Breadcrumbs are an amazingly versatile ingredient. They can thicken sauces, bind together meatballs or croquettes, and they can serve as a crunchy coating or topping, just to name a few uses.
Dry breadcrumbs are typically used as a topping to add a crunchy textural dimension to gratins, casseroles, and other similar dishes. Fresh breadcrumbs make an excellent binder, which is why they so often show up in meatloaf and stuffing recipes. They're also our second choice, after panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs), for breading and frying.
You can find commercially made dry breadcrumbs in most supermarkets, or make them yourself for more control over the flavor and texture of the crumbs.
To make your own fresh breadcrumbs: cut or tear bread into large pieces, and pulse in a food processor until the crumbs reach the desired consistency.
To make dry breadcrumbs: cut bread into small cubes and bake in a 350ºF oven, turning the cubes a few times, until dry. Cool and then pulse the cubes in a food processor until they reach the desired consistency.
Commercially made dry breadcrumbs will keep for a year at least stored in cool, dry place. Seal homemade breadcrumbs in a zip-top plastic bag and freeze for up to six months. There's no need to thaw frozen breadcrumbs before using.