Saturday, October 4, 2014

Skillet Croutons

Does it ever happen that you've made a salad and you think, gee, "this would be great with a couple crunchy croutons on top," but you don't have any croutons?

It never happens to me. Mostly because I don't like croutons on salads.

Now, don't misunderstand. It's not that I don't like croutons. I like them just fine. I just don't like them with salad. I like them near salad. Or next to salad. Or with soup. But crunchy croutons on top of salad really aren't my thing.

So, when I get a salad in a restaurant that's topped with croutons, I eat the croutons first. Then the salad.

And when I have croutons at home, I eat them as snacks. Or with soup. But not on salad.

Yes, I am weird. This is the first time you're noticing it?

When I first met croutons, way back in my childhood, I thought they were some kind of mystical product that my aunt stuffed into unsuspecting Thanksgiving turkeys, or that restaurants put on top of salads.

I didn't think they were something you could actually make. And they weren't something that mom ever had in the house. Not store-bought, and not home made.

Nope, croutons where something mysterious and rare.

And then I found out that you could slice some bread into cubes and dry them out in the oven to make croutons. Wow! Magic.

But of course, if you're going to be toasting croutons in the oven for all that time it takes them to dry out, you'd better make a huge batch of them. Because the oven is a big place.

And then you have a lot of croutons sitting around.

For one salad? Really?

The final crouton-related AHA moment came when I realized that croutons are just ...


Cube-shaped toast. Perhaps flavored cube-shaped toast. Very dry toast. But really just toast.

And then I realized that  I didn't have to bake the croutons in the oven in big batches. I could make a small batch - a slice at a time - in a skillet.

Wow. It's like ... voodoo!

So, when I got a fancy bottle of sweet almond oil from Emile Noël, I decided to use a little bit of it to toast some croutons.

Conventional wisdom says that you shouldn't use fancy organic virgin cold-pressed oils for cooking. I agree - sort of. To preserve the flavor, those fancy oils are best used for dipping oils, salads, drizzling onto already-cooked foods, or other cold preparations.

For sure you don't want to use those fancy oils or high-heat frying and searing, but gentle heating isn't so bad. Sure, you lose a little flavor, but you don't kill it entirely.

Skillet Croutons

1 thick slice of bread
1 teaspoon sweet almond oil
Seasonings, as desired

You can cut the crusts off the bread or not. Since I was using a tasty home made loaf, I left the crusts on.

Cut the bread into cubes.

Heat the oil gently, making sure it's spread across the bottom of the pan.

Add the bread cubes and quickly toss them around - you don't want them sitting in any oil puddles, or you'll end up with a few pieces that are too oily.

Cook the bread cubes, stirring or tossing regularly, until they are nicely toasted on all sides.

If you like, sprinkle them with whatever flavored seasonings you like.

Serve immediately. They'll be crunchy on the outside and just a little soft and chewy in the center.

These don't store well unless you cook them until they're completely crisp, but I suggest that you make small batches - just as much as you need right away - and gobble them up.

The giveaway (which is now over) was sponsored by Emile Noel. I was not require to also write a recipe post.