Frequently added before cooking as binder (for meatballs) or a coating (for chicken cutlets), breadcrumbs can be mistaken for something that needs to be cooked. But breadcrumbs are already cooked. They’re bread. They’re delicious, crunchy, and they deserve your attention. Not just as a prep ingredient, but as a finisher.
Serving breadcrumbs alongside a meal makes for a lovely flourish. Think of it like adding croutons to your salad, but super tiny. (And you don’t have to make a salad.) It can help boost the crust of already breaded components that may have lost some texture, or give a desirable crisp to something you never thought you needed crisped. One of the best ways I’ve experienced them was in a meal of strips of braised steak and Brazilian farofa. (Farofa is a “breadcrumb” made from cassava, more on that later.) I wouldn’t normally envision that steak cooked in that way—heavily marinated and drenched in sauce—could have a crisp outer layer. Yet after one taste of a piece adorned with a farofa dip, I was sold.
The most practical ways to apply breadcrumbs to anything are to sprinkle them on top by the spoonful (like a flavorsome fairy dust), or to simply use them as a dip: Scatter crumbs over your plate, or dip forkfuls of food straight into the crumbs. I prefer to use the dipping method for meats because it gives excellent coverage; dip anything that has even a tad of moisture to it, and the crumbs will stick beautifully.
Steamed or pan fried vegetables, rice, grilled chicken, or tofu: If it’s on your plate, it will be better dipped in breadcrumbs. That lovely meatball tastes great, but have you had it as a crunchy breaded meatball? Dunk it! The added benefit is that if for some unfathomable reason you don’t prefer it, you can push aside the dish of breading and continue on with your sad, crunchless, mono-textural meal.
As noted, this post-breading technique can be done with many types of crumbs, including other starches like cassava root farofa, panko, or crushed cracker meal. Make your own crumb dip by tossing your favorite ranch-flavored croutons into the food processor, adding seasonings or fried onions, or just stick with the canister of Italian style breadcrumbs you have in the back of your cabinet.
Finishing with crumbs can bring an already delicious meal to new heights, and also be summoned as a Hail Mary to save disappointingly humid delivery food and make it edible again. Like that chicken sandwich that was described as “crispy” but was distinctly wet when you opened the bag. (I’m talking to you, Popeye’s.)