Master the Art of Making Homemade Croutons
Whether you're visiting a salad bar or assembling a combination of mixed greens and seasonal produce in your own kitchen, there's one topping that's impossible to resist: croutons. Their crunchy texture and garlicky flavor make them a delicious contrast against crisp lettuce and sliced vegetables dressed in a tangy vinaigrette. While it's easy enough to find pre-made croutons in the grocery store, we urge you to try making them yourself using crusty bread and plenty of seasoning. This way, there are fewer preservatives, they're less expensive, and it reduces food waste. "You really don't get the touch of salt or crunch that you can get from making them yourself with store-bought croutons. More importantly, if you make croutons at home, you will be using bread that otherwise may have been thrown away," says Adrienne Cheatham, chef at the Institute of Culinary Education. After all, isn't that the Martha way?
Choosing the Right Type of Bread
The right type of bread is often the difference between good croutons and great ones. "The best croutons are light and crispy, so airy bread like sourdough or brioche will make nice, crisp croutons. Breads that are dense with a high-moisture content, like Danish rye and pumpernickel, will work but may just take longer to make," says Cheatham. Of course, an old baguette or loaf of ciabatta bread will work well, too.
How to Make Homemade Croutons
Homemade croutons can either be baked in the oven or toasted in a skillet on the stove; no matter which method you choose, all homemade croutons start with the same process. Toss about four cups of bread cubes with two to three tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, ½ teaspoon of dried spices such as oregano or herbs de provence, and kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. "Dried herbs tend to have a more concentrated flavor, which can impart better flavor on the croutons," says Cheatham. Add a few tablespoons of grated Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese before baking, or a sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley once they're toasted.
To make pan-fried croutons, add the seasoned bread cubes to a pre-heated skillet over medium-high heat. Toss the croutons occasionally until they're crisp and golden brown, about five minutes. To make croutons in the oven, preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the seasoned bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet for about 15 minutes, or until they're golden-brown and crisp.
How to Store Croutons
Unlike other salad ingredients like pre-chopped cucumbers or bell peppers, which can go bad quickly, croutons will last for more than a week when stored properly. Store homemade croutons in a sealed plastic bag or airtight container to prevent them from going stale. If you really want to preserve their crunch, Cheatham recommends tying a handful of rice in cheesecloth and putting that in the container with the croutons; this will help draw moisture away from the bread, so that they stay dry and crunchy.