I don’t know who invented the crouton, but they nailed it. Putting a bunch of bread onto a bunch of raw vegetables not only makes that pile of plant matter better tasting and more texturally interesting, it cuts down on bread waste, as the best croutons are made from stale bread.
Some people cube their bread to make croutons, and some people rip it (to increase the amount of textural variation). And then there is the method favoured by cookbook author Ali Slagle, who makes one big crouton and tears it up into bite-sized pieces (for even greater textural variation). From Food52:
Ali starts her croutons in a skillet as big slices of fried toast, then cuts them bite-size. This frees us from the inevitable smaller crumbs that will start to smolder before the rest, and gives us a new crouton paradigm: crispy edges, yes, but also warm, fluffy middles.
Recognising this wisdom, I decided to make my own big crouton using a loaf of three-cheese semolina bread that caught my eye at the grocery store. Ali fries her bread in olive oil, which is never a bad plan, but I decided to use bacon grease, because it tastes good and spreads like a dream right out of the fridge.
I sliced a one-inch piece of bread off the loaf and smeared each side, edge to edge, with a liberal amount of grease, then fried it in a cast iron pan for a couple of minutes on each side until it was a dark, golden brown with a few charred spots. I removed it from the pan, let it cool for a minute, then ripped the fried bread into rough pieces.
The croutons tasted very good, as is the case with most things fried in bacon grease. I think they would be right at home on a cobb salad. They were indeed crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, as promised; using stale would give them a bit more chew.
You can make a giant crouton out of any bread that strikes your fancy, though I recommend choosing something with a fluffy or chewy interior, rather than a bread with cake-y innards. The choice of frying fat is also up to you, but it’s hard to wrong with bacon grease.