The secret to crisp breadcrumbs on top of a baked dish

Golden and crunchy: Jill Dupleix's mac and cheese recipe.
Golden and crunchy: Jill Dupleix's mac and cheese recipe. Photo: Edwina Pickles

How do you get the breadcrumbs on top of a baked dish crisp?  R. Gunn

The secret to browning the crumbs on chicken, or any dish topped with breadcrumbs, is making sure the bread you're making the breadcrumbs from is a little dry. A loaf that is several days old will have lost a little moisture. Blitz the crumbs in a food processor then toss through a little oil. The oil will heat in the oven, "fry" the bread and bring about the Maillard reaction that sees amino acids and sugars form new compounds when heated. Good airflow is also important, so make sure the top of the dish is not covered, and that the dish is in the middle rack of the oven. If all else fails, turn on the grill function and give your crumbs a quick blast under the top element of the oven.

If you still have leftover crumbs, here's a recipe for the best roast chicken and stuffing sandwiches ever. Take three slices of sourdough bread and blitz into rough crumbs. Mix with several tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs. Season with salt and pepper and several tablespoons of olive oil. Toss. Sprinkle half over a roasting tray. Top with six chicken thigh fillets and season with salt and pepper. Pour over a cup of chicken stock and ¼ cup of white wine. Top with remaining breadcrumbs. Cook at 200C fan-forced for 30 minutes. Remove. Allow to cool. Cover and refrigerate. The next day chop the chicken, cooked breadcrumbs and jellied stock. Mix with several tablespoons of mayonnaise. Add chopped fresh parsley. Butter good, soft, white bread. Spread over the chicken mix and cut into quarters. The crumbs on top of the chicken will be crunchy and golden – the roasting will cause the oil in the bread to fry the bread to crisp and golden.

Broadbill (swordfish) belly bacon and eggs from Sydney restaurant Saint Peter.
Broadbill (swordfish) belly bacon and eggs from Sydney restaurant Saint Peter. Photo: Supplied

​I saw swordfish pancetta the other day. Do I file this away with "mylk'' and vegan meat? S. Richards

Pancetta is cured rolled pork loin. The word pancetta comes from the Italian pancia, meaning belly. We get the word paunch from the Latin root, pantic. Now, if the cured swordfish was made from the fattier swordfish belly then, possibly, it could be called pancetta. Perhaps. Then again, around the Mediterranean you do find a lot of salted, dried fish. Since the times of the Phoenicians, tuna have been hunted as they pass through the Straits of Gibraltar, then cured. In the south of Spain, loins of tuna are still salted and air dried for several months. This is called mojama (pronounced: moh-hahm-ah). Sliced finely mojama is rich tasting, meaty, packed with umami and often served with olive and almonds. And sherry. Perhaps they could call it swordfish mojama. I am going foraging for mushrooms.

How do I know if a mushroom is safe to eat? K. Gribbins

You won't. Not unless you've spent years in the bush and the exotic forests identifying the difference between the edible and the deadly. I used to forage but the rise of toxic exotic fungal species in recent years, particularly in urban parks, means I rely more and more on experts. One of them is Alison Pouliot. Her workshops are more about understanding the ecology than what you can and can't eat – but they are mind blowing. She runs her workshops in regional Victoria and NSW during autumn and winter (alisonpouliot.com). As an aside, I remember walking through the bush with my then five-year-old daughter and we came across an Amanita muscaria or Fly Agaric, the red fairy tale toadstool with white dots. I said to my daughter it was poisonous. She pointed to the slugs eating thorough its skin and she asked, "Why aren't they dead?" I still have not been able to find an answer.

Send your vexing culinary conundrums to brainfood@richardcornish.com.au or tweet to @realbrainfood.