Category Archives: cheese sauce

Gooey Cheese Sauce with “Real” Cheese, Two Ways

The "pretzel bites" I made were kind of a disaster, which I may or may not get around to writing about before JulyNacho” typical cheese sauce

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt from Serious Eats did all the work on this one. His mission: a homemade cheese sauce with real cheese that’s satiny smooth and stays that way.

Apparently, his wife’s a huge fan of the kind of cheese sauce you get with fries or nachos at burger shacks & sporting events—the gooey, tangy stuff that food snobs turn their noses up at because it’s so obviously processed (although I suspect a good number of them would be all over it if it was coming out of the kitchen at WD-50 or Alinea). Kenji agreed that there was something about the texture of the processed stuff better suited to fries & nachos than a traditional Mornay sauce, which is just a Béchamel with cheese—like the sauce in most homemade macaroni & cheese recipes. Using the ingredients on a box of Velveeta for inspiration, he tried a number of different methods and found that the two keys to preventing the cheese from breaking and clumping were 1) milk proteins and 2) starch.

The method he arrived at could not be simpler: you grate some cheese and toss it with a little cornstarch, and then  heat it along with some evaporated milk until it’s smooth, adding some hot sauce if desired. I made two batches for a Superbowl party yesterday with some of the modifications suggested by Kenji and people who commented on the recipe. For the first, “Nacho,” I used half sharp cheddar and half pepperjack cheese with about a teaspoon of hot sauce. For the second, “White Cheddar,” I used 3/4 sharp cheddar and 1/4 Monterey Jack, added 1 t. dry mustard  along with the cornstarch and used Worcestershire sauce in place of the hot sauce.

"Nacho," pre-heating

The hot sauce tinted it a pale orange, but if you want the day-glo orange color that "fake" cheese has, start with orange cheddar or add annatto

The reason I used some jack cheese in both instead of all cheddar was that a few people who commented on the Serious Eats recipe said they had problems with the sauce getting grainy, especially after cooling. In my experience, jack cheese is way less prone to breaking & clumping than cheddar in applications like white chili, so I thought it might be a way to guard against the texture issues. But that didn’t really work—the sauce was impressively smooth when it was hot, but as it cooled, it became grainy, and basically a lot like a Mornay. A good Mornay, but definitely not a substitute for processed cheese sauces. When I reheated it in a larger pan of simmering water, double-boiler style, it smoothed out again.

I suspect that the problem was that I used a super sharp, hard, and relatively dry aged cheddar—the kind that has tiny calcium crystals in it, like parmesan—and as it returned to room temperature, the cheese started to re-solidify. Next time, I’ll use a younger, softer, creamier cheddar. But the technique definitely worked—while the sauce was hot, it was silky smooth and gooey, and tasted exactly like awesomely sharp aged cheddar cheese.

The "White Cheddar" dip. This was so sharp and cheddary, and when it was hot it was so smooth and creamy. I'm a little sad you'd have to sacrfice that sharpness to keep it smooth and creamy as it cools. I suspect Dufresne or Achatz could find a way, but it probably wouldn't be as easy to do at home. I have no annoying puns for “White Cheddar”

Recipe: Gooey Cheese Sauce (from Serious Eats)

Nacho”

  • 4 oz sharp cheddar
  • 4 oz. pepperjack
  • The 1 Tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 12-oz can evaporated milk
  • 2 t. hot sauce
  • minced jalapeno (optional—if you want it really spicy) 

“White Cheddar”

  • 6 oz sharp cheddar
  • 2 oz. Monterey Jack
  • 1 Tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 t. dry mustard
  • 1 12-oz can evaporated milk
  • 2 t. Worcestershire (optional—omit for vegetarian; but if you’re feeding omnivores, it does add a nice meaty/umami dimension)

1. Shred the cheeses and toss them with the cornstarch (and dry mustard if using).

2. Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until the cheese melts and the mixture begins to thicken. The cheese may seem to “break” at some point, with bubbles of grease floating to the surface, but once the starch begins to expand, the fat and moisture should form a smooth emulsion.

3. To reheat, put the sauce in the top part of a double-boiler or a small pot set in a wider pot or deep skillet filled with water that rises at least half-way up the sides of the small pot. Stir just until smooth and warm. Direct contact with the burners may cause the sauce to reheat evenly and “break.”