I'm making tuna casserole today. This is not newsworthy or even unusual. However, a recent series of discussions got me thinking about what makes casseroles such fantastic comfort food. For me, it boils down to the combination of a rich, creamy layer of deliciousness covered with a thin, crunchy layer of more deliciousness on top. Those differences in texture make all the difference in the world to me. And really, achieving that kind of combination isn't hard to do at all. In fact, there are a lot of options.
One of my standards is cheese. Once sprinkled over the top of a casserole, it bubbles, melts, and then becomes a crispy layer of intense flavor. My favorites are sharp, hard cheeses that are grated very finely so that they melt well and crisp up reliably.
Another common favorite is bread crumbs. Whether they are ordinary bread crumbs made from a slice or two you have on hand, or something fancier like panko crumbs, they toast up beautifully in the oven and give you a hearty crunch to your casserole. I'm also a fan of crushing crackers or chips to achieve the same end. You know those last few broken chips at the bottom of the bag? Save them as casserole topping!
Another option is to sprinkle something like bacon over the top of your casserole. If you have bacon bits that aren't already super crispy, they will be by the time you bake them atop your favorite casserole. Make sure you add them after you've drained away any fat or you could end up with pools of bacon fat on your casserole instead of crispy flakes of bacon. I've heard that chopped, cooked chicken skin serves a similar purpose, but I've not tried that. Yet.
Finally, and this is my favorite, you can mix and match the above and other options to make a creative casserole topping all your own! Today's tuna casserole, for instance, includes grated cheese and crushed cheese crackers. It should serve as a great match to the creamy tuna, noodles, and veggies in the layer underneath! What are your favorite ways to top casseroles? I'd love to hear about them!