Three different pantry staples.

By Micah A Leal
April 01, 2020
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Skillet Mac and Cheese with Crispy Breadcrumbs
Credit: Hector Manuel Sanchez

Breadcrumbs are most often used in cooking to either coat a vegetable/meat or they are mixed into a meatloaf or casserole to give structure and absorb moisture while in the oven. With this in mind, it’s important to know what the breadcrumbs are doing in the recipe you’re using before you replace them with something else.

Coating Meat/Vegetables

Eggplant parmesan, fried squash, and mac and cheese can all benefit from a layer of buttery herbed breadcrumbs to create a crisp and flavorful exterior to an otherwise soft vegetable or side dish. If you need to replace breadcrumbs that are being used in this way, use crushed cornflakes. Still lending a lot of crunch, cornflakes that are crushed before coating a vegetable or piece of meat soften slightly as they cook and offer a subtle sweetness that pairs well with the addition of dried herbs like parsley, rosemary, and thyme. Use either herbed crushed cornflakes or plain crushed cornflakes in the same way you’d use breadcrumbs to coat a vegetable or cutlet dredged in egg or to top a dish like mac and cheese or broccoli casserole before it goes into the oven.

WATCH: Broccoli Cheese Casserole

Going Inside A Dish

For an ingredient that’s stirred into something like meatloaf or a moist casserole, there are several alternatives. The first is quick-cooking oats or “instant” oats. These oats have been treated to readily absorb moisture and cook quickly, making them an ideal substitute to absorb excess moisture and lend body to an otherwise loose or liquid dish. Replace the amount of breadcrumbs called for in a recipe with twice the amount of oats. Another incredible ingredient that will bulk up a meatloaf or thicken a casserole is cooked rice. Prepare rice per package instructions but cook the rice in equal parts milk and water. This gives the rice extra richness, and the natural starches in the cooked rice will thicken and absorb the liquid in the dish while it bakes. Lastly, crumbled cornbread can be another great alternative to breadcrumbs, offering a little sweetness while soaking up unwanted moisture.