Thursday, November 11, 2010

Asparagus Macaroni and Cheese and a photo lesson on making a Roux !

There's an old Frank Sinatra song, "I fall in Love too Easily".  Very melancholy, about a guy that has his heart broken too often.  But even with all that past, "But love is my fav'rite game"

Mac and cheese is quickly becoming my "Fav'rite Game".

And the best thing, it never breaks my heart.

But the secret to my Mac and Cheese is the sauce.  And really, isn't the secret to the great things in life the little hidden secrets that accent the glory.

My Cheese sauce starts with that mysterious roux.  A classic roux is a mixture of fat and flour, used as thickening agent for three of the classic French sauces (sauce béchamelsauce velouté and sauce espagnole), as well as Gravy, soups and stews.  Arguably, you must learn to cook a roux before you can learn to cook.

Fortunately, it's easy...

For the fat, I use butter. You can clarify it if you like, but I do not see the difference (although true classic French cooking insists on clarified butter). Lard, chicken fat, even vegetable oil can be substituted. margarine can not.

 Melt the butter first over low to medium heat... DO NOT BURN IT.

Work in equal measurement, either weight or measurement of flour.  I am showing 3 TBS of each.  Add the flour in SLOWLY, stirring constantly...

Now, a roux is a commitment.  Plan to do nothing but stir.  Once you start, do not stop.  If the flour burns, it stays burnt and there is no recovering.

Once all the flour is added, it looks a little pasty.  Don't panic, STIR (there is a theme).  It will thin out, but continue to stir (love that red blur, that's me whisking).

See below, it thinned out.  took a minute of vigorous whisking, but it is now a sauce instead of a paste.  Keep stirring...

OK, this next series of pictures is the sauce taken 2 minutes apart until I was done.  Notice the difference in color.  As you cook the roux, it darkens.  In addition, it gets a nutty, smoky flavor and a wonderful nutty smell.  That is the flour cooking.  Again, do not stop stirring.  Do not let the bottom burn or you have to start all over.  the darker the roux, the more nutty smoky flavor that you add to whatever dish you are making.  A light roux has almost no taste.  So, depending on the darkness of your roux, you have control of the taste of your dish...

You get into kind of a zen state and once you start, you just want to see how dark you can get.  This darkness adds a noticeable smoky flavor to your dish.  Anything darker and you get a very very noticeable taste.  Play around so you know what you are adding.

And that's a roux.  Once you have the roux down, you can make lots of things... Including a wonderful flavorful cheese sauce perfect for a Mac and Cheese.  I did a post last week with several tips to making a really good mac and Cheese (click HERE).  Everyone I make is just a little different.  

This time, I made a Colby/Swiss topped with Asparagus M&C!

First, make a Roux...

3 TBS Butter
3 TBS Flour

Heat and melt the butter, add the flour slowly so it does not clump and stir, stir, stir.  Do not burn your roux, stir constantly for about 8-15 minutes, until it darkens and you can smell a nutty aroma.  The roux will act as a thickening agent, and will help to melt the cheese evenly.  the nutty taste the cooked roux adds just makes the sauce more complex (not complicated, but complex in taste).

Once the roux is proper, start adding the sauce mixins...

1 rounded TBS of Dijon style Mustard
2 TBS Worcestershire Sauce
1 1/2 cups Milk (I use whole milk)

Blend everything, and bring to a slow simmer.  Now start adding the cheese...

1/2 cup Colby, cubed
1/2 Swiss, cubed

Be sure to cut the cheese into cubes so it melts easier.  Stir constantly until the cheese is melted.

Cook pasta al dente.  I cook mine for just about 8 minutes.  It will finish cooking during the baking stage.  I also fried a bit of Asparagus, cut into bite size pieces.
Layer the pasta into a casserole dish (I used 2 single serve dishes (shown in the photos), as well as an 8X8 dish.  Mix in 1/2 the cooked Asparagus now.  Next, add the cheese sauce to the top.  No need to mix, as the sauce will ooze down into the pasta.  If you do mix, the cheese will pool on the bottom and not in the pasta shells.  Take  the other 1/2 of the bacon and top.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, until the cheese bubbles and just starts to get the golden brown and delicious toasted look.  

Top with the remaining Asparagus and you have a real treat!



  1. Wow. I don't even know what to say--this looks insanely good!!

  2. Yep, mac and cheese never lets me down either.

  3. What in life is better than a really good mac and cheese? It's always reliable, never forgets to call the next day, and clings to your thighs like no other. Gotta love it.

  4. YUM! We had mac tonight too, with bacon... yum! The asparagus makes a beautiful addition too. And, thanks for the roux lesson. My roux never turns out right when I actually try to make it -- flavor's good but the color is always off! Now I'm empowered. :)

  5. Hey you're good, cher! I've never been able to take a pic while stirring a roux! lol And this Asparagus Macaroni and Cheese looks scrumptious! Cheers!

  6. When I was younger I burned roux occasionally but as I was able to afford better, heavy bottomed pots and pans, it quit happening. I think a larger thermal mass definitely helps.

    Your mac and cheese looks great, Dave. I wouldn't have thought to do the asparagus but it makes total sense.

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