Chef reveals the one ingredient that will change your mac and cheese forever

Mac and cheese is a childhood classic and one of the most iconic of comfort foods, but it can be kind of... well, bland. Also mushy. Even — dare we say it? — slimy. Most mac and cheese recipes benefit from a little extra added something, be it yogurt or buttermilk to make for a tangier, creamier sauce to a cheese upgrade (cheddar, gouda, or Gruyere in place of American) to the addition of some tasty protein in the form of cooked, crumbled bacon, leftover rotisserie chicken, or even lobster if you want to get all fancy.

One ingredient that can add some much-needed texture to your mac and cheese (boxed or scratch-made) as well as providing a flavor boost is breadcrumbs. This is also the most budget-friendly add-in, especially in light of the fact that chef Henk Drakulich, DVP & Executive Chef of La Brea Bakery Café, says store-bought bread crumbs won't do. Instead, Drakulich says, "The key to great breadcrumbs is in repurposing a loaf of bread that's about to go stale."

How to make and add breadcrumbs to your mac and cheese

Yay repurposed leftovers, saving you money, and reducing the amount of household garbage! If you want to know how to make the best breadcrumbs for mac and cheese, take your almost-stale (or already stale — just not moldy) bread and crumble it into what Drakulich calls "crumb-like pieces," meaning something a lot bigger and chunkier than the breadcrumbs you might buy to coat some fried fish. (Queen Elizabeth prefers hers with panko, but these won't do for macaroni.) Toss them with melted butter or vegetable oil before sprinkling them atop your mac and cheese; otherwise, the crumbs may become "too crumbly and dusty" as you bake them. You should also season them with salt and pepper because the bread might add to the pasta's blandness rather than counteracting it.

Drakulich also suggests you "get adventurous and opt for a flavorful loaf," naming his bakery's jalapeno cheddar and garlic breads as products likely to complement the taste of a cheesy dish. If you prefer a more classic, less bold-tasting dish, he says that sourdough is another good choice — and, as a bonus, this use will help you get rid of any too-hard loaves you may have produced before realizing that some viral baking trends are harder than others.