When using bread crumbs, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.
Published June 22, 2022.
Bread crumbs are an important ingredient we use in several very different ways: as a breading, such as on chicken cutlets or fish fillets; as a crunchy topping, such as on casseroles, roasted vegetables, and pasta dishes; and as a binder in meatloaf and meatballs. There are three main styles of bread crumbs. Fresh bread crumbs are made by whizzing slices of bread in a food processor. Plain dried bread crumbs are made by finely grinding loaves of bread. Panko, which hails from Japan, is made by shredding a specific type of crustless white bread. The sizes, textures, and moisture contents of these three styles vary, so we always specify which type to use in our recipes for the best results.
To explore and explain the differences between the styles, we made our own fresh bread crumbs; purchased the leading brands of plain dried bread crumbs and panko; and used them as a breading ingredient (on pan-fried chicken cutlets), as a toasted topping (on baked macaroni and cheese), and in a panade (in meatballs). We compared the results, found our favorite products, and gathered our best tips for when and how to use each style for maximum deliciousness. Here’s what to know.
What to Know: Fresh bread crumbs are light, tender, and coarser than the other bread crumb styles.
How They’re Made: The method is simple: Tear bread into pieces and pulse the pieces in a food processor to the desired size. Sometimes we cut off the crust first and sometimes we don’t, depending on the recipe. For coarsely ground bread crumbs, pulse about 10 times. For smaller crumbs, pulse an additional five times.
How We Use Them: Fresh bread crumbs are ideal in meatballs and meatloaves. When the crumbs are mixed with milk or another liquid, the starch in the bread crumbs absorbs the liquid and forms a paste (also known as a panade) that keeps the meat moist and tender and binds the ingredients together.
Their higher moisture content combined with their larger size also means that fresh bread crumbs made an excellent topping. On the crispness scale, they were crispier than plain dried bread crumbs but not quite as crunchy as panko. They’re ideal for sprinkling over casseroles and other baked dishes, adding nice textural contrast.
When we used fresh crumbs as a breading for fried chicken cutlets, they created a lightly crunchy breading, but because this style of bread crumb is larger and varies more in size than other styles, the breading was patchier and didn’t brown as evenly.
What to Buy: In our recipes we typically call for a hearty white sandwich bread, such as our winner, Arnold Country White Bread ($3.19 for a 24-ounce loa...
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Carolyn is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She's a French-trained professional baker.