Illustration for article titled Upgrade Your Boxed Mac and Cheese with Browned ButterPhoto: Claire Lower (Shutterstock)

I have an exact method for making a box of macaroni and cheese: I boil the water, cook the macaroni a few minutes before the directions in the package, let it drain, put the pasta back in the saucepan and add the butter while stirring melts over the mac. Then I sprinkle the cheese powder in and stir again to dissolve as much of the melted butter as possible. Then I inject just enough halfway through to break up any remaining cheese powder lumps, never the full amount requested on the box because I don’t like a soupy mac.

Illustration for article titled Upgrade Your Boxed Mac and Cheese with Browned Butter

But last night I put the butter in the very hot pan before the drained noodles because of a rather distracting headache. It foamed and stuttered violently, as butter normally does when exposed to high heat, just before it begins to brown. I decided to use this “mistake” to my advantage and swirled the butter around while it continued to hiss and foam until I noticed a distinct nutty odor and the butter turned a deep, golden brown hue. I scraped off some solids stuck to the bottom with a spatula, then added the macaroni noodles that had been patiently waiting in the colander along with the cheese powder and a few sprinkles of half and half.

It was – I’m happy to say – the best pot of Kraft I’ve ever made. The rich, nutty taste of the browned butter was the perfect counterbalance to the tangy, factory-made cheese, which made the whole thing much less “made” and tasted a bit more homemade. The browning of the butter added a lot to its flavor, moving it forward from the background without completely obscuring the bright orange powder. She was no longer a choir girl, but a co-star.

Kraft is my preferred macaroni choice, but you can add browned butter to any brand (like Annie’s or Trader Joe’s brand) and you can really add them to clams, spirals, or noodles in boxes. It makes your Mac more forgiving without requiring a lot of extra effort, and that, my friends, is my favorite type of hack.

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