I have always felt that bread was sacred, so all my life I have tried to save the scraps. When they get to be overwhelming, I simply cut them into cubes for croutons or make bread crumbs. To save stale bread, it’s best just to let it dry out in an unsealed container, like a paper bag, at room temperature.
The holidays will put pressure on you to produce all sorts of meals for family and guests. In my new book, The Refrigerator Files: Creative Makeovers for Your Leftovers I have a long list of scrumptious dishes where stale bread is called for, ranging from French toast to cream desserts with many tasty main dishes in between.
For starters, here are some tips about how to make all-purpose breadcrumbs and croutons. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I will follow with my favorite recipe for crouton stuffing for The Bird.
What an easy way to save money on food! Just grind your dried bread scraps in a food processor (better) or a blender. You can add dried herbs if you like, but I prefer to keep the flavor neutral for use in both sweet and salty dishes. Grind to your preferred coarseness and put in a sealed jar. For guaranteed freshness, keep in refrigerator.
If you don’t have a blender, place broken-up dried bread pieces in a sealed plastic bag and bang them with a roller. Then roll them until the desired texture is obtained.
Stale potato or corn chips make good crumbs, too! If they’re soggy, crisp them up in a warm oven. Make sure they are not rancid.
Sometimes recipes call for “soft breadcrumbs.” For these you need not-too-stale bread (2 to 4 days old). Pull the pieces apart with a fork in order not to mash them. When measuring, spoon them lightly into the measuring cup. If not using right away, store them in a tightly-sealed container in the fridge for up to a few days. They will start to mold after that.
Cut dried bread slices into cubes, if possible. Even broken pieces are OK. Sauté gently in cooking oil. (I like a combination of canola and olive oil.) Be careful that they don’t burn. Add a little salt and pepper and some dried herbs (optional) and put in a sealed jar, which should be kept in the fridge to prevent them from becoming rancid.
Another way is to place bread cubes on a baking sheet and put in a 300° F oven 20 to 30 minutes until they are completely dry and crisp. These croutons are taste-neutral and can be used in sweet puddings.
Crouton Stuffing for Turkey
Wondering what stuffing to make for The Bird? In the past, I have gone the route of chestnuts, sausage, assorted other concoctions, but I always come back to basics: bread stuffing. It is easy, economical, and the taste combines smoothly with the turkey and gravy without hogging the limelight. Want to give it a try. With Thanksgiving around the corner, now is the time to start saving all those end pieces from your bread loaves.
This is an all-purpose poultry stuffing — Try it on chicken any time of the year — that has proven its worth over the years. It is endlessly adaptable. My preference is for sautéed croutons (see above), as they have built-in flavor.
In a large skillet over low to medium heat, melt
2 to 3 Tbs. vegetable oil
Add and sauté until wilted:
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery,chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
(Optional) ½ c. mushrooms, sliced
(Optional) the chopped liver and heart from the bird
3 to 4 c. croutons
When lightly browned, add:
¼ c. parsley, chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbs. herbes de Provence
Or herbs of your choice (sage is superb)
Season with salt and pepper
¼ c. white wine
(Optional) 1 Tbs. whiskey (a nice addition!)
¼ c. chicken stock
Add a little more chicken stock if stuffing seems too dry, but be careful not to let it get soggy. Spoon stuffing lightly into bird’s neck and breast cavities. Fasten with toothpicks or sew shut.
If your crowd doesn’t like turkey or chicken livers, chop and sauté them separately anyway, but put them aside. Then when you make the gravy, add them and let them simmer a while. At serving time, strain the gravy. The livers will have added depth to the flavor. Save them for recycling in, say, rice or couscous, or for a dip.