Fat-Free Mac and Cheese [well, virtually fat-free]

Fat-Free Mac and Cheese Yes, you read that correctly.  Fat-Free Mac and Cheese.  Well, to be honest, I’m not a nutritionist, so I can’t 100% guarantee that there is no fat in this recipe.  But through the wonders of Modernist cooking, I’m presenting a full-flavored, utterly addicting mac and cheese recipe that contains virtually no fat.  Miniature macaroni shells are cooked in water that’s been infused with the flavors of Jack and Gruyère cheese.  The mac and cheese is then finished with a silky cauliflower puree that mimics the cream and butter usually found in other calorie-laden recipes.  After just one bite, I exclaimed “OMG!”  The cheese flavor is quite unbelievable.

I mentioned above that this is a Modernist recipe, one that I’ve adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home.  To make the flavorful cooking broth for this mac and cheese, you’ll need to cook cheese and water using the sous vide method.  Now, I know what you may be thinking, “Sous vide?  Really?”  But before you check out, let me explain.

The sous vide method was one that I previously thought was just for professional chefs.  A method that requires fancy, high-priced machinery.  After a few months of experimentation, I’m here to tell you that this method is not just for professional chefs.  Basically, sous vide is the process of cooking food sealed in a plastic bag in a temperature controlled water bath.  This is a process that any home cook can accomplish.  Continue reading for my stove top sous vide method that utilizes everyday kitchen equipment.

Cauliflower and Pasta

Before we get to the stove top sous vide setup, let’s talk vacuum sealing.  To sous vide various different food items, you’ll need to vacuum seal them in a plastic bag.  A vacuum sealer is on the list of expensive machinery that I’d rather not purchase, so I decided to test out what the Modernists like to call the “water displacement method.”  Basically, you place food in a ziplock bag, then slowly lower the bag in a bowl of cold water.  The water will push out all of the air, and press the plastic up against the food.  Once the water is just below the the ziplock, seal the bag closed.  Here are some photos of this process.  In this recipe, I’ll be sous viding a mixture of cheese and water.

Water Displacement Method

If you don’t want to dirty an extra bowl, you can also complete this process in your sous vide water bath before you start heating the water.  I also use this method to seal food before freezing.  Pork, chicken and beef are three proteins I often buy in bulk.  Sealing them in bags this way has cut back big time on freezer burn.

Now that we have our cheese and water all nice and sealed, we can move on to stove top sous viding.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 large stock pot – something that can accommodate a gallon ziplock bag without having the bag touch the sides
  • 1 stove
  • 1 probe thermometer
  • 2 binder clips
  • 1 drying rack

Fill the stock pot 4/5′s of the way full with water, and set on the stove.  Snap a binder clip on one of the walls of the stock pot with its wings upright.  Thread the probe through the wings of the binder clip and submerge in the water.  This will keep the probe from moving around.  Warm the water over high heat until desired temperature is reached.  In this recipe, it’s 176°F.  Binder clip the sealed bag of food to the drying rack, then carefully, submerge the bag in the water.  Make sure that the sides and bottom of the bag are not touching the walls of the stock pot.  The drying rack should rest on top of the stock pot.  Here are some photos of this setup:

Stove Top Sous Vide

Once the ziplock bag is submerged in the water, drop the heat to medium low.  At this point, you’ll need to cook the contents of the bag at a constant temperature for a certain period of time.  For me, the best setting on my stove top is between 2 and 3.  This will certainly vary based on your stove top, so keep a watchful eye on the temperature the first time you try this.  Adjust heat accordingly.  Once the contents are done cooking, simply finish according to the recipe.  That’s it!

Each time I’ve cooked sous vide using this method, I find that temperature varies 1 to 2 degrees above or below my target temperate.  This isn’t really an issue.  And it’s certainly an issue I’m willing to deal with to avoid the hefty price tag of a Sous Vide Supreme!

Cheese Pile

After reading through all of this, you may just be thinking to yourself, “I’ll stick with my classic Mornay sauce” [which is Béchamel with cheese].  And that’s totally fine.  I really enjoyed my time in the kitchen, experimenting with new Modernist techniques, and I hope I’ve inspired some of you to give them a try as well.

5.0 from 1 reviews

 
Ingredients
  • 100g / heaping 1 cup thinly sliced cauliflower
  • Kosher salt
  • 275 g / 3 cups grated Jack cheese
  • 275 g / 3 cups grated Gruyère cheese
  • 2 g / 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 180g / 1 1/4 cup dry macaroni (I used mini shells)*
Instructions
  1. Bring a medium saucepan filled with water to a boil. Add a large pinch of salt and the cauliflower. Once the mixture returns to a boil, drop heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain, then process or blend until smooth (I used a small food processor). Measure out 75 g / 1/4 cup of the cauliflower puree and set aside. Reserve the rest for another use.
  2. Preheat a water bath to 176°F (see steps above for a stove top sous vide setup). Add Jack and Gruyère to a large ziplock bag with 500g / 2 1/8 cup cold water. Using the water displacement method outlined above, remove as much air as possible from the bag and seal.
  3. Cook sous vide for 30 minutes, then set aside to cool at room temperature for 15 minutes. While the mixture is cooling, set a fine-mesh basket strainer over a large bowl (preferably with a pour spout). Line the strainer with a paper towel (or cheese cloth). Once cooled, pour cheese water through the lined strainer. Measure out 500g / 2 1/8 cup cheese water. Reserve remainder for another use.
  4. Bring cheese water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add sugar, stirring to dissolve. Add macaroni and cook until al dente (soft on the outside with some bite left on the inside). The macaroni will absorb most of the cheese water (9 – 10 minutes). Stir in cauliflower puree and season to taste with salt (I added just the smallest pinch).
Notes
* Want to bump up the health factor of this recipe? Try using whole wheat pasta.

