One Simple Ingredient Ree Drummond Adds To Her Mac And Cheese

No matter the season, macaroni and cheese has a spot at the dining — or picnic — table. The classic comfort food is famously mild and indulgent in its traditional form, but when the ingredient list gets too pared down, it can become one-note. So when "The Pioneer Woman" Ree Drummond reaches for a pantry staple to liven up her mac and cheese, we listen.

Some cooks may not find the additional ingredient pioneering, as it's a popular family secret, but it's likely a surprise for those who usually opt for a cream sauce. For Drummond, a sprinkle of mustard powder can make a world of difference when preparing the meal for gatherings and celebrations. She prefers to be generous with the affordable, shelf-stable seasoning, adding four teaspoons to her dish.

Homemakers can replicate the expert move and scale down to as little as two teaspoons to get the same effect. They'll find themselves with a smooth and velvety sauce with a little more bite. The flavor is subtle, but those hunting for it might just find a welcome mustard sharpness cutting through the rich cheese, depending on how enthusiastically cooks embrace the ingredient.

Spicing up a comforting dish

When discussing mac and cheese, chefs debate whether or not you should undercook the noodles, the best types of cheese, and the right add-ins. However, another essential part of the conversation is how to season the perfect dish. Mustard powder is an excellent starting point for home cooks eager to add complexity to their mac and cheese.

If the zesty additive isn't your speed, or you're hoping to build on that baseline, consider incorporating other spices into the mild dish. Paprika can add smokiness, cayenne brings classic heat, white pepper allows for gentle zing, and nutmeg delivers a warmth traditional in béchamel and fondue. Butter, flour, and milk are the foundation for both the mother sauce and Ree Drummond's mac and cheese, so it's no surprise that adding mustard also makes for a next-level version of béchamel, too.

For a less traditional but wildly fun batch, look to regional spice blends like Old Bay or berbere, a piquant and warming Ethiopian and Eritrean seasoning. To embrace classic French flavors, you can also infuse herbs like dried tarragon, an excellent companion to piquant mustard. Umami-rich tomato powder and pulverized dried mushrooms can bring further hidden depth to the cheese-forward dish.

How Ree Drummond adds stability and creaminess to mac and cheese

Mustard powder is an emulsifier commonly put to use in salad dressings. In macaroni and cheese, it not only lends spiciness and complexity to the flavor but helps strengthen the roux, too. Although it's not the most powerful stabilizing agent, its innate balancing effect can only help prevent the fats in the cheese and butter from breaking.

Whole-grain mustard is an even stronger emulsifier, but it also packs a bigger punch to the palate and more texture compared to the yellow powder. For that reason, cooks should be thoughtful about the balance of flavors before swapping in the wet ingredient. If you're concerned the cheesy coating will break into watery or greasy blobs, pull another move out of celebrity Ree Drummond's playbook.

Drummond uses an egg to further enrich and thicken her macaroni and cheese. She carefully tempers the mix before introducing them to the hot roux. The result is a creamy noodle coating with even more heft — thanks to the yolks — and more assurance that the dish can handle changes in temperature and water as it heats and reheats.