How To Add A Crispy Finish To The Top Of Your Lasagna, According To Michael Symon

A bubbling pan of lasagna is a nostalgic treat for many, conjuring memories of childhood dinners served family-style, where everyone helped themselves to the hot, meaty, saucy layers. But the absolute best part of lasagna — the part worth fighting for — has always been the crisp, cheesy, golden-brown crust, especially those crunchy corners.

Iron Chef Michael Symon is no exception. Symon told Food & Wine that he has "yet to find" a lasagna he believes can hold a candle to his mother's. Such is his affection for the family recipe that "Mom's Lasagna" is even a dish he has put on the menu at Angeline, his classic Italian restaurant in Atlantic City. It would even be his choice for a last meal!

The secret? To make lasagna, Symon constructs layers of meat sauce, pasta noodles, and a cheese mixture that features ricotta. To create that coveted crispy topping, he uses a blend of mozzarella cheese and Parmesan. The dish is then baked, with foil employed to help form the perfect crust.

Use a mix of cheeses for the ultimate crispy topping

Michael Symon tops his lasagna with freshly grated mozzarella and Parmesan to get the topping just right. Grating fresh mozzarella can be challenging due to its soft texture, but try to resist using pre-shredded cheese. A useful tip is to freeze the mozzarella for 30 minutes before grating it, which results in evenly shredded cheese that melts more uniformly. Adding freshly grated Parmesan cheese alongside creamy mozzarella imparts a sharp, salty, savory flavor to the lasagna's crust, adding depth to the dish.

The size of the lasagna pan is important — Symon prefers to bake his lasagna at 350 degrees Fahrenheit in a 9 x 13-inch casserole pan to ensure the dish cooks evenly. He also employs a method his mother taught him to achieve the ultimate crispy finish: topping the lasagna with foil as it bakes. This technique allows the cheese to melt without burning and prevents the lasagna from drying out, while still achieving that crispy, golden finish. If additional browning and crisping are desired, the oven can be switched to the broiler setting to quickly finish the job.

More ways to elevate your lasagna topping

Since the best part of lasagna is the crunchy topping, you can cheat a little to ensure everyone gets some, rather than confining it mainly to the edges or corners. Toasting grated Parmesan separately and sprinkling it over the entire top of the lasagna before serving means there will be plenty of crispy goodness to go around.

Experimenting with different cheeses for the topping can also introduce new flavors to the finished dish. Pecorino Romano or Grana Padano can substitute for Parmesan, while provolone can replace mozzarella, adding nuttier, buttery notes.

Another way to add extra crunch is to top your lasagna with pangrattato (crispy breadcrumbs) before baking it. While pangrattato is sometimes called the "poor man's Parmesan," it certainly doesn't feel like a second-rate addition. It's a great way to use up stale breadcrumbs and can be a worthy complement if you're seeking extra crispiness. For even more flavor, the breadcrumbs can be toasted with garlic, herbs, or chili.