Croutons are the little reward we give ourselves for eating a salad.
Of course, you can always use the pebble-like crouton nuggets that come in a box, if you don’t like flavor or your teeth. But if you want croutons worth celebrating, make them yourself.
I began with what is probably the most standard method of making croutons, baking them in the oven. I wanted my croutons to be thick, so I used Texas toast.
It is always best to begin with slightly stale bread, but the loaf I used was fresh. So I started out by toasting the bread very lightly before cutting it.
These I placed on a baking sheet along with olive oil, a pinch of thyme and oregano, plus salt and garlic powder. I tossed them all together, baked them, flipped them and baked them some more for a total of just 10 minutes.
Stove top croutons use the same idea, but the result is lighter in texture, with maybe less crunch. For these, I melted butter into olive oil and lightly sautéed a crushed clove of garlic until it was wonderfully fragrant and lightly brown on both sides.
I discarded the garlic and added thyme, oregano and salt, tossed in the cubes of bread and sautéed until they were done.
I made another batch that was even worse for you. I deep-fat fried them.
I fried two batches; the first at 350 degrees, which is the low end of deep-frying. These cooked quickly, perhaps 20 seconds in all, including flipping them once. But they were greasier than I wanted them to be, so I tried it again at 375 degrees, which is toward the high end of deep-frying.
These were even faster, taking maybe 15 seconds in all. You have to watch them closely and get them out of the oil to avoid overcooking them, but the difference was significant.
Next, I tried something completely different: cornbread croutons
Once you have the cornbread, the rest is anyone-can-do-it simple. A bit of oil, a splash of salt and a few minutes in the oven is all it takes to create impressive croutons that are as delicious as they are unexpected.
The last type of croutons I made are meant for soup, but they are also good in salads, if you aren’t expecting anything crunchy.
Root vegetables, as it turns out, make excellent croutons. I cut a sweet potato into a dice, tossed the pieces in olive oil and then lightly coated them in bread crumbs. Then I roasted them in the oven until they were tender.