Meet my pantry’s new secret weapon. 
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Salads aren't salads for me without something crunchy on top, and my go-to favorite is the crouton. But I am not a fan of the current trend of huge ungainly "restaurant style" crouton. I like the old-school ¾-inch cube of toasted, unseasoned crouton like you find on salad bars in the big tub. Reese makes my favorite, but the local grocery that used to carry them closed a while back, so I have been ordering them by the case online.

Until last month when they were out of stock. Doing a search on small croutons, I found a new brand called Best Select. A tall canister instead of a bag, but they still looked like a nice small square crouton, so I ordered them. And when they arrived? They were teeny tiny little croutons. Maybe 1/8-inch cubes. Like little dollhouse croutons. My husband and I had a good laugh at my inability to judge scale and put them in the pantry.

But when I started using them? I stopped laughing. Because these things are my new favorite crouton.

Credit: Getty / bhofack2

Why I am in love with mini croutons

These mini croutons are made of a slightly denser stuff than my usual crouton, so they don't get soggy as fast once dressed. They are tiny enough to distribute evenly throughout my salads, so I get a bit of crunch in every bite. But because they are so small, I have started to use them in all sorts of other applications!

How to use mini croutons in recipes beyond salad

Instead of basic breadcrumbs on top of casseroles, these miniature cubes really provide amazing textural balance. I love them sprinkled into soup or on top of chili instead of oyster crackers. Tossing them in butter and using them as a crust on a rack of lamb or pork loin roast, or to coat chicken breasts for baking, gives a crunch that almost feels fried instead of baked. 

I also have been having fun playing with them for canapes and appetizers. I made a version of a Caesar salad by filling endive spears with a Parmesan mousse and topping with a few croutons. I tossed them with olive oil and za'atar and sprinkled them on top of cucumbers stuffed with hummus. And I used them instead of breadcrumbs when making cocktail meatballs where they absorbed the meat juices to keep them tender, but still provided enough structure to make them hold together after a long simmer in the sauce.

Credit: Courtesy Amazon

Best mini croutons to buy: Best Select Mini Croutons

Add all that up, and you can see why these tiny little delights are a big part of my winter cooking in addition to being my salads' best friends. Best Select Mini Croutons come in different flavors beyond Original (Caesar and Onion & Garlic), and you can get regular and whole wheat versions. And coming in a resealable cannister, they stay crunchy longer than boxed versions. Try a combo pack of two to get started! 

To buy: Best Select Mini Croutons Whole Wheat Caesar and Onion & Garlic ($18.99 for 2 pack),