Sodium Citrate Mac & Cheese — Silky Smooth

Sodium Citrate Mac & Cheese — Silky Smooth


With the use of a cheap, common food additive,
you can make the most delicious mac & cheese you’ve ever had. It’ll have the gooey,
silky-smooth quality of processed cheese combined with the deep, complex flavor of real cheese. Basically, this is a fancier version of my
dad’s mac & cheese, which is made with processed American cheese. First, that additive. Sodium citrate. I ordered
this from a major internet retailer. It tastes like salt, but slightly sour. It’s perfectly
safe. It’s in tons of stuff that you probably eat. We’ll use some of that in combination with
a pound of cheese. Any cheese. I’m grating up half a pound of Gruyère and half a pound
of Smoked Gouda. I think any strong, semi-firm cheese would work great with this. Put some water on the boil for pasta. Now, for the cheese sauce, you need a quart
of any water-based liquid. Dad uses milk. I’m gonna use three cups milk and one cup
of white wine, because that’s the kind of thing I would do. Goes into a saucepan on medium heat, then
the magic ingredient: ane tablespoon plus one teaspoon of sodium citrate. Same as four
teaspoons. This is the stuff that’s already in the American cheese my dad uses. It’s
an emulsifier — it’ll stop the fat in the cheese from separating out as it melts. The first time I tried this, I used two full
tablespoons, roughly extrapolating the proportions from a popular recipe on the internet and
look what happened. The sauce came out way too viscous. It boiled over. It settled on
top and kinda broke. After it cooled, the texture was dry and almost chalky. Don’t use that much sodium citrate. With
just four teaspoons, this recipe comes out perfect. Then some seasoning. I put in half a teaspoon
each of mustard powder and garlic powder, little shake of cayenne for Chef John, and
then some black pepper. Dad just uses the black pepper, but put in whatever flavorings
you want at this stage. Just probably don’t put in anymore salt. Sodium citrate is a salt,
and the cheese is naturally salty too. Then I put in half a stick of butter, cold,
all in one chunk. I want this to melt slowly. We’re trying to form an emulsion here, like
making mayonnaise. If you introduce too much fat all at once, it could break — all the
fats would separate into a big oil slick. Now I’m just gonna whisk in a handful of
cheese, one at a time, nice and slow, for the same exact reason. There are recipes online that tell you to
do this with an emersion blender to make the emulsion form. That is manifestly unnecessary.
As you can see, whisking does the job just fine. This went slowly for me at first, but
I had all the cheese in after five minutes. I didn’t wait until each handful was fully
melted. I just waited until it was melty. If you don’t use the sodium citrate, or
a processed cheese that already has it in there, you have to use something like a butter
and flour roux to thicken and stabilize this sauce. By stabilize, I mean, keep the fats
from separating out. But, in my opinion, mac & cheese made with a roux-based cheese sauce
always disappoints. The texture is just gritty. This sauce is gonna be way better. You don’t
even need to bring it to a simmer or anything because we’re gonna bake it. Just get everything
melted in and turn the off the heat. My dad uses large shells. I’m gonna try
these pipe thingies. I hope that’s not actually pronounced pee-PAY or something. Salt the
water and par-boil for five minutes only. I’ve said before that I think any pasta
shape is fine, but dad wanted me to say the best thing is a hollow or concave shape that’ll
hold cheese sauce in each bite. Drain it after five minutes. And then I’m
just gonna bake in the same oven-safe pot that I boiled in. Spray it or butter it or
something. Pasta goes back in, then the sauce, give a stir, cover it up and it goes in at
350 Fahrenheit for 45 minutes covered. After that, uncover it, and bake until brown
on top, about a half hour. Pull it out and let it cool down for 20 or 30 minutes until
you scoop it out. You could do a breadcrumb topping on this by the way, but I prefer to
just let the cheese brown and let that top layer of shells or pee-pays or whatever go
all crunchy. That tastes insanely good. I would, however,
replace the Gruyère next time with sharp Cheddar. This needs strong cheese, I think.
And look at the texture as I squeeze that sauce out. It is velvety as nuclear-orange
nacho cheese, but with a totally grown-up, sophisticated cheese flavor. I will never
make this any other way again. Don’t be scared by this unfamiliar ingredient. Order
some and give it a chance.

