Cheatin’ Cheese Sauce

If you fall off the diet wagon get jump back on agin. But… having fallen so spectacularly off the diet wagon, why not wallow. A good wallow, back in the grass, feet in the air, maybe a snort or two. Why not make macaroni and cheese? Climb back up into the diet wagon tomorrow.

Mac & cheese is best when made with at least 3 varieties of cheese, which is why it’s good for leftovers- you’ve got a few little nubs of cheese and don’t know what do with them.
You need some cheddery type stuff. Because people expect orangeness. But cheddar really isn’t a good melting cheese. It separates from the fat pretty easily, it seizes into a cheese ball. So you need a good melting cheese, like gruyere or comte to help stabilize. You know those pizza topping blends? That works killer, it’s what I used on the line. All those cheeses melt nicely: provolone, asiago, parm, mozz, romano.
And you need blue. Don’t argue, only trust. Just a little, a half ounce maybe. But you really can’t overlook this. Blue cheese is the base note for the sauce. Like onions are the base note in soup, it is the platform that everything else leans on, so don’t skip it.
Cheatin’ Cheese Sauce (and macaroni)

This is a quick fire cheese sauce, and you really have to have heavy cookware and high BTUs to successfully pull it off.

Make your pasta first, enough for two people – then rinse it with cool water, drain and set aside.
Take your sharp vegetable peeler and shred the cheeses. This is about ratios: 3 parts orange cheese, 3 parts melty cheese, 1 part blue. A couple handfuls of shredded cheese when it’s all said and done.
Use the peeler to scrape off a bit of a shallot- three or so passes. Smash and chop a couple garlic cloves.
Dice up a few slices of good, meaty bacon. If it’s smoked, give it a quick rinse under the tap & pat dry. Over low heat, render the bacon in a heavy sauté pan, 12 inches or so (not non-stick). Don’t crisp the bacon, remove it from the pan and reserve but leave a tablespoon or so of the fat, and if there’s nice brown stuff sticking in the pan that’s even better.
Take the fattiest cream you can find, a high-quality brand, one without fillers or stabilizers.

Have all your ingredients ready before you hit this next stage, because everything happens really fast. This is when the fun starts.
Turn the heat to high. Pour the cream in the pan, about a cup and a half, and let it come to a boil, cook it down for a few minutes. The bubbles will get almost glassy looking. Time to add the bacon, garlic and shallot. Stir.
Throw in your handful of cheese, stir with a whisk or a fork or (like me) a pair of tongs. Do it quick, though. Turn the heat down if things look wrong: the cream is bubbling away too fast but the cheese isn’t combining, or that rascally cheddar is starting to ball up. Add more cream right away to help cool it down if needed. You will get some browning on the bottom of the pan- don’t panic, scrape it up as best you can but you aren’t being graded. This isn’t for crème anglaise, so don’t worry so much about some brown bits in your sauce.
Look, here’s what my pan looked like at the end. See? Totally normal to have some browning. We can discuss fat, sugars and proteins in milk and their reactions to heat another day. What you don’t want is the thick curdled skin that looks almost like a pancake. If you get that (1) your heat isn’t hot enough (2) your pan isn’t thick enough (3) you used the cheap cream (4) don’t be so lazy with that whisk! IF you get the thick pancake, just carry on, try not to scrape it up. The key to success here is to avoid the pancake so whisk. Faster!

Salt and pepper now. Be generous with both. Remember, this is going over a starch, which sucks up salt.

Lower the heat and let it bubble away for a moment, stirring a bit, then throw in the cooked pasta, and stir it up. Add more cream if necessary to thin or to help coat the pasta.
Total cooking time: Not including the pasta, about 20 minutes. Mostly it’s for the bacon render. Really. The part where you add cream shouldn’t be any more than 7-10 minutes. I’m not kidding. I call this ‘cheatin cheese sauce’, because a ‘real’ cheese sauce takes at least an hour and it’s a delicate fragile thing.

Dish it up. You can sprinkle some bread crumbs over and pass it under the broiler, but that’s fancy schmancy. Just don’t ask for a calorie count.

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