Who doesn’t love a simple mix of macaroni with cheese cooked to perfection?
A favorite amongst all age groups and a recipe that can be cooked anytime. It needs no occasion. Everyone has their own way of cooking it. Some have recipes passed down from their grandmothers.
But, sometimes, when you try making the macaroni and cheese, it can end up being oily and greasy dish. It may taste alright, but just feels super greasy! In such a scenario, you may want be wondering what could have possibly gone wrong and how to fix your macaroni and cheese from being oily.
Macaroni and cheese tend to separate into oil and cheese curds when the sauce is overheated by cooking it for too long or using improper temperatures. This usually happens when the cheese has gone beyond its melting point and the proteins in the cheese clump together squeezing out the oil.
In this article, we shall understand some of the reasons why macaroni and cheese become oily and the steps to prevent your dish from becoming oily.
What does it mean when macaroni and cheese are oily?
We usually say that the macaroni and cheese have become oily when we can see the oil in the dish separately and some curdled mix clung to your macaroni pasta. This mainly happens because your cheese has been overheated during the cooking process.
The cheese has a tendency to separate into cheese curds and oil when the cheese has gone far beyond its melting point. The key ingredient of dairy products is proteins. The play of heat at different temperatures is what helps us obtain various dairy products.
Exposure to heat disrupts the protein molecules in the cheese and destabilizes them. Allowing the cheese to take various forms. However, exposure to prolonged heat or higher temperatures than your cheese can withstand will make the protein molecules cling to each other forming small clumps and oozing out the fat, thus, making your macaroni and cheese oily.
The extent of greasiness of your macaroni and cheese is determined by the amount of heat that cheese sauce has been exposed to. If the cheese sauce has been exposed to higher heat or heated for an extended amount of time then the dish will be more oily.
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When can your macaroni and cheese become oily?
There are mainly two stages at which you run the risk of your cheese separating.
- While you are cooking your sauce from scratch.
- When you have leftovers and are reheating your macaroni and cheese.
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Key Reasons that make the oil separate from cheese?
There can be many reasons that contribute to the overheating of cheese in macaroni and cheese. Let us understand them:
1. Pasta is undercooked
You might be surprised to know that improperly cooked pasta can contribute to the separation of the cheese sauce. As a basic rule, while cooking your pasta dishes, the pasta has to be kept al dente. However, this is not so much the case while making cheesy creamy pasta dishes. Considering the fact that macaroni and cheese are in fact a cheese sauce pasta, this rule holds true.
If your pasta is on the al dente side then much more time is taken to cook the pasta in the cheese sauce, leading to your cheese sauce cooking for a longer duration compared to adding pasta that is cooked firmly. This can be one of the reasons why your cheese sauce has separated.
2. Adding cheese that is not grated
Ever noticed your mother or aunt grating the cheese to add to macaroni and cheese? There is a good reason to do so. Cheese is grated while making cheese-based sauces, and that holds true as well for macaroni and cheese. Grating cheese gives the dish a smoother texture as the cheese melts evenly.
Adding blocks of cheese will result in lumps of cheese in the sauce. in order to remove the lumps you tend to cook longer, which leads your sauce to separate. If you aren’t too keen on grating your cheese, a few other options would be to use pre-grated cheese or sliced cheese, or cubed cheese.
3. Not making a Roux
People who make various cheese-based sauces are not strangers to the roux. However, if you are an amateur cook or just wish to master your macaroni and cheese, you should learn the art and the basics of making a roux.
Making a roux allows the cheese sauce to be more heat resistant compared to the sauce made without a roux. Roux is added with milk to obtain one of the five basic Italian sauces called the bechamel sauce. Bechamel sauce mixed with cheese is the basic recipe for cheese sauce used in homemade macaroni and cheese.
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4. Type of cheese used
There are varieties of cheese available today. Pretty much all kinds of cheese can be used to make macaroni and cheese. However, an important aspect that you need to know is the melting point of cheese. Cheese with a lower melting point cannot withstand higher or prolonged temperatures and will separate easily. Thus, it is recommended to use cheeses with higher melting points.
How do you make Macaroni and cheese less greasy?
Macaroni and Cheese can become oily if the cheese sauce that has been made for the pasta has separated. You run the risk of cheese separating while cooking the cheese sauce from scratch or while reheating the leftover pasta.
However, there are a few steps that you can take so as to ensure that the cheese sauce does not separate and become oily.
- Make a bechamel sauce – If you are making homemade macaroni and cheese then almost always make a bechamel sauce. This allows the fats and proteins in the cheese to blend well with the proteins and fats present in the bechamel sauce.
- Make a roux – Make a roux, then build your recipe further. Making a roux ensures the presence of fats and allows the cheese and the dairy to heat up slowly and evenly. Just like tempering eggs!
- Use grated or sliced or diced cheese.
- Ensure to use cheese with higher melting points.
- Do not cook your pasta al dente. It should be firmly cooked. However, your pasta should not be overcooked as well as overcooking the pasta will lead the dish to become soggy and mushy.
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How to Maintain Creaminess in Macaroni and Cheese?
Your macaroni and cheese will not remain creamy and become oily if your cheese sauce has been improperly heated or overcooked. As we know, that cheese is a dairy product that is formed by coagulating the milk proteins called casein. It consists of proteins and fat from the milk.
This product called cheese is the one that imparts a cheesy texture to your mac and cheese. When the cheese is overheated the protein molecules in the cheese get destabilized leading the cheese to form lumps and lose moisture. Hence, it is recommended to not overheat the cheese or cook the cheese sauce at low temperatures.
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how to keep baked mac and cheese from breaking?
The baked version of macaroni and cheese consists of a baked breadcrumb coating on top of your dish. It entails cooking your sauce and pasta separately and then mixing it and adding breadcrumbs on top and baking it in the oven.
There are some ways by which you can ensure that your baked macaroni and cheese do not separate.
1. Focus on the temperatures
Since the pasta and the sauce are already cooked thus you need not use higher cooking temperatures. The oven temperature should be just enough to brown your breadcrumbs and form a crispy crust. Thus, 350 F for 20 – 25 minutes should be a reasonable amount to get the result. However, the ideal time is something when you will have to figure out as cooking times also depend on the size of the oven, dish, and quantity of food.
2. The kind of cheese used
The type of cheese used has a big impact on the macaroni and cheese separating. Thus, select cheese with higher melting points.
3. Use of emulsifiers
Another home hack that chefs and home cooks swear by is the use of emulsifiers in the baked version of macaroni and cheese. Eggs are a great option as emulsifiers to add to your macaroni and cheese. If you want an egg-free version then adding a tinge of mustard paste will not only give depth to the dish but also prevent it from coagulating. Alternatively, some people recommend mixing sodium citrate with cheese and then incorporating it into the cheese sauce.
If for any of the above reasons your macaroni cheese has curdled then it’s easier to fix than you think. So don’t chuck it in the bin just yet!
Have a look at some of the ways you can fix it.
- If you see that the dish is curdling, immediately remove it from the heat. Mostly curdling happens because the heat is high. Removing it from heat will stop it from cooking further. Which is easier to restore.
- You can add some cream or full-fat milk to the mixture as this will balance out the fat and the proteins. You can add a little, increasing it as you go. So, you have a better idea, of how much milk or cream is required to fix your dish.
- Another way is to add about 1 to 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or mustard paste. Adding acidity to the mix detangles the protein molecules of the separated cheese and thus you will get a uniform mix.
Suggested Reading: Why is my Macaroni and Cheese Dry? [And here’s how to Fix It!]