The Cooking Method To Transform Boxed Macaroni And Cheese

Macaroni and cheese covers a spectrum. On one end there is restaurant quality, bubbling in a crock with carefully selected gourmet cheese in a rich béchamel sauce and maybe some crumbly, crunchy crackers or panko bread crumbs for textural contrast. On the other, an oh-so-simple bowl of instant mac and cheese set to satisfy in mere minutes. But what if you want something in between; the sophistication of an oven-baked dish without all the hassle of gathering ingredients, browning a roux, and shredding wedges of fancy cheese? The solution is simple: Put it under the broiler.

Start with your favorite boxed macaroni and cheese. Maybe that's one with the silvery envelope of prepared sauce or maybe you prefer the powder that can be tweaked with varying amounts of milk or cream and butter. Either will work here. Boil the noodles, but not quite as instructed. Drain them when they are still al dente, i.e. a little bit chewy and firm, which may mean needing to fish one out with a spoon to check. Next, add them to a properly-sized casserole dish along with the sauce and stir to combine. From here, top with a layer of homemade or store-bought bread crumbs — panko or otherwise — and a dollop or two of butter, and broil the dish until the top is bronzed and the macaroni and cheese underneath gently bubbles.

The result is a dish that's a sublimely-simple time saver you'll be proud to serve to friends and family.

Taking it up another notch

Converting it to a creamy casserole isn't the only way to amp up macaroni and cheese. There are innumerable creative spins to put on this staple, but below are a few of our favorites.

If you want to increase the creaminess without altering the base flavor of your dish, crack open an egg. By whisking an egg and tempering it by adding a bit of warm sauce to it before adding it into the sauce, you add richness and a silkier mouthfeel to your cheese sauce.

One thing that can't be denied is that the basic flavor of macaroni and cheese is a mild one, at least in terms of spice. If you're a bit of a heat-seeker, there's a great way to up the zestiness of your dish twofold. A few slices of jarred pickled jalapeños, which can be purchased in varying levels of heat, bring a nice level of spice along with a pleasant acidity that balances out the savory richness of the cheese and noodles.

If you want to take your baked boxed macaroni and cheese even further, consider a few of the ideas from our scratch casserole recipe. The flavor can be augmented with additional melty cheeses, such as Gruyère or fontina, as well as thyme and garlic powder. Don't be shy about opening up a box and putting your own spin on things.