Croutons are a rescue for stale bread, but there’s no reason for why they so often taste like it. Your salads deserve something better than an afterthought, and here it is - a crouton so delicious you may find yourself shredding vegetables simply as an excuse to eat more of them. The key is in really getting the bread to hold onto flavorful olive oil and butter, and then sautéing them crisp and serving them warm.
Start with a fresh baguette, a hunk of sourdough (easier because you have less crust to cut off), or some sturdy country bread. Stale works too, but not so stale that it’s hard.
Shave the crust off of your bread and tear it into 1½-inch or so pieces. What you want is just enough bread to fit in one layer in a large saute pan, which should be about 3 cups.
Melt 4 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil with a pinch of salt and pepper. This is where you add whatever flavorings that happen to suit you; garlic is great. So are herbes de Provence, fresh basil, a little bit of cayenne - you know what flavors you’re craving. After you’ve infused the butter for a few minutes, let it cool until just warm.
Toss the bread with the butter mixture. Now give it a good squeeze, as if it were a sponge, so that soaks up all the liquid. It should feel soft and wet against your fingers.
Cook the dripping bread bits in the now dry pan, in a single layer over low heat, turning the pieces until they are a beautiful toasty gold and smell so delicious that they’re impossible to resist and you’re snatching them from the pan. Sprinkle them lightly with salt.
Toss the crisp croutons right into the salad, while they’re still warm, and rush the salad to the table. This is important—the contrast of toasty bread and cool greens is one of the things that will make this salad so special.
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