A gooey cheese sauce is a comfort food classic that makes nachos unstoppable, mac and cheese a must-have, and (to some) vegetables edible. But it takes a bit of know-how to make the perfect cheese sauce.
The type of cheese used is an important factor to making a sauce. Some cheese melts well, while others simply clump in a bowl of warm milk. Melting champions include cheddar, mozzarella, Gruyere, Colby, Havarti, Monterey jack, and fontina. Blue cheeses and soft cheeses such as brie also melt well once the rind is moved. However, ricotta, feta, and parmigiano-reggiano will give your mouth a chew rather than a smooth creamy texture.
To avoid a grainy cheese sauce, finely shred the cheese and it to the milk mixture gradually so that it melts quickly. High temperatures can lead to separation and graininess so don’t let the milk mixture get too hot: think low and slow!
While cheese sauce may be yummy, it can also yield a high saturated fat and calorie content. Some sauces are made with a roux (equal butter to flour ratio), and while that may work, it’s not the only way. Butter can be avoided altogether by simply using cornstarch with milk. Evaporated skim milk will yield a richer flavor with a lower calorie and fat content. Likewise, reduced-fat cheese will improve the nutritional quality of the cheese sauce. Although reduced-fat and fat-free cheeses may become rubbery in a grilled cheese sandwich, when mixed with moister, meltier ingredients, it works.
With these tips, you will dodge a cheese catastrophe and produce a smooth, luscious cheese sauce. Even this comfort food classic can be a part of a healthy meal; just don’t forget to serve it with vegetables and whole grains.
Basic Cheese Sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup evaporated fat-free milk
5 ounces (about 1¼ cups) 2 percent reduced-fat sharp finely shredded cheddar cheese
1½ teaspoons hot sauce (optional)
In a medium saucepan, whisk cornstarch and milk until smooth. Turn heat to low and gradually add cheese, stirring constantly with a whisk, until cheese melts and sauce thickens. Stir in hot sauce. Serve over vegetables, whole grain pasta, or chicken or turkey sandwich melts.
Yield: about 2 cups cheese sauce, or 8 (¼ cup) servings
Nutrition facts (per serving): 90 calories, 4 grams fat, 170 milligrams sodium, 5 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams fiber, 7 grams protein