It’s Time to Celebrate the Saltine

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It’s Time to Celebrate the Saltine

When I was growing up, saltines were an absolute staple in our house. My parents would buy a big box of them from Sam’s Club, probably enough to keep our family of four full for at least a week if we ate nothing else. They would make an appearance whenever we ate soup, whenever my dad would eat his stinky saltines from a tin and whenever we were craving a crunchy topping but didn’t happen to have any croutons in the pantry. They were at their most indispensable when someone in the family was sick and couldn’t force down a real meal; more than chicken soup, we ate saltines.

But after I moved out, I stopped eating saltines entirely. I didn’t actively dislike them or anything, but I just didn’t see the point in spending my limited money on largely flavorless, uninteresting crackers. They were boring. They were a blank canvas. And with my limited cooking skills at the time, I didn’t see any potential for them.

I’m glad I’ve grown and matured as a person because I now see what a valuable ingredient the humble saltine can really be. Sure, it can be used as a simple companion to a bowl of soup, but it can be so much more than that. I was reminded of this recently when I came across this recipe for spicy fire crackers from Saveur editor Ellen Fort. The recipe instructs you to marinate the crackers overnight in a spice-infused oil before baking them to browned, crispy perfection.

These crackers are a delicious snack, and you should definitely make them if you’ve never tried well-seasoned saltines before; they may just make you rethink crackers as a food item. But even if you never end up making these crackers for yourself, I think this recipe can teach us a valuable lesson: that even the plainest, cheapest, most basic of foods can become something special when they’re treated with care and intention.

Another context in which saltines are truly allowed to shine is this tomato cracker salad recipe from Spicy Southern Kitchen. It’s essentially like a panzanella, but instead of using stale bread, you utilize saltine crackers instead. The first time I ever tried this recipe was on a July afternoon, and I was in my air conditioning-less kitchen, hungry but insistent on avoiding anything that would even slightly heat the house up any more. I was surprised that such a simple combination of ingredients could result in such a delicious, satisfying lunch.

There are countless other uses for saltines. You can crush them up and use them as a crunchy coating for meat or tofu. They can be used to create a chunky, salty pie crust. You can even cover them with ground meat, cheese and fresh toppings to create a makeshift nacho situation.

Moral of the story? Saltines are an overlooked staple that deserve their due. Just because they may be plain on their own doesn’t mean they don’t have nearly limitless potential in the kitchen. These days, I follow in my parents’ footsteps and buy the big box of saltines so there’s always a sleeve available when I need one. I use them in a range of recipes now, but they’re still my go-to when I’m sick and want a taste of home.

Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.

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