Herbed croutons make a lovely addition to soups and salads. They add texture, they add bulk and they add flavor. Toast them in the oven or fry on the stove top.
My dictionary defines a crouton as “a small piece of fried or toasted bread served with soup or used as a garnish.” Fried or toasted. “Toasted” means you make make the croutons in the oven; “fried” means you use a frying pan on the stove top.
But why bother making them at home when they are available in most groceries and supermarkets? Control. Over the choice of bread, the amount of oil, the flavor and the level of crispiness. I find most store-bought croutons too dry and dense. I like my croutons light and crisp.
To make herbed croutons, start by cutting day-old bread into one-inch cubes.
Why day-old bread? Two reasons. First, making croutons is a great way to salvage bread that is past its prime. Second, bread that has already lost moisture turns crisp faster.
What kind of bread? Any, truth be told. But crusty ones are especially good. We’re partial to baguette though.
Now, you have the option of making the croutons in the oven or on the stove top. If using the oven, place the croutons in a bowl, drizzle in olive oil, add your seasonings and herbs and toss thoroughly. Spread on a tray and bake in a preheated 325F for 15 to 20 minutes or until dry, browned and crisp. No need to stir.
If preheating the oven is just too much waste of time for you, make the herbed croutons on the stove top. Place the cubed bread in a hot non-stick frying pan. Drizzle with olive oil, add salt, finely chopped herbs (parsley, rosemary, thyme — whatever you like) and spices (ground spices in powder form are especially useful), cook over medium heat until lightly browned, tossing occasionally.
Yes, you have to toss them around. In the oven, every inch of each bread cube gets exposed to the same amount of heat but, on the stove top, the portions that touch the pan will brown faster. Unless you like uneven browning and not-so-uniform crispness, toss the bread cubes during cooking.
If you don’t want the tiny specks of green in your croutons but enjoy herb-y flavors and aromas, you may use herb-infused olive oil (see how to make your own herb-infused olive oil). This is especially effective if serving croutons to picky children who cringe at the sight of vegetables — or whatever look like vegetables, no matter how tiny.
So, it always has to be olive oil? Well, no. A mixture of olive oil and melted butter, in equal amounts, works beautifully too.
How much oil or oil-butter mixture should be used? My standard ratio is one teaspoon of oil or a combo of butter and oil for every cup for bread cubes.
You’ll be amazed at just how much better home made croutons are than store-bought ones.
If you’re wondering about the salad photos in this post, yes, there are recipes that go with them.
Updated from a post originally published in February 22, 2011.