“I think your croutons are better than Panera’s.”–My favorite 10-year-old, while sprinkling sup-par croutons on tomato soup
There are two secrets to great cooking: great ingredients, and attention to detail.
Croutons are a detail. They’re small, almost inconsequential, but when they’re done right, they can elevate a salad, taking it from something you might find at a mediocre mid-level chain restaurant to something truly special, something prepared with love.
The croutons from a bag make me sad. They’re dry. They’re pointless. They’re unnatural. They quite literally cannot be pierced by a fork, and there is something really wrong with that.
I was going to post a picture of sad, store-bought croutons in a bag, but I didn’t want to compromise the artistic integrity of my blog. Instead, let’s discuss the way to elevate a salad with crunchy and delicious homemade croutons. They take about two minutes to make, but pack a big impact. They are a simple way to make the people at your table feel like you really worked hard to make this salad special for them–and, by going to the trouble of making these croutons, you did.
Great croutons begin with great bread. I love to make homemade bread, and I’m always storing left-over bread in the freezer. I’ve found that frozen bread makes the best croutons because it gets the sharpest edge when diced. Variety of the bread is subjective: baguettes make a crustier crouton; ciabatta makes a chewier crouton. For a flaky, buttery, crispy crouton, challah is my favorite.
The second but equally important crouton detail is the butter. I always use Kerrygold salted butter. There’s just something about those grass-fed Irish cows; they really could teach our American cows a thing or two.
Besides great bread and delicious Irish butter, I just use coarse salt and fresh cracked pepper on my croutons. (My favorite pepper is Bourbon Smoked Pepper from Bourbon Barrel Foods. I use this pepper on everything). Depending on the ingredients of the salad, you could get creative with different herbs and spices–maybe cumin or coriander for a salad that will accompany a Middle Eastern-style meal, or sage to use on a salad for a traditional Thanksgiving feast.
Easy Homemade Croutons
- 4 slices frozen bread, diced
- 2 Tbsps. Kerrygold salted butter
- Coarse salt
- Fresh cracked Bourbon Smoked Pepper
- Optional: herbs or seasonings of your choice
Heat cast iron skillet and melt butter. Add diced bread and season with salt and pepper. Sauté 1-3 minutes, until croutons are crispy but not burnt, adding a little more butter if the skillet seems too dry. When croutons are crispy, immediately transfer them to a plate to cool. Once cool, croutons can sit for a few minutes or a few hours before serving. They can probably be stored in an airtight container for later, but mine never last that long!