minutes to prepare, and 45 minutes to cook. People may come in while it is baking and look entreatingly at the oven, asking if it is done yet.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Put a large pot of water on to boil to cook the macaroni.
Coarsely chop an onion – you want about a cup, but more is always good. Frozen chopped onion is fine too.
Grate the cheese and put aside.
Open one end of the Ritz cracker tube slightly, and put it into a plastic bag. Smash the crackers into crumbs. You can do this with a meat hammer, the bottom of a glass bottle, the curve of a can of veg, or a coconut. Yes, a coconut. I tried this in a moment of desperation when I could not find a meat hammer, and was surprised at how well the coconut worked. Small cracker fragments in the mix is fine. Make sure you don’t wear a hole in the plastic bag. Shake the crumbs still in the tube in with the rest in the plastic bag.
The Bacon Bit
Chop the sliced bacon. When possible, I use thick sliced bacon, and have even cut and chopped slab bacon. Cut ¼” - ½ “ wide pieces crosswise from the slices. Eventually, this will be super-sized bacon bits. Ymmm.
Fry the bacon bits until quite crispy. Scoop them out of the pan onto the paper towel as they finish. The crispier the bacon is, the nicer the texture will be in the cooked mac and cheese.
Don't let the family scavengers steal bacon bits, no matter how much they beg or tell you they are starving and cannot wait for dinner. If you are a soft touch, or want super bacon bits for a salad, chop and cook a whole pound of bacon.
Put about a tablespoon of bacon grease into the water you are boiling for the macaroni. This keeps it from sticking, and adds a little flavor and salt to the macaroni. The bacon doesn’t need to have finished cooking before you remove a little of the bacon grease. Add the macaroni when the water comes to a boil. Stir thoroughly, so none sticks to the bottom. I cook mine to not absolutely tender, because it cooks more in the oven, and my family complains when the macaroni gets mushy. Drain the macaroni after cooking, and put it in the large mixing bowl.
When the bacon finishes frying, sauté the onion in the bacon grease. If you are adding chopped garlic, sauté it with the onion. Cook until translucent, and then scoop it into the bowl with the cooked macaroni. I stir it in immediately, as this also keeps the macaroni from sticking together.
You need about 2 or 3 tablespoons bacon grease left in the pan. Dribble a little of the excess into your baking pan, and turn it to coat the bottom. Pour any extra into an empty tin can and let it cool. When it solidifies, you can put it into the trash.
Turn the heat under the frying pan to medium low. Sprinkle in about 2 or 3 tablespoons flour, while stirring. I use Wondra, as it doesn’t make lumps. You are making a primitive roux, with bacon grease instead of butter, for a cheesy white sauce. If you sautéed garlic, it is fine if bits remain in the grease, if not, add garlic powder while stirring in the flour. Keep stirring – using bacon grease means the mix is more likely to try to stick to the pan. Add a little more flour if the mixture still seems greasy.
When the flour is absorbed and cooked – sort of a golden color – slowly add the milk to the mixture, stirring constantly. If needed, mash the roux into the milk with a fork so it blends without lumps. Cook until the sauce has thickened. Scrape any bits sticking on the bottom, so they are integrated into the sauce. Turn the heat off.
Stir the grated cheese into the hot sauce. It will melt in easily if you add it gradually and keep stirring. Add a pinch of ground pepper.
Pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni and onion in the bowl, and stir until the macaroni is thoroughly coated. Once in a while I found my cheese sauce was too thick to coat the macaroni evenly; just add a little more milk to the bowl if needed. When the macaroni is nicely cheesy, stir in your bacon bits.
Spoon and/or pour the mixture into your baking pan. Smooth it into an even layer in the pan. Shake or sprinkle cracker crumbs over the top.
Bake for 35 – 45 minutes. The cracker crumbs should look crispy and golden brown in places.
Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving, if you can restrain your family. Serve.
Leftovers (if you are lucky)
If you don’t eat the whole pan at once, cover it with aluminum foil and put the pan in the fridge if there is a lot, or scoop into a fridge container. You can reheat mac and cheese in the microwave, the oven, or put a serving in the toaster oven to warm up. Keep the aluminum foil loosely on the pan if you are reheating the whole thing in the oven, so it doesn’t get overdone around the edges and burn onto the pan. Warm up at 350 for about 20 minutes in the oven.
It is even better the second time.