What’s more nostalgic than peeling open a piping hot TV dinner straight from the microwave? Whether you were a latchkey kid looking for an easy meal, or just someone who enjoyed getting a steamy whiff of classic neon orange macaroni and cheese from time to time, the comforting TV dinner was always there, standing by in the freezer for when you needed it most.
Chef Nysesha Arrington remembers these moments well, which is why she decided to attempt a homemade version of Stouffer’s Salisbury steak with a side of macaroni and cheese. In her version, short rib steak, beef chuck, and filet trim are ground fresh, molded into a patty and cooked in a roux made from wild foraged mushrooms; Arrington uses shiitakes, oyster mushrooms, maitakes, and hon-shimeji. “Stouffer’s definitely didn’t use [these mushrooms],” she says, “but I have to chef-ify it somewhere.”
For the creamy macaroni and cheese sauce, Arrington uses freshly grated cheddar cheese, nutmeg, milk, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and most importantly, cheddar cheese powder for that unique (and necessary) highlighter-orange hue, which gives her “childhood vibes.”
After everything has been prepared, Arrington demonstrates how to plate, seal, freeze, and reheat the meal so that you can have your own arsenal of home-cooked TV dinners in your freezer for whenever the craving arises.
“It’s such a comforting dish,” Arrington says as she peels away the plastic to taste her creation. “I think it’s an awesome way to really elevate such a simple, classic, almost ‘lowbrow’ dish using hamburger meat, which is fairly inexpensive, but elevating it by the technique.”
Salisbury Steak TV Dinner Recipe
For the Salisbury Steak:
1 pound chuck
½ pound short rib
½ pound beef filet trimmings (if your butcher doesn’t carry trimmings, substitute with chuck)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 small yellow onion, brunoised
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 teaspoon mustard powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, divided
¼ cup ketchup
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped, plus extra for garnish
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 garlic clove
3 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
For the Mac & Cheese:
8 ounces elbow macaroni
2½ cups whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup cheese powder
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
Step 1: First, chill and grind the meat.
If grinding your own meat, place your grinder’s meat grinding and plate attachments in the freezer at least 2 hours in advance of using.
About 1 hour before using, break down the larger cuts of meat into 1-inch cubes. Place the cubed meat in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill in the fridge for about 30 to 35 minutes.
While the meat is chilling, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Season with 1 teaspoon salt. Set aside to cool.
Right before grinding, fill a large bowl with ice and add a little bit of water. Nestle a smaller bowl on top of the ice to catch the meat as it comes out of the grinder. Attach the chilled meat grinder to your machine with the coarse plate.
Remove the chilled cubed meat from the fridge and begin to feed it through the machine, using the coarse plate attachment, into the chilled small bowl. Next, take the ground meat and run it through the machine a second time, utilizing the fine plate attachment.
Step 2: Next, make the patties.
In a large bowl, combine the ground meat, mustard powder, garlic powder, ½ teaspoon of ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon salt, cooled cooked onion, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, egg, parsley, and thyme. Mix gently but thoroughly with your hands. Divide the mixture into five equal parts and form patties, about 6-7 ounces each. Place in the fridge to chill for 15 minutes.
Step 3: While the patties are chilling, brown the mushrooms.
In a large cast-iron pan over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of butter and the mushrooms. Place one garlic clove on a fork and use the fork to season the pan while mixing the mushrooms. Once the mushrooms are caramelized and golden, remove them from the pan to a plate and set aside.
Step 4: Cook the patties and make the sauce.
Add 1 tablespoon of butter and the canola oil to the pan and return to medium-high heat. Sear off the patties, about 6-8 minutes per side.
In the meantime, warm the beef stock in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.
Remove the patties from the pan to a plate and set aside. Strain the oil from the pan into a bowl with a small strainer, and wipe the pan clean with a tea towel. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the strained oil to make the sauce, reserving the rest for another purpose.
Add 2 tablespoons of the strained oil and 1 tablespoon butter to the cleaned pan over medium heat, then sift in the flour and whisk until smooth. Slowly pour in the warmed beef stock, whisking constantly. Cook for about 2 minutes, until the gravy begins to thicken, then add the remaining 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and the remaining ½ teaspoon pepper. Place the patties in the pan and coat with gravy. Continue to cook on low for about 10 minutes. Add the cooked mushrooms, mixing to combine.
Step 5: While the sauce is simmering, make the mac and cheese.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the macaroni for about 5 minutes, then drain.
While the pasta water is heating, warm the milk in a small saucepan. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, then sprinkle with flour and whisk to make a roux. Gradually add 1½ cups warm milk, whisking constantly. Once the sauce has started to thicken, about 5 minutes, add the grated cheddar, cheese powder, nutmeg, cayenne, and salt. Add the drained macaroni, mixing gently to combine. If desired, add the remaining 1 cup of warm milk to finish.
To freeze, fill 5 plastic microwave-safe containers each with 1 steak and about ½ cup mac and cheese. Top the steak with the mushroom gravy and parsley, then cover and freeze. Reheat for 5 minutes in the microwave, turning the container halfway through.
Molly J. Smith is a photographer based in Portland, Oregon
Recipe tested by Marisa Robertson-Textor