A crisp layer of golden crumbs will improve almost any savory dish, adding color, crunch and flavor. It’s a mystery to me why they’re so rarely considered an important part of the American pantry.
I blame packaged breadcrumbs for this disrespect. Most began life as sad bread, which gives them an unfortunate tendency to turn soggy at the first opportunity. They bear very little resemblance to the sturdy, crunchy breadcrumbs that come out of your own kitchen.
Homemade breadcrumbs are easy to make, and they’re a quick fix for many dishes; the extra crunch and toasty flavor they give adds intrigue. I love to throw them into sautéed vegetables, to layer them on top of cheese in gratins, sprinkle them on top of thick soups. They’re wonderful for breading veal, chicken or eggplant. The Italians use bread crumbs in place of grated cheese on seafood pasta, which is a great idea (although I’ve been known to gild the lily and use both).
If you want better bread crumbs, here’s how:
- Make it worthwhile to make them—save up your stale ends of bread, throwing them into the freezer until you have enough to make a good batch.
- Grind them in a blender instead of a food processor; it will give you a more uniform texture.
- Make sure your bread is really stale, but not quite saw dust, before grinding for the same reason. If it is not sufficiently stale, dry the cubes in a 200 degree oven for about 15 minutes before grinding, or if it’s really dry, wet your hands and gently rub the bread a bit.
- Be sure to let the crumbs get really crisp and golden in the oven before taking them out.
- Drizzle with olive oil after baking, rather than before, to preserve the fresh flavor of the olive oil.
- Allow the crumbs to cool completely before putting them into containers. This will help them maintain their integrity.
Home Made Bread Crumbs
Cut hard, stale bread into cubes and grind it into crumbs in a blender.
Spread the crumbs onto a baking sheet and toast in a 350⁰ F degree oven for about 20 minutes until they are crisp and golden. Drizzle with olive oil (about a quarter cup for every 2 cups of crumbs), toss well with a fork to make sure that the oil is evenly distributed, season with salt and allow to cool completely before putting into containers.
These will keep in the freezer almost indefinitely; the oil won’t go rancid there. You can reach in and scoop out as many as you want without defrosting the entire lot. Give them a minute in the oven (or even buzz in the microwave for a few seconds) before adding them to a dish, just to take the chill off.