Basically the bees’ knees: how to make croutons and what to do with them
“It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary.”Paulo Coelho
Sometimes the simplest things are best. Bread is pretty simple, and croutons are a pretty simple thing to do with bread.
One of the most useful things to be able to do in the kitchen is to make croutons. Anyone with a frying pan, some oil, some salt, and some aged bread can make them.
They provide flavour, they provide crunch, and they provide quick and speedy carbs. They enable you to avoid wasting bread. Basically they are a culinary bees’ knees.
Croutons can be on the large side – whole slices of a baguette, draped in melting cheese, served on top of a steaming French onion soup; or spread with mustard, and laid spread-side down on a hearty beef stew: or, again spread with mustard, as Magnificent Mustard Morsels, as a sort of side-for-salads.
Stretching the definition a little, there is even the possibility of squares, or quarter slices, of toasted cheese. You will find that, in spite of the Italian phobia of cheese with fish, pieces of toast bearing melted emmental go well with a hearty fish stew.
But more often, however, they are smaller – golden, crunchy cubes of about about 1”/2 cm.
Croutons is a French word. Theirs still has a circumflex – croûton – which indicates a lost ‘s’, and indeed the original meaning is really ‘crust’. So, for heaven’s sake, don’t bother to take that off. Use whatever bread you have to hand, and use all of it, crusts included. A dish prepared à la Grenobloise (as they do in Grenoble) has a garnish of small croutons along with beurre noisette, capers, parsley, and lemon.
There’s no recipe for making croutons – the amount of oil you need depends entirely on the type of bread you are using and how dry it is. The herbs you use depend on what you have growing outside or inside your kitchen at the time.
But there is a broad method. Here it is:
Method for making croutons
- Get a large frying pan hot while you quickly cube whatever bread you have.
- Add the cubes of bread to the pan, and pour all over them some oil. I usually use olive oil.
- Sprinkle over some salt, and grind over some pepper.
- At this point you have a choice of other things to add:
- If you have some garlic – especially any that needs using up – don’t bother to peel etc, simply crush with the nearest thing to a cosh which you have to hand (a rolling pin will do), and add to the pan (remove at the end of the cooking process).
- You can sprinkle over some Spanish sweet smoked paprika, or some chocolatey Urfa pepper flakes.
- If you have any woody herbs – rosemary, thyme….add whole sprigs – again, remove at the end of the cooking process.
- You can throw in handfuls of dried herbs.
- You can also throw in some nuts – walnuts work particularly well with rye bread croutons and some blue cheese – Fourme D’Ambert.
- Stir well, and once the cubes have turned golden, serve, ideally, immediately. You can, however, make these ahead of time and store in an airtight container where they will keep for a week or so (not in the fridge), but you will need to revive them with a bit more hot oil in the frying pan before serving them.
Uses of croutons
You can throw croutons into almost anything, but the two main uses for these cubes are:
- Thrown into all kinds of salads
- Sprinkled over soups, which additional cheese crumbled over them which melts over the hot soup. This doesn’t work so well with very hard cheeses such as Parmesan. For my money the best choice is a Forme d’Ambert…but again, this whole exercise is about reducing waste, so some old mouldering stilton will go well over a steaming plate of croutoned broccoli soup.
But use your imagination. Croutons go well with all kinds of things – try:
- With Soft Mozzarella in Salami Envelopes.
- Instead of the traditional rolls, with a floppy, creamily-dressed English lettuce salad, with Pav Bhaji.
- Or, make dark rye bread croutons and add them to a North Wind and The Sun Rye Bread Salad.
- With Sparkling Jellied Ham