Gluten-free Macaroni and Cheese

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Last week we tested a classic macaroni and cheese recipe, trying out different roux methods that work best for folks who have to or prefer to eat gluten-free (like us). And we didn't want the macaroni and cheese making method to change, so that an easy substitution could be made within any recipe — AP flour for non-traditional (gluten-free) flours.

Although our main test focused on a roux for thickening the cheese sauce, we couldn't rule out the slurry as a possible winner. A slurry is a mixture of starch (usually cornstarch) and liquid, that when added to a recipe and brought to boiling, thickens the liquid in the recipe (think Chinese takeout sauces).

While the slurry in our tests produced a thick cheese sauce, we weren't excited about the glossy appearance, which made the cheese look like plastic; not to mention the slippery, slimy texture it left in our mouths. We quickly abandoned the slurry and went back to our regularly scheduled roux tests, using a traditional method with non-traditional (gluten-free) flours.

A traditional roux begins with equal parts of fat and all-purpose flour; typically 2 tablespoons of flour and fat will thicken 1 cup of liquid. The fat is heated, aromatics are sauteed within the fat, and then the flour is whisked in. The flour and fat form a paste (a roux), which is briefly cooked to remove the "raw" flour taste. The longer the roux is cooked, the darker and more caramelized it becomes. Rouxs range from white (barely cooked) to black, or cajun (the dark roux for dishes like gumbo). Liquid is then added to the roux and brought to boiling to form a thick sauce. When milk is added, the roux is called a "white sauce" or "Bechamel;" when broth is added, it's a "veloute."

Using the basic roux technique, we tested straight up arrowroot and tapioca flours, which worked like a dream, but the 1:1 ratios changed due to their more powerful thickening abilities — we were looking for a perfect 1:1 substitution. Potato flour also worked well as a thickener, but it made the cheese sauce taste like can of stew missing the beef.

We then turned to our go-to gluten-free flour mix: King Arthur Multi-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour. With this brand, we were able to swap out exact measurements, using a traditional roux method to achieve perfectly creamy cheese sauce without an ounce of gluten, and without changing ratios in the ingredient list — it was a straight 1:1 substitution.

We like King Arthur because this particular GF flour blend doesn't contain soy or bean flours. If you have a favorite GF brand or ratio you mix yourself, tell us about it in the comments section below.

Gluten-Free Classic Macaroni and Cheese

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Servings: 6
Allergy info: soy-free, gluten-free, wheat-free; contains dairy

For the mac and cheese:
1 lb. GF elbow macaroni
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small onion, minced
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons King Arthur Multi-Purpose GF Flour
1/2 cup GF pale ale
1/2 cup chicken broth or stock 
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups grated sharp Cheddar
1/4 grated Parmesan
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

For the topping:
3 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 garlic clove, smashed
GF bread crumbs (we use yucca cheese bread – recipe coming soon!)
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
In a medium saucepan heat olive oil to over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion; cook, stirring until translucent, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat. Stir in garlic, thyme and butter. When butter has melted, stir in flour – this will create a paste (a roux) that will thicken the cheese sauce. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Whisk in ale and stock – this will loosen the roux. Add milk, bring to boiling. Remove from heat; add cheeses, stir until smooth. Stir in cream and nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside, covered. Keep warm.

Preheat broiler. Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain well; add to cheese sauce and stir until well mixed. Transfer macaroni to a baking dish; set aside.

For the topping, in a large skillet heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic; cook, stirring occasionally until caramelized, about 4 minutes. Remove garlic clove. Add bread crumbs. Cook, stirring until toasted, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle seasoned bread crumbs evenly over macaroni and cheese.

Place baking dish under the broiler 3 minutes or until the macaroni and cheese is golden brown. Remove dish from oven, let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Post by Dawn Viola : DawnViola.com