Macaroni and cheese may be the ultimate American comfort food, but it's more a category than a specific dish. There are both baked and stovetop versions, and several methods for making each type, with variations in ingredients and resulting texture. Which you prefer comes down to personal taste.
The appeal of baked mac 'n' cheese lies in the contrast between the cheesy interior and crunchy top. Many Chowhounds favor recipes with a béchamel sauce, in which a pan of pasta mixed with creamy cheese sauce is topped with breadcrumbs and baked until the sauce is bubbling and the crumbs are crisp. Another baked version is made with eggs and milk or cream to create a savory custard, as in this recipe; this style is typical of the American South, fldhkybnva says. (Also note that recipes with eggs tend to have a slightly firmer texture.) Chowhound Splendid Spatula swears by a creamy but unorthodox recipe made by baking uncooked macaroni in a mixture of cottage cheese, milk, and lots of grated cheese.
Stovetop mac 'n' cheese is faster to make, and it's "gooey, delicious comfort in a bowl," says ohmyyum, who loves its supercreamy texture. There are a few ways to do it. You can mix up a béchamel-based recipe and simply skip the oven, chowser says, but she's also a fan of Alton Brown's recipe, which uses eggs and evaporated milk and "comes together in no time." CHOW's version (pictured) is even simpler—just half-and-half, grated cheese, and seasonings stirred into cooked macaroni. If you'd still like a bit of crunch on top, sprinkle some canned fried onions or breadcrumbs sautéed in butter over each serving, greygarious suggests.
There's also another, better way to approach mac 'n' cheese, biggreenmatt says. He's on a self-professed mission to convert Chowhounds to the Modernist Cuisine at Home method, which uses sodium citrate to give good cheese the smooth meltability of processed products like Velveeta. Why make a cheese sauce when a bit of kitchen chemistry allows you to mix "gooey, silky, unctuous, molten cheese (by which I mean any kind of cheese you can possibly think of...)" with your macaroni, biggreenmatt says. Chowhound biondanonima concurs: "Having the flavor of your favorite aged Gouda in a perfectly melted slice of cheese is amazing." Watch Modernist Cuisine's Scott Heimendinger demonstrate the process in this MDRN KTCHN video from CHOW.
Photo by Chris Rochelle / CHOW.com