I Tried Pioneer Woman's Macaroni and Cheese Recipe (& Here's What I Thought)
Whenever I think the hype over the Pioneer Woman — aka Ree Drummond — has died down, she drops something new that everyone goes crazy for: a piece of floral cookware, a whole line of bedding, and, most recently, her very own Barbie. I quickly realized I either needed to jump on the bandwagon or move out of the way, because the Ree is here to stay — and it was time I tried one of her recipes to experience the hype for myself. My recipe of choice? Her uber-rich (and uber-popular) macaroni and cheese.
Get the recipe: Pioneer Woman's Macaroni and Cheese
How to Make Pioneer Woman's Macaroni and Cheese
Ree's mac and cheese recipe is pretty straightforward. You cook some elbow noodles, make a roux (a 1:1 mixture of butter and flour), add the milk and mustard powder, and cook until thickened into a béchamel (a creamy white sauce that forms the base of most mac and cheese recipes).
I was surprised by the addition of an egg — an ingredient I had never previously seen in a mac and cheese recipe — but after using it in three out of the four recipes I tested (here's Alton Brown's, Ina Garten's, and Sunny Anderson's), I learned it was more common that I thought. Ree has you whisk some of the béchamel into the beaten egg before stirring the egg back into the sauce, which prevents it from scrambling when it hits the warm sauce. Because I was new to the whole egg-in-mac-and-cheese thing, I appreciated the detail in her instructions.
Finally, you'll add the cooked macaroni to the sauce and either serve immediately or pour into a baking dish, top with extra cheese, and bake until golden. You'll want to use a 9x13-inch or other 3-quart baking dish (she doesn't specify the size), because this makes a lot of pasta.
What I Thought of the Results
Although no one part of this recipe is particularly difficult, be prepared to break a sweat as you grate the full pound of cheese it calls for. I literally had to open a window because I was getting such a workout — although there's really no way around it, because pre-grated cheese contains preservatives that prevent it from melting as nicely. Just throw on a gym shirt and prepare to work for your mac.
I also found the timing of the instructions to be a little off. Ree says it should take about five minutes for the béchamel to thicken, but mine took more than 10 before it was thick enough to add the egg and cheese.
Taste-wise, this mac and cheese was ... underwhelming. It certainly wasn't bad — after all, it's really just pasta, butter, and a whole lot of cheese — but it didn't excite me in any way. It sort of tasted like the shortcut mac and cheese my dad used to make: a box of stovetop mac and cheese, topped with extra grated cheddar, then baked in the oven to make it feel more homemade. It's thick and decadent, but lacking the silkiness I crave in a mac and cheese.
If You Make Pioneer Woman's Mac and Cheese ...
1. Salt the pasta water. Ree's recipe doesn't say to salt the water used to cook the pasta, but you'll want to do so. It seasons the noodles inside and out, and greatly improves the flavor of the final dish.
2. Use a full 1-pound box of pasta. This recipe calls for 4 cups of elbow noodles, which is just shy of a 1-pound box. Unless you have grand plans for those 10 leftover elbow noodles, skip the measuring and pour in the whole box.
3. If you don't have seasoned salt, make your own blend. This recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt, which I don't keep in my pantry. Instead of buying a full jar, I added an additional 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt to the sauce, plus a pinch each of garlic powder, turmeric, and paprika, which are spices commonly found in seasoned salt.
Overall Rating: 6/10
Ree's recipe makes a solid mac and cheese, but it's not memorable in any way.
Get the recipe: Pioneer Woman's Mac and Cheese