Roux or no roux

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I enjoy making Mac and cheese. Most recipes use a roux. I found a few that I like that use milk and half and half. Most times I don't make a roux. What are the pros and cons of not using a roux? What do you prefer? Thanks!!
 
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I find that without a roux the cheese becomes clumpy and separates.  I always use a roux but I admit that I have not figured out how much roux is the right amount yet.
 

pete

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There are other ways you can go about doing it but they are much less stable, much more difficult for home cooks to do or require the use of chemicals to alter ph levels of the cream to keep the cheese from clumping and breaking.  I much prefer just to use a roux both at home and when I was cooking in restaurants-easy, consistent, and turns out a great product.
 
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Another way of making mac and cheese without a roux is the recipe affectionately known as "President Reagan's mac and cheese".  It uses an egg custard to bind the cheese sauce. I'd much rather use a roux, though.
 
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I find that without a roux the cheese becomes clumpy and separates.  I always use a roux but I admit that I have not figured out how much roux is the right amount yet.
My formula for 1 lb of pasta: 2 TBSP flour and a boatload of butter to bind 3 Cups of dairy. Then a pile (1 lb maybe) of cheese.
 

phatch

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I'm aware of only 3 options for making macaroni and cheese. All of them are about getting the cheese to melt into the sauce rather than just form lumps and strings in the liquid.
  • Roux
  • Egg
  • Sodium Citrate
The egg based sauce can take a surprising amount of cheese without breaking and adds nice richness. Sodium citrate lets you play chemistry games and is espoused in the encyclopedic volumes of Modernist Cuisine.
 

pete

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I use egg, in baked mac & cheeses, but usually in addition to a roux.  Don't use egg in stove top versions.  Haven't played with the sodium citrate, although alluded to it.  Don't have anything against it just no desire to  with that style of cooking.
 
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Joined Feb 9, 2014
I'm aware of only 3 options for making macaroni and cheese. All of them are about getting the cheese to melt into the sauce rather than just form lumps and strings in the liquid.

  • Roux
  • Egg
  • Sodium Citrate

The egg based sauce can take a surprising amount of cheese without breaking and adds nice richness. Sodium citrate lets you play chemistry games and is espoused in the encyclopedic volumes of Modernist Cuisine.

I tried the sodium citrate once with some aged cheddar, and really didn't like the mouthfeel/texture. I think I'm going to try it again with either a different cheese or different amount of sodium citrate, but I don't think it is as foolproof as the modernist cuisine at home book makes it sound.
 

phatch

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I've not used the sodium citrate for mac and cheese either. It's the basis of "processed" cheese which I find texturally problematic and would think it would transfer those characteristics here as well.  
 
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i do not use a roux.  when making mac and cheese for the staff meal or just at home i use, heavy cream, cheese gated a good quality cheddar or what ever one uses and some grated parm.  never has "clumped" or broke.   i never chill or rinse or the pasta.

i think of it as fettucine alfredo  also,.  i did  use hot milk and the cheese then bake the mac and cheese in the oven.  a little runny but tightens up after it rests a while
 
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I've not used the sodium citrate for mac and cheese either. It's the basis of "processed" cheese which I find texturally problematic and would think it would transfer those characteristics here as well.  

I think you're right about the texture. The opportunity to have a cheese flavor that's not diluted and comes out of a cheese that doesn't melt well normally is seductive to me though.I'd really like to have a rochefort Mac and cheese as an accent, for example, in my repertoire, and that's going to bring me back (well, along with a decade supply of sodium citrate).
 
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Sodium citrate can be awesome when used right. It can give something a "velveeta" texture if not careful (or indeed, if that is what you want it can be a boon) but it has a few applications I've used before. I've done it to make a "fonduta" for things like dumplings and gnocchi before. I've made beer cheese soup before, with excellent results. I've even used it to make a cheese "queso" dip at an employee party that resembled the velvetta stuff but that, quite frankly, was out of this world. 

I can probably count the number of times that I've made roux as a professional on one hand, but at home for something like mac and cheese I think it is still the way to go. When properly made it does the trick quite nicely. I would think that not using a roux would lead to potential thin-ness of the cheese sauce, separation of the sauce (missing a binding agent like flour to keep it from splitting). A roux would help your sauce be thick enough to coat pasta nicely and also make it more oven proof if you are going to bake it. 

I mean, reduction of cream is fine and dandy for some things (think alfredo sauce, etc) but I think a classic baked mac and cheese is probably best done with a bechemel-->mornay. 
 
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Sodium citrate works beautifully. Texture is a non-issue. But the cheese can be so intense that it's actually overwhelming. I prefer a classic bechamel base and so on.


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I'm in the egg camp...it's more "homey", and that's usually where I gravitate.  

Bechamel macs can get quite creative with flavors, and that's good...but it's mac & cheese.  Nine out of 10 times I'm looking for comfort food, and that (to me) lends toward baked, egg custard mac & cheese. 
 
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Joined Jan 12, 2015
When I'm trying to make it quick, I use milk and half and half. Sometimes I may use heavy cream. People enjoy it!
 
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I like to cook a pound of elbow macaroni just shy of done, drain, add back to the pot then add lots of shredded cheese, 2 whole eggs and a can of evaporated milk (NOT condensed milk).  It can be seasoned with a little mustard, cayenne, whatever.  I stir this over low heat for 3-5 minutes, not boiling, until the eggs and milk thicken into a custard and the cheese melts.  Then lots of black pepper.
 

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