On the hunt for a tasty gluten-free mac and cheese

  • The secret to tasty gluten-free mac and cheese is in the brown rice pasta.

    The secret to tasty gluten-free mac and cheese is in the brown rice pasta. Courtesy of Don Mauer

Updated 9/9/2021 12:53 PM

Combine gluten-free macaroni and a touch of cheese sauce magic and, voila, a new (for me) no-wheat mac and cheese is born.

For those eschewing wheat, standard mac and cheese has three wheat issues.


One: Standard macaroni is made from wheat.

Two: Most mac and cheese sauces begin with a roux, where butter and flour are cooked together.

Three: Toasted, wheat-based bread crumbs top what many consider a classic mac and cheese.

I've tired of many of my terrific not-mac and cheese creations, and I really missed the standard and wondered if I could create a wheat-free mac and cheese that was nearly identical.

No surprise, mac is the main wheat source in mac and cheese. First, I searched the web for nonmanufacturer affiliated websites that had tested and ranked wheat-free pasta. The Epicurious website -- epicurious.com/expert-advice/the-best-gluten-free-pasta-you-can-buy-online-article -- recommends an old favorite: Jovial brand 100-percent Organic Brown Rice Gluten-Free Pasta.

About Jovial's brown rice pasta, they quoted their Senior Food Editor Anna Stockwell: "I've fed it to people who could not tell they were eating gluten-free pasta at all. This stuff is magic."

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Magic? Hmmm. Just what I was looking for.

Jovial brand 100-percent Organic Brown Rice Gluten-Free Pasta makes a good base for wheat-free mac and cheese.
Jovial brand 100-percent Organic Brown Rice Gluten-Free Pasta makes a good base for wheat-free mac and cheese.

Lucky me, there was an unopened box of Jovial's organic, gluten-free macaroni (12 ounces/$4.49) in my pantry. Perfect.

Melting cheese into a sauce without a roux was my next hurdle since melting a block of cheddar cheese and stirring it into pasta doesn't work. It separates into a fairly gloppy mess.

So, it's molecular gastronomy to the rescue with a, once again, magical solution: sodium citrate ($7.99/2 ounces at Amazon).

Sodium citrate makes processed cheeses (like American or Swiss) melt beautifully. You've probably used a processed cheese on a burger or grilled cheese without knowing that sodium citrate was the magician pulling a perfect melt out of the hat.

Turning to a Modernist Cuisine mac and cheese sauce that uses cheese (any kind), sodium citrate and liquid (anything from water to milk) solved my no-wheat cheese sauce dilemma.


For those who need to bake a breadcrumb topped macaroni and cheese, my solution to that is grated (I use my food processor's grating blade) baked pork rinds into a topping that looks like bread crumbs.

Preferring the ease of a one-pan, no-bake mac and cheese, while my brown rice macaroni simmered away, I grated 8 ounces of organic, raw milk white cheddar. Using a 2-quart saucepan, I whisked a ½-teaspoon of sodium citrate into a half-cup of water until it dissolved. Then, I brought the water to a low simmer and began whisking in the cheese. At first, once all the cheese was added, the sauce looked a little thin. Soon it began to thicken and looked just like a regular roux-based sauce. I drained the macaroni and stirred it into the sauce until it was mixed well. A few grinds of black pepper, and it was ready to serve.

The results could not have been better. I could not tell that this was a no-wheat mac and cheese. The macaroni was both smooth tasting and my cheese sauce clung perfectly.

Almost magic.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write to him at 1leanwizard@gmail.com.

Zero Wheat Macaroni and Cheese

8 ounces, 100-percent Organic Brown Rice Gluten-Free Macaroni

½ teaspoon sodium citrate

½ cup water (or milk, your choice)

8 ounces extra sharp, cheddar cheese, grated (I prefer organic)

Add 2-quarts water to a 5-quart saucepan and place over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon kosher salt (or 1½ teaspoons sea salt) and bring to a boil. Add the macaroni and bring back to boil, while stirring. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes. (I begin tasting at 10 minutes).

While macaroni cooks, add sodium citrate and water to the bottom of a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a simmer of medium heat. Add the cheese, a handful at a time and whisk into the liquid. As each handful melts, add the next handful until all the cheese has been incorporated. If the sauce is too thick add a tablespoon of liquid.

When the macaroni is done, drain and add to the cheese sauce; stirring until well combined.

Serves 4

Nutrition values per serving: 440 calories (42.5 percent from fat), 20.8 g fat (12 g saturated fat), 43.7 g carbohydrates, 0.3 g sugars, 2 g fiber, 19 g protein, 60 mg cholesterol, 528 mg sodium.

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