The 3 Keys To Creamy, Gluten-Free Mac-n-Cheese
My Gluten-Free Mac-n-Cheese heroically saved the day, taking the edge off a rather rocky gluten-free pasta tasting. HUGE lesson learned: Don't cook gluten-free pasta in advance and try to reheat it before serving. The exception to that rule was the mac-n-cheese, which turned out to be a perfect way to showcase the slightly chewy pasta that results from reheating. Here's how I adapted my favorite Macaroni and Cheese recipe, using potato starch to create a creamy sauce.
When prepping for monthly Tasting Panels, I try to come up with a complement to the featured food. Poached chicken was served alongside a rainbow of condiments, old-school onion dip a natural match for a tasting of potato chips. Gluten-free pasta cried out for marinara, and when one of the tasters said it reminded her of Grandma's sauce, it made my year. But I had all sorts of pasta, so I wanted to double down and make an extra post-Tasting Panel dish. So, I came up with an extra creamy mac-n-cheese using these 3 key ingredients.
1) Evaporated Milk
My go-to recipe was adapted from a book by the great food writer Marian Burros, called Cooking For Comfort. It starts with a basic roux of butter and flour, cooked until bubbly and golden. To that, I add a can of condensed milk. Yes, I've tried cream, half and half, whole milk, even buttermilk, and combinations of all of those, but nothing beats the density of condensed milk (not the sweetened version, and not the nonfat, either.) Condensed milk, aka evaporated milk, is gluten-free, so that piece of my tried-and-true recipe didn't need tweaking, but the flour had to go.
2) Potato starch
There are loads of gluten-free flours for cooking and baking, but I discovered the one that's so slick for sauces when making a Jacques Pepin recipe. That fab French chef uses it often, raving about its ability to transform thin sauces into something silky without the gritty texture of cornstarch. "Cornstarch tends to make a sauce gooey and gelatinous. I prefer potato starch, which is made from steamed potatoes that are dried and ground," he writes in Essential Pepin. In Jacques Pepin's recipes, potato starch is typically mixed with water and added to the sauce to thicken it. Turns out that potato starch also works well as a substitute for flour in a roux, stirred into lightly sauteed chopped onions before the evaporated milk and cheese are added.
And on the all-important cheese question, I recently read somewhere that mascarpone makes a great addition to any mac-n-cheese recipe. This Italian version of cream cheese is super rich, so a little bit makes a big difference when I whisked it into the sauce along with the shredded sharp cheddar.
For the final step, I casserolized the Gluten-Free Mac-n-Cheese, sprinkling extra cheese on top, so I could pop in the oven while tasters were trying the pasta. They were less than impressed with my attempt to prepare the gluten-free pasta samples in advance, but after taking my lumps on that misstep, there were compliments for the Mac-n-Cheese, and not a bite left in the pan.
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