Gooey Cheese Sauce with “Real” Cheese, Two Ways

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Feb 7 2011

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.”

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Oh, I just LOVE it when

Oh, I just LOVE it when someone figures out a healthier way to make America's favorite processed foods!

I will absolutely be trying this for my next potluck. Thank you!

maybe not healthier?

I just crunched the numbers on the "white cheddar" version and in terms of major nutrients, it's almost identical to Velveeta--both contain approximately 6 g fat, including about 3.5 g saturated fat, 3 g carbohyrates, 5 g protein, and 0 g fiber per 1 oz serving.

Velveeta has a few other ingredients with chemical names, but none of them are "unhealthy." Here's the list:

MILK, WATER, MILKFAT, WHEY, MILK PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF SALT, CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, LACTIC ACID, SORBIC ACID AS A PRESERVATIVE, SODIUM ALGINATE, SODIUM CITRATE, ENZYMES, APOCAROTENAL (COLOR), ANNATTO (COLOR), CHEESE CULTURE.

The first five are all found in milk and "real" cheese. Sodium phosphate and sodium citrate are just salts, frequently used in food preservation. Like any salt, in large quantities they can do crazy stuff to the body, but in small amounts are generally recognized as safe. Also, "real" cheese also contains a lot of salt, so I doubt the homemade version is any "healthier" on that front. Sodium alginate is an extract from algae that can absorb many times its weight in water--it's actually the same stuff molecular gastronomy folks use in "spherification" techniques and not a health risk. The colorings are apocarotenal, which is found in spinach and citrus fruits, and annatto, which is also used to color "real" orange cheddar and "natural" products like Annie's Mac & Cheese.The enzymes and cheese cultures would also be found in "real" cheese.

In short, this is basically a way to make Velveeta at home, substituting cornstarch for algae extract. The real advantage is that you can customize the flavor to your liking. But hey, that's still pretty cool, right?

Fat and calorie content do not make a non natural food better

These things ALWAYS HAVE MSG.
Autolyzed Yeast Calcium Caseinate Gelatin

Glutamate Glutamic Acid Hydrolyzed Protein

Monopotassium Glutamate Monosodium Glutamate Sodium Caseinate

Textured Protein Yeast Extract Yeast Food

Yeast Nutrient

These ingredients OFTEN contain MSG or create MSG during processing:[10]

Flavors and Flavorings Seasonings Natural Flavors and Flavorings Natural Pork Flavoring Natural Beef Flavoring

Natural Chicken Flavoring Soy Sauce Soy Protein Isolate Soy Protein Bouillon

Stock Broth Malt Extract Malt Flavoring Barley Malt Anything Enzyme Modified Carrageenan Maltodextrin Pectin Enzymes

Protease Corn Starch Citric Acid Powdered Milk Anything Protein Fortified Anything Ultra-Pasteurized

So if you do eat processed foods, please remember to be on the lookout for these many hidden names for MSG.

Choosing to be MSG-Free

Making a decision to avoid MSG in your diet as much as possible is a wise choice for nearly everyone. Admittedly, it does take a bit more planning and time in the kitchen to prepare food at home, using fresh, locally grown ingredients. But knowing that your food is pure and free of toxic additives like MSG will make it well worth it.

Plus,choosing whole foods will ultimately give you better flavor and more health value

MSG is probably harmless

As I discuss at greater length here: http://soursaltybittersweet.com/content/things-wont-kill-you-volume-3-msg

And none of the ingredients in Velveeta are MSG or similar, as discussed above.

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So, you're saying the

So, you're saying the Velveeta/Rotel queso is out? (sorry, I just had to). =D Is it football season yet?

oh, i love that stuff

But I think it's better for chips than pretzels/fries. Just not quite the right texture or something. Sometimes you just want creamy cheese sauce without the salsa bits, you know?

Thanks!

I love the gooey cheese. Velveeta and some of those other processed cheeses are too waxy and salty. I've mixed Velveeta or cream cheese with regular cheese for a smoother, less clumpy sauce, but this is so much better! I also used this recipe to modify a cheese soup recipe I have which can have the clumpy or grainy issue. I will try this for mac & cheese next! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

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