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Should You Boil Pasta in Milk?

Some home cooks say the best way to cook pasta for a creamy plate of macaroni and cheese isn’t to add extra cheese, but to boil the macaroni in milk. 

As I was researching the topic, I saw a couple of the websites I trust also endorse that. But I’ll tell you all about that later.

Should you cook pasta noodles in milk, really?

How to Make Classic Mac & Cheese

Before I answer that question, let’s look at the traditional American way for making mac and cheese.

When you’re cooking macaroni for mac and cheese, you usually boil them for 8 minutes in lightly salted water. When the time has passed, you strain the macaroni and discard the cooking water.

While the macaroni cooks, you melt some butter in a saucepan, then stir in flour, salt, and pepper until smooth. It usually takes about 5 minutes to achieve that perfectly smooth consistency.

When you’re there, you slowly pour milk in the saucepan, stirring the sauce continuously and for another 5 minutes or so. To complete the sauce, you add grated Cheddar cheese to the sauce, stirring it until it melts neatly and blends completely with it.

Finally, you mix the macaroni with the milk-and-cheese sauce and serve while hot.

Should You Boil the Macaroni for Mac & Cheese in Milk?

I told you in the beginning of this post that the authors at a couple websites I follow, The Kitchn and Livestrong, had already written about boiling the macaroni in milk instead of water.

Here’s what they wrote.

“Now, you usually add milk later in the cooking process to make cheese sauce,” Kelly Foster of The Kitchn says, “but for an extra touch of creaminess, incorporate the milk at the very beginning of cooking.”

“Cooking noodles in milk pulls the pasta’s starch out into the liquid, thus creating a thick sauce. Add shredded cheese to elbow macaroni cooked in milk and you will create macaroni and cheese,” says Serena Styles for Livestrong.

Some home cooks on Quora and Reddit weren’t really as enthusiastic.

“It makes the pasta too starchy and adds a weird flavor,” one Quora user wrote. “Cook pasta in salty water and always save some cooking liquid in case you need to thin out a sauce.”

“I’m not sure how well boiling your pasta with milk would work out if you didn’t want such a sauce, one Redditor said. “The one time I tried this, it did not seem like the milk would have rinsed off easily.”

Come on, Jim! What’s your final verdict? Should you boil pasta in milk, for mac and cheese or for any other creamy pasta recipe?

If you really want to, why not? As I like to say: your kitchen, your recipes, your rules

Say that you decide to take up the two authors above on their advice the next time you cook up mac and cheese for your household. Here’s a few things to watch out for:

If you use whole milk, the macaroni will rehydrate and cook slower because of the fat contained in the milk. 

Since you’ll be cooking the macaroni on medium heat to keep the milk from scalding, it will take you at least twice as much to cook the pasta than if you used lightly salted water.

I haven’t tried this trick with semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, but my assumption is that it should reduce the cooking time for the macaroni. If you feel like experimenting and try this out, let me and the rest of this post’s readers know how it turned out in the comments section below.

Here’s one useful hack to keep the milk from burning and sticking to your pot. Rinse the inside of the pot with cold water, leaving just enough water to cover the bottom. The water will coat the pot with a protective layer that will keep the milk from sticking to your pot.

How to Cook Macaroni for Mac & Cheese in Milk

  • Rinse the inside of a pot with cold water. Leave just enough cold water to cover the cooking surface on the bottom;
  • In the pot over medium heat, bring whole milk to a boil, stirring it continuously;
  • Once you’ve brought the milk to a boil, add the macaroni to it and add a pinch of salt. Keep stirring the macaroni as they cook in the milk;
  • When the macaroni is cooked through on the inside, but still slightly firm on the outside, strain them—preserving the milk;
  • Melt butter in a saucepan, then stir in flour, salt, and pepper until smooth. Five minutes in, add the milk.
  • Cook, stirring continuously, for another 5 minutes. Then add the grated Cheddar cheese and cook, stirring continuously, for 2-3 minutes.
  • Plate the macaroni and pour the milk-and-cheese sauce on them; then serve.

The Bottom Line

Cooking the macaroni in milk is not really the traditional way to make mac and cheese, but it’s a way to make mac and cheese. If you like the recipe and enjoy the taste, make it yours.

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Written by

Jim is the former editor of Home Cook World. He is a career food writer who's been cooking and baking at home ever since he could see over the counter and put a chair by the stove.