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Why I Love Store-Bought Crackers

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I have a deep affinity for crackers. Not gourmet varieties, or even homemade, but good old Plain Jane, everyday crackers, be it Captain’s Wafers or saltines—and especially any kind that comes two to a pack.

I don’t think anyone needs a reason to like crackers, but my fondness, I am certain, begins with my childhood memory of inexpensive family restaurants and sit-down pizza joints that bring cracker baskets to the table instead of bread. I love the cracker basket—who in their right mind doesn’t? They hold something for everyone after all. Remember those crunchy breadsticky thingys, the sesame rounds, or the oblong crackers shaped like flattened capsules all wrapped up, by twos, in cellophane?

Oyster crackers living their best life.
Oyster crackers living their best life. Photo by Julia Gartland

Wandering along my merry way as we do in life, I eat crackers. I eat crackers without much thought. I eat buttery, rectangular crackers wrapped in thinly sliced bacon and then baked. I learn it is okay to pair a martini with saltines topped with pickled bologna and American cheese because they are a match made in heaven. I will never forget having Georgia cracker salad and realizing it is nothing more than a tomato, mayo, and white bread sandwich on steroids. And my favorite, I use all kinds of crushed crackers as croutons for my salad. To this day, every time I walk past a stick of butter I can’t help but want to drag a saltine down the length of the stick before popping it into my mouth, the perforations at the edges of the cracker leaving the soft butter to look like a perfectly raked zen garden.

I have always underestimated the power of the cracker because for the most part I always think of them as nothing more than a tasteless foil for other flavors, which is not true. They are more than that. The cracker can add creaminess when combined with wet ingredients or a needed crunch when exposed to dry heat and they absorb the flavor and aroma of anything they touch.

Cracker Eggs

Cracker Eggs by savorthis

Ritz Cracker-Crusted Bluefish

Ritz Cracker-Crusted Bluefish by Posie (Harwood) Brien

It was at culinary school though that I recognized fully the cracker’s utilitarianism: they are more than appetizers, they are the mother of necessity used for so many creations. In a pinch, I have used ground crackers for breading fish instead of panko breadcrumbs, or as a binder in green tomato casserole or crab cakes, and for that matter in meatloaf and forcemeat, too. I would never have imagined polenta made from matzo, but the Union Square Cafe did and even published the recipe in their cookbook. I have even used them in a recipe for a Sardinian type of lasagna, which calls for crackers in place of traditional noodles.

Crackers are friendly even if they live a life of the nondescript and even though we don’t always know why we like them we do. The next time I buy a box of saltines I am going to remember there is so much more to the box than simply crushing a handful over my bowl of chicken noodle soup.

Three Onion Chowder with Parsleyed Oyster Crackers

Three Onion Chowder with Parsleyed Oyster Crackers

thirschfeld thirschfeld
Serves 4 to 6

For the Soup:

  • 3 ounces pancetta, 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 cups yellow onion, peeled and julienned
  • 2 leeks, rinsed, white parts only, sliced into half moons
  • 4 shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 1/3 cup celery, 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 3 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 tablespoon Italian parsley, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Parsleyed Oyster Crackers

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 cup oyster crackers
  • 1 tablespoon Italian parsley, minced
  • Fine sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Go to Recipe
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

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