A Happy Home Crumbing
By Ann Ogden
Breadcrumbs are one of those useful kitchen staples that most people think about only when they make stuffing at Thanksgiving. That short, seasonal focus is so wrong. Fresh breadcrumbs are a boon to the health-conscious cook in a myriad of ways. They bulk out burgers, meatballs and meatloaf, make a crispy topping for gratins, and give oven baked fish and chicken the satisfying crunch that usually only comes with deep frying.
If you eat bread, and have a food processor, blender, or coffee grinder in your kitchen, breadcrumbs are something you don’t need to buy. Anytime you have leftover heels of your wholegrain loaves, or if you have a loaf or a baguette that has gone a bit stale, you have breadcrumbs waiting to happen. Just dice the leftovers and grind them on a coarse setting in the food processor, then pop them into a Ziplock bag. Bread freezes really well, so store your homemade breadcrumbs in the freezer for future use. If you make a habit of doing this, and keep topping up your frozen stash, you will never be without. If you like, get fancy and keep one bag for whole-wheat crumbs and another for white.
Another excellent reason to make homemade breadcrumbs is that they’re cheaper and healthier than store-bought versions. The homemade version doesn’t have the added salt and synthetic flavorings that so many commercial brands contain, plus the texture – which you control – can be much better for cooking. Most commercially made breadcrumbs are as fine as dust. And that high-priced cubed bread sold for stuffing at the artisan bakery? It’s made from the same stale diced bread you can use to make your own crumbs. It seems silly to pay a premium price for something you already have. However, there is one exception. Though we hardly ever buy breadcrumbs at Cook for Your Life, when we do it’s always Japanese Panko. These flaky crumbs give baked fish and chicken a wonderful crispness.