I had three goals for my Instant Pot queso macaroni and cheese: make it easy, make it cheesy, make it Texas as heck. And for that I turned to breakfast sausage, a go-to queso meat choice for tailgaters and a favorite “secret” queso ingredient for slow cookers across the state. If this sounds like an odd choice to you, don’t worry—the final product doesn’t taste particularly breakfast-y. Instead, the sausage flavor matches the spice and cheese quite nicely.
There are a few reasons to cook your macaroni and cheese in the Instant Pot other than ease (although it is very easy). The sausage mixture holds the pasta above the bottom of the pot so you don’t trigger the dreaded “burn” error, and it also infuses the pasta with flavor. In turn, the pasta lends its starch to the cooking liquid to help the sauce along once the cheese is added in. The evaporated milk and eggs are a classic trick for a roux-free stovetop macaroni and cheese sauce that’s silky smooth—and, of course, the classic queso ingredient of processed cheese helps here too.
This is great served immediately but also reheats well. Once it cools and is refrigerated, the sauce will harden and the pasta will seem dry—it should loosen as it reheats, but feel free to add a touch of milk. As noted in the recipe below, you can also use this as a shortcut to baked pasta, if that’s more your idea of a good time. And for the vegetarians out there, just leave out the sausage and start at step two and add a good-sized glug of cooking oil.
This one is spicy, so it’s probably not for heat-intolerant kids, although hey—as tiny Texans, they’re going to have to get used to spice at some point. (If not, check out this pimento mac and cheese recipe.) And if you really love spice, try adding a 3.5-ounce can of chipotles in adobo sauce or a drained 4-ounce can of diced green chiles when you add the tomatoes.
Instant Pot Queso Macaroni and Cheese
1 pound spicy breakfast sausage
½ onion, diced small
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 10-ounce can diced tomatoes with chiles, such as Ro-Tel
1 pound medium-sized shell pasta
3 cups water
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1 tablespoon of your favorite hot sauce
2 cups (8 ounces) cubed processed cheese, such as Velveeta
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheddar
1 cup chopped cilantro (optional)
Salt and pepper
- Set Instant Pot to sauté. Brown the sausage, stirring to break it into smaller clumps, about 5 minutes.
- Add onion and garlic. Cook until softened, about 3 minutes, stirring and scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan (be thorough).
- In this order: add tomatoes and stir to combine. Add pasta, do not stir. Add water, do not stir.
- Place lid on Instant Pot and set to high pressure for 4 minutes, with the “keep warm” function on.
- In a bowl, whisk together evaporated milk, hot sauce, and eggs. Set aside.
- Let the pressure come down naturally for 5 minutes, then release the pressure manually. You may want to drape a kitchen towel over the pressure valve as there may be some spray. Remove lid.
- Stir in the evaporated milk mixture. A handful at a time, add the processed cheese, and then the cheddar, stirring. The sauce should thicken as the eggs warm.
- When the sauce is smooth and creamy, turn off the heat, stir in the cilantro if using, season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.
Note: This recipe can also be used as a make-ahead shortcut to baked macaroni and cheese. Change the pasta cook time to 3 minutes at high pressure and complete recipe. When finished, pour into a greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Top with additional cheese as desired, or breadcrumbs tossed in melted butter. This can then be refrigerated, covered, for up to 3 days. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees until cheese is bubbling and the surface is lightly browned, 30–40 minutes.