100 Comments

  1. Q: Why is your roux gritty? Are you just a dummy who doesn't know how to make béchamel?
    A: I may indeed be a dummy, but I know how to make béchamel just fine. It's pretty smooth in the pan, but does not retain that smoothness after being baked in a recipe like this, no matter how you make it. You may think your roux-based sauce is smooth, but all things are relative, and I'm pretty sure that if you tried this sauce, you would find it to be smoother. There's a reason sodium citrate and related salts have been used as ingredients in processed cheese and cheese sauces for a century — it results in an unnaturally gooey, velvety texture (hence Velveeta).

    Q: Did you steal my idea about using the sodium citrate?
    A: I appreciate the dozen or so people who commented on my previous video ( https://youtu.be/9iP1QXFWYkA ) recommending I try sodium citrate. I had heard of it before, but had never given it a try until last week. I think I first heard the idea from Heston Blumenthal years ago. I believe in giving credit where it's due, so I tried to track down whomever might have first promoted its use for homemade mac & cheese, and I could not trace the origin of the idea to any one individual. It seems to be something that's been around for a while. I thought about hat-tipping to the commenters on last week's video, but I generally don't like it when YouTubers mention their comments in their videos. I think it's too meta, too navel-gazing, too ephemeral. If a specific individual gives me a novel idea, I will absolutely credit them (and probably invite them to appear in the video), but that was not the case here. I nonetheless hereby thank everybody who commented last week!

    Q: Are you an alcoholic with that white wine?
    A: No, and that's still not funny. Alcoholism is no joke. Also, I am nowhere close to an alcoholic. I have my share of issues, but that ain't one of them. Also, dividing one cup of wine across eight adult portions of food is maybe the least effective way of getting drunk imaginable. I think white wine is a really good ingredient for many foods, for reasons I listed here: https://youtu.be/JbY8BtcchjU

    Q: Do I have to use the white wine?
    A: I thought the video was pretty clear that any water-based liquid can work (including water), and my dad's tried-and-true recipe just uses all milk, which would be great. The wine gave the finished a subtle fruity note (reminiscent of fondue) that I liked, but it was not essential. You could maybe throw in a dash of white balsamic vinegar, which I think is a good substitute for white wine in much lesser quantities.

    Q: Is the wine going to throw off the chemistry, or curdle the milk?
    A: I doubt it. Wine just isn't THAT acidic, and this is proportionally a pretty small quantity. Maybe that quantity of wine would curdle the milk if you just left it sitting around for a while, but once you put in the cheese and the sodium citrate, there's no way. The fat alone from the cheese would be enough to prevent the curdling reaction, I think. And I'm guessing the stabilizing effect of the sodium citrate is also helping, but I don't know enough about the chemistry of that to be sure. Regardless, the sauce does not curdle. There are plenty of classic recipes that combine wine with cheese/dairy, the most obvious being fondue. You can also put wine in a classic béchamel (which I do all the time) — either the starch or the fat (or both?) from the roux prevent curdling.

    Q: Was your addition of wine or mustard the reason you needed less sodium citrate?
    A: I don't think so, in part because I didn't use them during my first attempt — I simply made my dad's recipe but with cheddar + sodium citrate instead of American cheese. I think the reason I needed to change the proportions is because this is a long-baked version of mac & cheese, whereas the recipe I initially cribbed from was basically a stovetop mac & cheese that was briefly finished in the oven.

    Q: Is this paid promotion for the company that made the sodium citrate?
    A: No, I will always clearly disclose paid sponsorships, as you will see in next week's recipe video. You'll laugh at my reasons for choosing this particular "organic" brand of sodium citrate — I thought it might ease the minds of people who are irrationally worried about demonstrably safe food additives. That labeling is, of course, ridiculous, considering that sodium citrate is an inorganic salt.

  2. Thank you for making these videos that go straight to the point with no fillers. Your work has inspired me to keep trying and experiment new ideas in the kitchen!

