This Crunchy Salad Topper is Why I’ll Never Eat Croutons Again
Ditch the standard stale bread salad topper, your molars will thank you.
What I’m about to say might offend a lot of people, but it’s something that needs to be said. Croutons are bad. Yup, you heard me. Everybody’s beloved salad topper is, in fact, not good. And when I say croutons, I mean all croutons. Whether it’s a homemade, baked crouton from day-old, artisanal sourdough or just a bag of store bought croutons, I firmly believe that they are all bad.
Why do I feel so strongly that croutons are a poor addition to any salad? I’ll tell you why—because they are simply unpleasurable to eat. I have no interest in consuming a stiff shard of bread that is inevitably going to scrape the roof of my mouth and put all of my molars under an immense amount of stress. I find croutons to be extremely disruptive to my salad consumption. They are too big, too stale, too hard, and lacking any substantial flavor, so I do not understand why we, as a society, still accept them as a valid salad component.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s back up for a second. First, I LOVE bread and it should always be used to its fullest potential. Second, I believe that varying textural components make for a well rounded salad. And lastly, since you’re probably all wondering, I LOVE Caesar salad. As a kid, I obviously ate croutons because every child knows that this is the only reason to eat salad in the first place. So you’re probably wondering, what’s the answer to my strong aversion to croutons whilst loving bread, texturally rich salads, and a classic Caesar? Toasted bread crumbs, that’s what!
So here’s the deal—what bread crumbs and croutons share in common is that they’re both made from stale bread (remember, I love bread —so even if it’s a few days old, I am still going to find a way to use it). The difference between the two is that one is rustically torn and the other is finely pulverized. I think there is a time and place for rustically torn bread, like panzanella, where the bread is soaked in a dressing or juicy tomato guts, so that the stale toughness of the bread is masked with some moisture. I much prefer a breadcrumb in my salad because the finer texture is way less intrusive than your classic crouton.
Croutons and bread crumbs both add a crunchy, starchy component to any salad (one that I consider to be crucial), however I find breadcrumbs are way more texturally delightful. Sprinkling them atop your entire salad allows you to have a subtle, wheaty crunch with every bite, without having to worry about an enormous mass of rough bread wreaking havoc on your oral cavity. Unlike croutons, toasted bread crumbs are delicious in so much more than just salad. Dust off any pasta, soup, or roasted vegetable situation with a scant handful for a subtle bite and toasty flavor.
I like to make a big batch of toasted breadcrumbs and store them in an airtight container so that I have them on hand whenever I need a spoonful. Over medium-low heat in a skillet, I heat up some oil or butter and add equal parts breadcrumbs and Panko (I like the coarser texture of Panko, but you can make yours entirely with fine breadcrumbs if you prefer). You should have enough fat in the pan so that all of the breadcrumbs look slightly moistened. To this, I’ll season with salt and pepper and finish it all off with some lemon zest and juice for a kick of acid. If your heat is too high, the breadcrumbs will burn before you have a chance to save them, so make sure to go low and slow in order to achieve a nice, golden brown color throughout. Take ‘em off the heat and sprinkle them on your salad immediately, or let ‘em cool and save ‘em for a rainy day. Whatever you do, just don’t go ruining your next salad with croutons.