When macaroni and cheese landed in America, Bechamel sauce wasn’t part of it. The dish consisted of layers of butter, pasta and cheese, and nothing more. Simple. Pure.
This was how mac ‘n’ cheese was cooked in America in the 18th century, as relived in Netflix’s High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America and, later, as documented in the 1824 cookbook The Virginia Housewife.
18th Century American Macaroni and Cheese
- 3 cups full-fat milk
- 150 grams macaroni
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 7 tablespoons salted butter chilled (plus more to garnish)
- 150 grams shredded cheese (cheddar is used here)
- In a pot, heat the milk with three cups of water and about a teaspoon of salt.
- When boiling, stir in the macaroni and cook until fully done, about 15 minutes.
- Drain the macaroni and set aside (see notes after the recipe).
- Preheat the oven (top and botton heat) to 375F.
- Shave the butter and spread a tablespoon on the bottom of an oven-safe bowl.
- Pile a third of the cooked macaroni on top of the butter.
- Spread two tablespoons of shaved butter on top of the macaroni followed by a third of the shredded cheese.
- Repeat the layering until all the butter, macaroni and cheese are in the bowl.
- Bake in a preheated 375F oven until the cheese melts and the top is lightly browned.
- Take the mac and cheese out of the oven and drop dollops of butter on top. Let the butter melt before serving.