Why It Works
- Gently cooking anchovies in olive oil until they break down and dissolve creates a super-savory base coating for the croutons.
- Slowly toasting the croutons gives them the perfect golden brown, crunchy texture, breathing new life into old bread.
All bread lovers—from avid bakers who are turning out beautiful loaves of sourdough on their own to people like myself who don't have a functioning oven but will happily walk a few miles to pick up a bâtard from their favorite bakery—have experienced bread overflow issues at some point. Maybe you got excited and baked or bought one boule too many, or maybe there just aren't enough bread-eaters in your household to take down an entire miche in two days.
My kitchen counter always has a half-finished loaf of bread taking up space on it. But I don't look at having stale bread around as being a problem; I view it more as an opportunity, because it means I get to make anchovy croutons. These deeply savory croutons are made with just three ingredients—olive oil, anchovies, and the aforementioned leftover bread—and can be cooked to crunchy perfection either on the stovetop or in the oven.
I start by gently cooking anchovies in oil until they break down and dissolve, lending the olive oil salty, umami-rich depth of flavor. Then, I coat bread pieces with the oil and slowly toast them until crisp and golden brown. Once ready, you can toss the croutons into a Caesar or panzanella salad, snack on them throughout the day (how I usually end up eating most of a batch), or store them for later use in an airtight container.
Of course, the delicious stale bread cooking possibilities are endless—from Spanish migas and Italian ribollita to American Thanksgiving stuffing—but when you just need to use up some bread without having to plan, shop, and prepare a whole stand-alone dish, then making a batch of these croutons is your best bet for quick and easy flavor payoff. Homemade breadcrumbs are great and all, but we need snacks! And you can always chop up some croutons to make crumbs if you need some of those, too.
- 1/2 cup (120ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 salt- or oil-packed anchovy fillets (20g)
- 9 ounces (255g) sourdough bread, cut into 3/4- to 1-inch pieces (about 6 heaping cups; see note)
If Baking Croutons: Adjust oven rack to middle position, and preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
In a large skillet, combine olive oil and anchovies. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring and breaking up anchovies occasionally with a wooden spoon, until anchovies have dissolved, about 5 minutes for oil-packed anchovies, and 10 minutes for salt-packed anchovies.
Add bread to skillet, toss to thoroughly coat pieces with oil on all sides, and arrange in a single layer in the pan.
If Cooking Croutons on Stovetop: Cook over medium-low heat, turning and moving bread pieces every 5 minutes (you want to cook bread pieces on all sides so they crisp and color evenly, and you also need to move pieces around in the pan to adjust for hot spots and uneven heating of the skillet), until golden brown and crisp on all sides, 25 to 30 minutes.
If Baking Croutons: Transfer skillet to the oven, and bake until golden brown and crisp, rotating pan and turning bread pieces over halfway through cooking, 15 to 20 minutes.
Transfer croutons to a rimmed baking sheet, and using a rubber spatula, scrap any remaining oil and bits of anchovy in the skillet over the croutons. Let croutons cool to room temperature, 5 to 10 minutes. Once croutons have cooled, they can be used right away or stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 7 days.
Large skillet, rimmed baking sheet
While this recipe was developed using leftover sourdough bread, it will work with any type of hearty bread, and works with both fresh and stale bread. If the loaf of bread you are using is very stale and difficult to initially cut into pieces, you can dampen the loaf briefly under cool running water just until it softens enough for slicing.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Croutons can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 7 days. Depending on humidity, after a few days you may need to lightly re-toast croutons to revive their crunch.