The Unexpected Ingredient That Totally Elevates Mac And Cheese

Homemade yellow mac and cheese with breadcrumbs
Homemade yellow mac and cheese with breadcrumbs - Thecrimsonmonkey/Getty Images

There's not much that tastes better than a hot, cheesy, and gooey dish of homemade mac and cheese. However, even if you are a seasoned pro at cheesy mac, there's one unexpected ingredient that you probably haven't tried before that can take a dish of mac and cheese from great to spectacular –- and it's not an expensive bottle of truffle oil. Surprisingly, the secret ingredient that can elevate any dish of mac and cheese is a common household spice: nutmeg.

At first, the idea of adding nutmeg (a seasoning most commonly used in pumpkin pie and winter holiday desserts) to anything cheesy sounds strange. However, the warm peppery sweetness of nutmeg actually complements cheese very well. In fact, many recipes even list nutmeg as one of the ingredients necessary to make Panera's broccoli and cheddar soup and it is a key ingredient in béchamel sauce which is used to make cheese soufflés. So, it seems there's just something about cheese and nutmeg together that makes everything delicious.

However, if you just make your regular mac and cheese recipe and then sprinkle nutmeg on top, it's probably not going to taste very good. So, how do you add nutmeg to mac and cheese for the best results?

Read more: Vegetarian Appetizers That Are Sure To Be Crowd-Pleasers

Just A Dash Is All It Takes

Cook adding grated cheese to a bechamel sauce
Cook adding grated cheese to a bechamel sauce - Ika Rahma H/Shutterstock

For an elevated nutmeg mac and cheese, you can either choose to add the dried spice or the freshly grated version. But no matter which one you choose, it's important to know that you don't need much nutmeg at all to achieve that perfectly savory and rich flavor. In fact, most recipes call for about half a teaspoon of nutmeg or less.

Also, when you add the nutmeg matters. The best way to add the seasoning to your cheesy mac is to do it the same way you would when making a béchamel. So, first, make a creamy roux by melting butter and flour together. Then, add your milk and simmer until a sauce forms. Once the sauce thickens, sprinkle in the nutmeg and a good helping of cheddar cheese and melt it all together into a gooey creamy masterpiece that you can simply pour over a pot of cooked macaroni. And voilà! Now you have an amazing pot of mac and cheese and you can decide whether you want to leave it how it is or pop it in the oven for that picture-perfect crispy baked cheese top.

Make Nutmeg Mac And Cheese Like The Pros

Creamy mac and cheese in a cast iron pan
Creamy mac and cheese in a cast iron pan - Photography By Tonelson/Getty Images

Because the addition of a dash of nutmeg ups the flavor and deliciousness of mac and cheese so much, it's no surprise that plenty of professional cooks use the ingredient in their recipes. This includes two certified celebrity chefs and queens of the cooking screen: Rachael Ray and Ina Garten.

Ray favors including a pinch of nutmeg and also adds some cayenne pepper to turn up the heat. Both nutmeg and cayenne pepper have warm flavors and, together, add a nice sweet and peppery undertone to the dish. If you love spicy mac and cheese, you can even add a dash of hot sauce on top of the nutmeg and cayenne.

Garten's mac and cheese, meanwhile, calls for nutmeg and two types of cheese: cheddar and gruyère. Gruyère is the traditional cheese used in béchamel sauce and its sweetness will not only complement the peppery flavor of the nutmeg but will also balance the sharpness of the cheddar. Garten likes to top her mac and cheese with fresh tomato slices and butter-toasted breadcrumbs.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.