Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cheese Sauce

We love cheese at our house... so much so that when I make pretty much ANYTHING with grated cheese in it, if I have to grate extra so my husband AND son can snitch some grated cheese (not that I don't eat some, but it's quality control when I do it, right!?) Do any of you have this problem?

Today I really wanted to share my basic cheese sauce recipe. This is the one that I use with Mac & Cheese, Baked Potatoes, etc. I typically use cheddar as the cheese in this sauce, although you could use other types as well. However, if you're looking for an Alfredo sauce, this is not the one to use!

Basic Cheese Sauce
 First, you'll need 1 Tbsp Butter, melted in a saucepan over medium heat. If you want to have onions and/or garlic in your sauce you should add them now and cook until tender.
 Then add 1 Tbsp flour and a pinch of pepper if desired. If you want to add any additional spices, now would be when you want to toss them in.
 and whisk together
 until fully combined.
  Let cook for about a minute once the flour is fully incorporated. You can make the cheese sauce have a different taste profile if you let the butter and flour turn a bit brown - but not burnt (it gives it a nuttier taste.) Experiment to see which you like best!
 Next, add 1/4 cup milk and let it come to around the same temperature as the butter/flour mixture. You can also just add heated milk.
Having the butter/flour mix and milk at around the same temperature will help reduce the chance of having a lumpy sauce... and who wants a lumpy cheese sauce? I've made my fair share of lumpy sauces though!
I was a bit hesitant to do this the first time I learned about it (probably from some cooking show-but I can't remember it's been years), but having the milk sit in the pan to heat up does NOT hurt the sauce in any way!
 Mix until combined.
 Then add 1/4 cup more milk and bring to temperature, then mix.
 Finally, add the rest 1/4 cup milk and whisk to combine.
 Adding the milk in 3 batches helps the sauce thicken better.
 Now, on to the cheese (be sure it is at room temperature)! I usually add the cheese in 2-3 batches depending on my mood...
 For 3 batches, use 1/2 cup each and for 2 batches add 3/4 cup each (for a total of 1-1/2 cups of shredded cheese - I typically use medium or sharp cheddar to make my cheese sauces as the flavor comes through better.)
 Whisk and stir the first batch until the cheese is mostly melted.
 Then you can add the next batch of cheese.
Whisk and stir the cheese into the sauce.
 Keep stirring to make sure the sauce doesn't start to burn onto the bottom of the pan.
Oh, and to make sure all the cheese is fully melted!
When the cheese is mostly melted in the sauce you can taste to make sure the cheesyness is where you want it.
 If not, add more cheese and stir until melted.
 I've added about a half a cup of shredded parmesan to this sauce and it makes a delicious addition!
 Once the cheese is all the way melted, turn off the burner - you don't want to overcook the cheese - it can become tough and curdled. That's not so fun when you want a smooth cheese sauce!
 You will want to keep the sauce warm until it is used!  If skin develops, simply stir back into sauce.
 This sauce is nice and thick, but still runny enough to drip off the spoon.
 This cheese sauce was for baked potatoes (you can make broccoli cheese sauce by simply adding some finely chopped broccoli to the sauce). However, I use the same cheese sauce for stove-top mac & cheese... Just add about 2 cups cooked pasta (Macaroni, Rotini, Penne, etc) to the sauce and stir. You can also use it to top veggies or rice.
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