After watching Alton Brown rewarding Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor for their mac & cheese, I have been inspired to improve my own recipe. One of the things I had never thought about was cooking it in a cast iron skillet. In the procedure to make the Zingerman’s mac & cheese, the dish was finished in a hot cast iron skillet on the stove top, turned to high heat. The mixing here would give a nice caramelized flavor to the entire dish. I also read online about a restaurant who serves their mac & cheese in mini cast iron skillets. They finish it in a broiler. This is the procedure I tried first in my oven and the problem I had is it cooked too quickly and I had area that were almost black, and some of the cheese had barely cooked. Moving the rack further away from the heating element would help. But next time I followed my normal recipe, except I cooked in cast iron instead of my usual glass baking dish. Doing this provided a nice even browning on the top. Whenever I bake in the glass dish I always have some area that are dark brown and most of it isn’t browned at all. Cast iron provides more even heating than glass, so you get more even browning.
8 oz pasta of your choice (pasta made with bronze dies are best)
8 oz Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
2 oz or 1/2 stick butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon mustard powder
2 cups whole milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add a gallon of water into a large pot. Add two heavy pinches of kosher salt. Pasta likes to be cooked in ocean-like water. Bring to a boil. When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook until it is almost al dente, but still a little bit chewy, so it will be perfect when it comes out of the oven. Drain the pasta in a colander and place into your cast iron skillet. I like the one made by Lodge. It’s inexpensive, American made, and high quality.
To make the cheese sauce
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. When the butter is completely melted whisk in the flour, black pepper, mustard powder, and a pinch of kosher salt. When the flour is fully incorporated, pour in the milk. Turn your burner to medium, stir often, until the mixture comes to a boil. Let the mixture boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Now slowly pour in the shredded cheddar and whisk to combine. Pour the sauce over the pasta, mix to combine.
Now place the entire thing into your oven and bake for 25 minutes or until the top of the mac & cheese is beginning to brown. Be careful not to overcook it or the top layer will be too dry. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before enjoying.