Related links and recipes:

MDRN KTCHN

Sous-vide

Frozen Seared Steak

Perfectly Melting Cheese Slice

Modernist Mac and Cheese

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24 Responses to Fat-Free Mac and Cheese [well, virtually fat-free]

  1. 1
    Claire says:

    This is interesting. Do the contents of the plastic bag swell or increase in volume during the low temperature cooking? Would a glass container work? I am curious as to the reason for the vacuum, does it force the flavors one way or another using osmosis?.

    • 1.1
      Brandon Matzek says:

      Hi Claire, the plastic bag does not swell during low temp cooking. You wouldn’t want to use a glass container unless you can somehow pump most of the air out. Air is bad conductor of heat and it also promotes evaporation. Two factors that will disrupt the consistency of your cooking temperature. When cooking sous vide, keeping a consistent temperature is paramount.

      • David says:

        You definitely wouldn’t want to use a glass container with the air pumped out. If air is a bad conductor then a vacuum is worse (you need particles bumping to conduct the heat). Also a vacuum would increase evaporation as well since it would lower the boiling point of the water. The sealed bag works because you remove all excess air letting the food get right up against the water for best hear conduction, but this is not a vacuum as the pressure in the bag is still the same as atmospheric.

  2. 2

    This was a delicious dish. It’s amazing how much flavor the pasta gets from cheese flavored water. If I didn’t know how this was prepared, I would have never guessed.

    I love how easy it is to vacuum seal a bag using just a bowl of water, I keep looking for things to vacuum seal and freeze! Great tips for doing Modernist cooking with tools we all have in our kitchens.

  3. 3
    Scot Colford says:

    I’m curious. Do you expect that your cold-water vacuum-sealing method is more or less effective than, say, a Ziploc vacuum sealed bag? You know, the newish kind of bag with the sucker appliance that gets all the air out? I love those.

    • 3.1
      Brandon Matzek says:

      I haven’t tried those bags yet. I did get an obscene amount of freezer bags from Costco though, so I’m trying to use them all up.

  4. 4
    phillip says:

    best way to do this is a crockpot. if you have one that has the temp probe it works a treat. i use one instead of the roaster converted into a water bath. granted in this case with such a short cooking time its not needed.

    • 4.1
      Brandon Matzek says:

      I’ve been considering the crock pot version, but so far I’m doing pretty well on the stove top!

  5. 5
  6. 6

    I saw this post a few days ago and have been thinking about it ever since. It’s SUCH a mind blowing process. And the crazy thing is that I KNOW you know your mac n cheese and if you say this is as good as it is, then, it is! And wow!

  7. 7
    John says:

    How can this recipe be fat free when you have cheese in there ? Cheese contains lots of fat FYI …

    • 7.1
      Brandon Matzek says:

      Hi John, basically you sous vide cheese and water together to make… cheese water! The cheese water is then strained from the solids, leaving behind almost all of the fat. Cheese water is incredible flavorful and can be used in many other applications – not just to make mac and cheese!

  8. 8

    [...] Fat-Free Mac and Cheese [well, virtually fat-free] [Kitchen Konfidence] [...]

  9. 9
    Chris says:

    Hi, Brandon.

    I love this recipe. It tasted great and it wasn’t too rich like so many versions of macaroni and cheese I’ve had. Your water vacuum method and sous vide setup were a revelation. I’ve been wanting to try modernist cooking methods and this is a great start.

    When I strained the cheese water, I ended up with a lot of gooey cheese left over (like something off the top of french onion soup). There were several cups of it, and given the price of Gruyere, it seems a shame to waste. Any thoughts on what can be done with this leftover goop?

    • 9.1
      Brandon Matzek says:

      Hi Chris, so glad you enjoyed the recipe! So I have a solution for the leftover cheese, but I’m still testing it out. The cheese solids lend a lot of their flavor to the cheese water, but they do have some residual flavor after cooking. I’ve tried cooking them on a parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheet at 350 for 40 – 50 minutes to make cheese crisps! Results are a little uneven though. The mass of cheese solids spreads while cooking, and the outer edges get slightly burnt while the inner section stays chewier (not ideal). Next time I make this, I’m going to try to roll small balls of cheese solids and cook the same way as above. OR I might try cooking them in a lined muffin tin. Please let me know if you come up with something too! Thanks.

  10. 10
    Claire says:

    Would the leftover ‘goop’ work in a souffle or quiche that had other strong flavors to carry the cheese along?

  11. 11
    Carlo Menconi says:

    I made this last night and it was tremendous! The only complaint I had is that it didn’t make more. Given how much flavor was in the final result I wonder if adding a 1/2 cup to a full cup of water to the cheese-water when cooking the pasta would water it down too much. I’d love to stretch it out as far as it could go without loosing too much flavor. 2 could share the above portion as a side, but as good as it is everyone would want more.

  12. 12
    alannah says:

    fat-free..? what is this, the 1999 snackwell’s website?

  13. 13

    […] Fat-Free Mac and Cheese [well, virtually fat-free] - A Modernist twist on a comfort classic.  Plus a tutorial on how to sous vide at home without […]

  14. 14

    […] get one.  They are also handy when trying to figure out the doneness of a piece of meat or when sous viding at […]

  15. 15
    Mr Frodo says:

    I’m actually thinking about using Xanthan or gellan gum to thicken some cheese water to coat the macaroni after boiling it in the MC cheese water instead of using pureed cauliflower. Both are supposed to be flavorless and it might be a way to only have cheese flavor in the final product…

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