Breadcrumbs Are So Much Better Than Croutons
For maximum salad crunchiness, spread the bread around.
When I'm left to my own devices for dinner, there's a 60 percent chance that I'll end up making myself a big salad using whatever produce I have that's closest to reaching its expiration date. A kale Caesar with roasted brussels sprouts is a particular favorite of mine since I almost always have on hand what I need to make a quick Caesar dressing. But no matter what kind of salad I'm assembling, I have one guiding principle: breadcrumbs are better than croutons.
Croutons can be delicious, and I have nothing against them if you prefer big crunchy spots in your salad. But they're hard to evenly distribute throughout a salad, which means that you'll end up with too much or too little. Breadcrumbs, on the other hand, are the ideal vehicle for that extra bit of salt and crunch. You can process them as roughly or finely as you want, depending on the texture you're going for.
While you're throwing together your salad, heat a big pan on the stove, put in enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom of it, and throw a handful of breadcrumbs—about 1/3 to 1/2 of a cup—and toast until they turn golden brown. Season them with salt and pepper, and throw them in your salad after the've been dressed. They'll stick to the leafy greens and give you a tiny crouton in every bite.
If you're buying breadcrumbs for a salad, go for panko. I usually just keep a big bag of homemade breadcrumbs in the freezer frrom various stale loaves, and toast them directly from the freezer. You can keep you own stash with whatever bits of bread you have that are threatening to go moldy—baguettes, English muffins, the big sourdough boule you grabbed on an overambitious Whole Foods run.
If you're making a salad with Parmesan or Pecorino, try borrowing this trick from Alison Roman. When your breadcrumbs are in that golden brown stage of toasting in the pan, shave in some Pecorino or Parmesan directly into the pan, and stir the crumbs until the cheese melts and the breadcrumbs clump into granola-like clusters. It's like having some elements of a perfect grilled cheese sandwich distributed throughout your salad. You may never go back to croutons again.