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Breadcrumbs Are Boring: Try These Wild & Crazy Alternatives

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Last week, I was halfway through an impromptu romesco—toasted almonds were in the food processor with chopped tomatoes sautéed with olive oil, minced garlic, crushed dried red chile, tomato paste, and sliced red bell pepper—when I remembered something: Suzanne Goin's romesco calls for a 1-inch-thick slice of fried country bread, which gets pulverized into breadcrumbs in the food processor.

Pssst! There are pretzels in the romesco.
Pssst! There are pretzels in the romesco.

As I looked around my tiny kitchen, where every single pan was already dirty, the thought of frying a single piece of bread to make breadcrumbs was not appealing.

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Grasping for something salty, crunchy, carby, already-cooked, and within arm's reach, I opened the pantry and reached for the bag of pretzels. I threw a handful in the processor and gave it a whirl. It thickened (and seasoned) the mixture. We had romesco, albeit untraditional, for topping roasted vegetables. And the next day, I closed the circle, using the hacked romesco as a dip for even more pretzels.

Breadcrumbs, who needs them! When a recipe calls for crumbs made from stale or fried bread (that is, where you're not looking for bread to provide moisture, but rather crunch and texture), turn to your pantry for possibilities.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

A few things to consider as you experiment:

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  • Don't try using really dry alternatives (like pretzels or tortilla chips) where soft breadcrumbs made from a fresh loaf are called for.
  • Consider salt and flavor levels. If you're using Fritos and Saltines, for example, you'll want to dial down the amount of salt in the recipe.
  • If you're using the breadcrumb substitutes as a filler or binder (rather than as a inessential topping), you might have to play with the quantities. You'll need more whole oats than breadcrumbs, for example; but, if you grind the oats before adding them, you can use a 1:1 substitution.
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Standard breadcrumb alternatives:

  • Wheat germ, like in the crust of Mollie Katzen's Mushroom and Yogurt Pie
  • Oats, whole or pulverized (use them raw or try toasting them first for added flavor)
  • Bran and bran cereals, like All-Bran and oat bran; try it in place of panko on homemade fish sticks
  • Almonds make a great gluten-free breading; grind them in a food processor (or buy almond meal from the store), then use them to coat chicken fingers
And you can't even tell!
And you can't even tell!

Wild and crazy breadcrumb alternatives (and places to use them):

Ready to try it out?

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Pici con le Briciole (Pici with Breadcrumbs)

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Chard Salad with Garlic Breadcrumbs and Parmesan

Chard Salad with Garlic Breadcrumbs and Parmesan by Merrill Stubbs

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One Batch of Bread Crumbs, 5 Dinners

One Batch of Bread Crumbs, 5 Dinners by Brette Warshaw

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How to Make Noodle Kugel Without a Recipe by Sarah Jampel

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How to Make Macaroni and Cheese Without a Recipe

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What's the most creative recipe substitution you've ever made? Brag a little in the comments below!