Modernist Cuisine mac & cheese
This is quite a revelation. It’s based on a simple idea: a cheese sauce is an emulsion, a smooth mixture of tiny particles of fat (from the cheese) evenly distributed through the water base of the sauce. But flour is a pretty poor quality emulsifying agent, so the fat particles clump together in larger lumps than we’d like, which can make makes the sauce pasty or gritty at worst. Even at best, it can still have a cloying mouthfeel.
So why not use a more powerful emulsifying agent? Modernist Cuisine suggests trisodium citrate, which is a commercial food additive. By molecular gastronomy standards, this recipe is very easy to make, requiring nothing more complex than a precision weighing scales (accurate down to 0.1 g), the additive itself (easily and cheaply available online, I paid £3 for a 500 g pot which is probably a lifetime’s supply) and an immersion blender.
I’ve made it a couple of times now and if anything the method is more straightforward than the traditional make-a-roux, add-milk, stir-in-cheese approach. You dissolve the trisodium citrate in cold water, bring to a simmer, and add grated cheese a spoonful at a time. Between each addition of cheese you blend the sauce with an immersion blender to ensure it is thoroughly mixed. The results are glorious: a perfectly smooth sauce which packs a real wallop of strong cheese flavour. And it passes my unofficial cheese sauce test — it’s so strong it’s hard at room temperature!
In the picture above, I added to the base sauce a caramelised leek and some chopped ham, stirred it through pasta, then baked with Panko breadcrumbs on top mixed with pecorino. The cheese mix was 80 g mature cheddar, 110 g gouda, and 20 g pecorino. This produced a good mixture of balanced flavours but of course you can take the cheese mix in any direction you want.