This month, Tasting Table celebrates all things salad. Keep your cool with us.
There's something on your counter.
It's that loaf of bread you bought and forgot about, and now its sandwich prospects are toast. Rather than suffer from the guilt of bread neglect, bring your bread back to life by making croutons. It's just as easy (and a lot more delicious) than going the store-bought route. Though there are myriad ways to make these crunchy salad add-ons, we've narrowed them down to the best two methods.
Our food editor, Andy Baraghani, prefers the skillet method—he almost exclusively makes croutons like Spanish migas. It's best for the bread to be a bit stale, as the moisture that was once there is replaced by delicious melted butter. Start by heating your pan and add your cooking fat, be it butter, oil or a combination of both. If you go with butter, clarified (or ghee) is best: It has a higher smoke point, meaning it can stand up better to high heat.
Add in your bread pieces and toss frequently as they brown on all sides. When you feel they're toasty enough, transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate to cool then give them a heavy hit of salt. These are best eaten immediately or within a day.
If you want your croutons to have a longer life span, you should use the oven method. It dries out the bread more, thus keeping it crispier for longer.
Start by melting your butter on the stovetop over a low flame. Pour it over a bowl of torn bread pieces, tossing them all to coat. Drizzle in a touch of olive oil and lay the pieces out on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake them at 350° for about 10 to 15 minutes, rotating halfway. They harden more as they cool, so make sure to remove them before they feel like little rocks.
Now that you have the methods down, follow these tips for perfect croutons:
Don't be crusty. We suggest removing the crusts before toasting. The crust will always be crispier than the bread inside, resulting in uneven amounts of crunch in your final product. Sure, there's flavor in the crusts, but you won't miss it once your cubes soak up the good stuff (read: butter and oil).
Get even. Consistency is key, because just like with the crust situation, you don't want to bite into a slightly mushy crouton only to break your teeth on the next. Rough edges are fine though—no need to start practicing your knife skills. Simply tear pieces off the loaf like you would any piece of bread into generally uniform bits. As for the overall size, it's up to you. Make a batch of tiny pieces for salad sprinkling or larger, handheld vehicles for scooping dips or pâtés.
Spice up your life. When seasoning, don't stop at salt and pepper. A sprig of thyme, a garlic clove or a bit of citrus zest are flavorful additions. Though lemon is the most common, grapefruit zest is good, too, especially if your salad already contains grapefruit. Spice lovers can add a hit of Espelette pepper, but do so off the heat, so the flakes don't burn.
Whether you go stovetop or oven, butter or oil, you'll give store-bought options a run for their money. Go on and get your crouton.
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