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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Stop Adding Milk to Boxed Macaroni and Cheese (But Do This Instead)


Image for article titled Stop Adding Milk to Boxed Macaroni and Cheese (But Do This Instead)

Photo: Julie Deshaies (Shutterstock)

Last week, I went on my very first elk hunting trip with my dad and a couple of other dudes. I had not been camping since I was a child, so the trip was quite educational in nature. I learned about “tagging,” “spikes,” and “bald-faced hornets,” but I also learned that hunting and eating do not pair well together, at least not for me.

Not only was my appetite the weakest it has ever been, I didn’t feel cooking at the end of the day, especially since each evening was a race against the setting sun, and cooking on a single propane burner while wearing a headlamp wasn’t fun.

Just-add-hot-water and single-pan meals dominated—but the Kraft macaroni and cheese was (somewhat predictably) my favorite meal of the trip. (Actually, it was my second—the charcuterie board I took for the first night was the best-tasting meal, though I did not do any hunting that day and had yet to lose my appetite.)

Those of you familiar with the blue box know that it dictates you use butter and milk to make Kraft Dinner, but we didn’t bring any milk to Eastern Oregon. We did bring butter, however, because butter doesn’t need to be refrigerated. My plan was to keep adding butter to the hot (fairly wet) macaroni, letting it melt and emulsify with the residual pasta water, until it provided enough liquid for the orange powder to dissolve and turn into a sauce.

Not only did it work, it was some of the best boxed macaroni and cheese I’ve ever had. The sauce was thicker, creamier, and shinier. It behaved like actual cheese, with tiny little cheese pulls between the elbow noodles. I may never add milk—or any other liquid dairy for that matter—ever again.

It was a hack born out of necessity, but one I’ll be incorporating into my indoor cooking routine. There’s no need to measure, just cook your macaroni like you usually do, and drain it leaving the pasta wet with a tablespoon or so of starchy water (reserve a little extra water if you’re nervous). Then add chunks of butter, a couple of tablespoons at a time, stirring in between additions, until the violently orange powder turns into a violently orange sauce. Eat immediately, especially if you are outside and the temperature is rapidly dropping. Much like butter itself, this sauce will congeal in the cold.

Updated at 1:17 pm ET on 9/7/2021 to add info about pasta water.

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