Besides forcing society to examine what comedy really is, TikTok drives all sorts of discourse, both political and not. But after one user posted a behind-the-scenes look, it has people talking about American bakery Panera’s macaroni cheese, which is reheated from a frozen state to a servile temperature in — horror of horrors — plastic bags.
This is fine. In fact, as someone who cooks a lot of food in similar bags, I’m delighted! There’s no reason to be even mildly scandalised, as all Panera is doing is reheating an already cooked product — something that is very common in the fast food industry — in a constant temperature water bath. If you’re a regular around these parts, you know the method as “precision cooking.”
Precision cooking systems are fantastic meal-planning tools, and this is actually the best possible way for bakeries — or anyone — to reheat macaroni and cheese, as it’s a wonderful, proven method for cooking and/or reheating delicate sauces and custards. Unlike microwave ovens or stove burners, the gentle, temperature-controlled water bath heats the mac in the most even way possible (without supervision), gently coaxing it up to its serving temperature while ensuring the cheesy sauce stays emulsified. There’s no breaking or scorching, just perfectly heated, creamy macaroni.
It’s nothing to be ashamed or or scandalised by, is what I’m saying. In fact, instead of firing the young woman who posted the video, Panera should make like Starbucks, and capitalise on current food trends by rebranding the dish to “Precision Cooked Mac and Cheese,” which sounds fancy and technically is not a lie.
Precision cooking, and Panera’s use of it, is a hack that is definitely not wack, and one we can apply in the comfort of our own homes. Just scoop it into a precision cooking bag, close the bag or clip it to the side of the tub, and reheat in a 60-degree water bath for half an hour or more (depending on how much you’re reheating), agitating the bag needed to speed up the heating process. The only thing I would change about Panera’s is a final broiling step with even more cheese — adding a layer of bubbly, crispy cheese on top of gooey, liquid cheese is perhaps the ultimate mac and cheese hack.