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Monday, November 14, 2011

Homemade Croutons (& Caesar Salad)

This is just something small which I like to do with leftover bread heels.

It's actually very simple, and the result is insanely healthier than 'store-bought' croutons.

Start with your heels, and slice the barest of slivers off the edges (crusts).  It seems weird when the heels themselves are pretty much whole crusts, but you'll see later that we only want one side of the cubes to be crust.

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Next slice these puppies thickly - if your heels are stale, like mine often are by this point, then slicing them too thinly will just make a heap of bread crumbs in your pan.  If you slice them thickly, they'll be better able to withstand a bit of tossing and flipping.  I usually go for about 20 croutons per slice... 4 rows by 5 columns.

So, the key to these isn't just the toasting bit, but the herbs bit.  Depending on your mood, you can use pretty much any European-style herb and it will work.  Some of the herbs I've used in the past, are: rosemary, basil, fennel, oregano, chives, chervil, savory, parsley, etc.
They all work, but of course you've got to throw in a bit of salt and pepper with them as well.  

In this instance, I had some fresh oregano, so that was getting diced, and a fair bit of it too!
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Then, we crisp the oregano a little bit by sauteing it in a pan with a bit of other flavours (salt and pepper).  

Now... let me just say that garlic powder is an awful thing.  There's no nutrient value, and it is relatively bland and tasteless compared to the real thing.  If you've followed me at all, or read any of my other posts, you'll know that fresh, real garlic is a mainstay in almost all my cooking, and I always have a bulb or two on-hand. 
That said, I do like garlic powder for two things: garlic bread, and croutons.  When I have the time, I'll infuse the oil with some fresh, minced, garlic, and then strain the garlic from the oil before frying the bread or croutons.  This is the preferred method.  And if company is coming, this is what happens.  However, if it's just me, or me and my wife, then that is a rather tedious extra step, which is so very shortened by using garlic powder.  Just a dash, mind you.  Too much and the mixture becomes acrid.

So, in a pan, we've got the oregano, and a pinch of salt, black pepper, and garlic powder, frying on medium-low with a tablespoon or so of canola oil.

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Throw in the cubes, and give them a good tossing about, getting them all nicely coated.

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Next, is an important, although wholly annoying, step.  Once all the cubes have soaked up most of the oil mixture, carefully flip them all so that the non-crust side is down and frying.  We're actually not even going to toast the crust side, nor any of the other sides, for that matter.  
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It can take a minute or two, but it is worth it.

This really only takes a few minutes (I'd say less than 5), and you should be able to smell it when it's done.  The toasting oreganofied bread is a delightful smell.

As with any toasting, even on medium-low heat, they can go from done to over-done in the blink of an eye, so get them out of that hot pan as soon as they're ready.

I have put them directly on my salad at this stage, before, but sometimes they can unpleasantly warm the whole salad a little bit, so it doesn't hurt to let them cool for a bit beforehand.

Click to Enlarge These Gorgeous Homemade Croutons

At this point it was just standard procedure for a Caesar salad - wash, trim, break, and spin-dry the romaine.

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Toss the lettuce in a salad bowl, throw in the croutons, and sprinkle a little bit of shaved parmigiano reggiano on top.  Caesar salad isn't truly caesar salad without the cheese.

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Delicious.  I would never be interested in making my own dressing for Caesar... because of one simple thing: Anchovy Paste.  That shit is gross.  Delicious in many dressings, but I've had "homemade" Caesar Dressings (usually at very upscale restaurants, actually) which have too much anchovy in them, sometimes even having actual chunks of the fish!  Absolutely disgusting.

So, I stick with my thoroughly-bad-for-you store-bought dressing.  President's Choice makes a decent blue-menu caesar dressing made with yogurt actually, which is my current favourite.  It's quite good.

Anyway, with canola oil for the croutons, yogurt dressing, and just a moderate amount of cheese - this is also a pretty healthy caesar salad.


  1. These croutons look absolutely delicious!!!

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