  3. Sodium citrate is a salt, with sodium ion and citrate ions. The sodium ions also come from table salt, sodium chloride, which makes it salty. Citrate ions come from citric acid that has been ionized. That is what makes it sour.

  4. is it possible to forgo the sodium citrate and just use white wine instead? I read somewhere that white wine also facilitates meltiness and, for me at least, is more commonly used in day to day cooking

  5. Great Video! Really glad I got Sodium Citrate to make this recipe. Not only did the Mac and Cheese come out great, albeit on my second attempt(I let the sauce get too thick before baking on my first attempt), but I also have found the sodium citrate to be really useful in other recipes. I recently made a Coq Au Vin without a roux that came out great. Instead of the roux, I left all of the bacon grease in the pan and used sodium citrate for thickening.

  6. A mix of starches and gums makes for a really smooth stabilizer in a way that flour just can’t achieve. There’s a whole constellation of polysaccharides that form hydrocolloids, each with their own individual quirks to experiment with. A little goes a long way though, lest you make blobby goo of your sauce.

    Adding papain (as found in tenderizing salt) to the mix can partially break down casein and help it stay in solution as well. Care needs to be taken to keep the temperature below 85°C, lest it denature and become inactive, though.

  7. My Mac and cheese is currently in the baking uncovered stage and it smells amazing. I accidentally bought bourbon infused Gouda and it smelled really sweet which worries me but the smell has mellowed a lot with the heat.

  8. I always just use a roux because I always have the ingredients around. But I don’t bake my Mac and cheese for very long. I do 15-20 minutes in the oven, then I turn on the broiler and move it to the top rack until the top is golden brown. That way my sauce doesn’t get clumpy, but I still get those crispy edges and a nice top.

  9. Finally got a cool fall day to crave and make this. I didn't use white wine, but I used 8oz extra sharp cheddar, 4oz gouda and 4oz stilton and it is amazing!

  10. Non everything mom: ooooh this crap goooood what’s in it?

    Server: sodium citrate

    Non everything mom: Oh My gOsH LeT mE SpEaK tO yOuR mAnAgEr!!!! ReEEeEeEE

  11. What I like about you is that you aren't a butthurt stuck-in-tradition cook, you actually branch out and try things that some consider taboo like food additives.

  12. Adam: My dad used to make banana milkshake by putting banana and whole milk in the mixer.

    But for the best banana milkshake I will use full cream, dextrose, glucose, sodium chloride, yeast, whiskey, rum, champagne and banana and put it in the mixer to get the creamiest banana shake ever!

  13. I just found your channel last night. I subscribed and now I’m binge watching your videos. I love cooking but I also love learning about the science behind cooking so I am thoroughly enjoying your content! Thanks so much for doing what you do.

  14. America = Burgers
    Germany = Sausages
    England = Fish and chips
    Russia = Potato
    France = Baguette
    İndia = Veggies
    Turkey = Garlic
    Ragusea kingdom = WHITE WINE
    for literraly anything (including cereal)

  15. I just discovered this this channel today. Probably watched 7-10 videos already. I did not expect the memes to be this spicy in the comment sections but god damn YouTube impressed me once again.

  16. your mac cheese is always gritty because you add the cheese when the bechamel is too hot, turn off the heat and then add it

  17. Who the fuck makes homemade Mac and cheese with processed cheese… Disgusting American cheese is the absolute worst cheese ever made.

  18. Adam is the kinda dude who says there's no point in having brown sugar at home but also keeps a bag of an ingredient dedicated for making mac and cheese

  19. Hey Adam, I found a recipe by Modernist Cuisine they recommend 4%(3.85%) of sodium Citrate to cheddar Cheese ratio. Your recipe is right at 4.1%, the "Bad" first pass you did was 6.3%. FYI Gouda has ~20% less fat content than cheddar but, you did add butter and 3 cups of whole milk :D, so strictly looking at grams of fat your bad recipe (fat grams vs sodium citrate) was at 15% and your good recipe was 10%, modernist on the other hand is at 10-11% (they say use milk or water). So that makes our working range for sodium citrate to be 10-11% of fat grams for this recipe.

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