Just like the heart, the palate wants what it wants. Sweet, salty, sour; crunchy, creamy, chewy.
Panko — Japanese-style breadcrumbs — is one of those foods that fills several flavor profiles at once. With little or no flavor of its own, panko’s talent is bringing mouth-feel and texture to whatever it’s part of. When sprinkled on top of a casserole or other baked dish or used as breading for poultry and seafood, tofu and veggies, panko adds that crispy crunch your mouth is lusting for.
What exactly is panko? Well, the word itself says a lot: in Japanese, pan means bread (like Spanish, how weird) and ko means flour — so basically, breadcrumbs. However, panko is made from hokkaido, Japanese milk bread, a featherlight, airy bread that uses tangzhong — a cooked flour and water paste — as a starter.
When the baked bread is dried and ground, the result is a crispy, light flake, not really what we think of as a crumb. Panko’s bigger surface area also yields crispier coatings that last longer, absorb less oil and have more crunch.
There are no Japanese bakeries in Mazatlán, so I make do with bags of panko I get from a small Asian food store here. Panko has become so popular, though, even Walmart and Soriana have it in their “gourmet” sections, although sugar and flavorings are added to the brands I’ve been able to find.
Most well-known as a coating for fried fish, pork or chicken (and everyone’s favorite, coconut shrimp), panko’s repertoire is actually incredibly versatile. It’s excellent as a binder in all kinds of burgers and meatballs and as a thickener for soups and stews. Casseroles like macaroni and cheese or other baked dishes taste better with a layer of crunchy panko (mixed with Parmesan and herbs, perhaps?) on top.
Make a crispy garnish with toasted panko to sprinkle over steamed veggies, mashed potatoes or a salad. (Bake in a 325 F oven for 12–15 minutes or sauté, stirring, in a bit of very hot olive oil for 3–4 minutes.) In Japanese cuisine, tonkatsu (fried pork filet) kaki fry (fried oysters) and korokke (mashed potato cakes, breaded and deep-fried) are just some of the many dishes that use panko to its full crunchy advantage.
For frying, you’ll want to use the three-step method: first dredge your protein or vegetables in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, then in egg and finally in the panko, either plain or seasoned. For the best flavor, salt the flour and panko well. Pan-fry in hot oil and drain on paper towels. Voila!
Easy Jalapeno Popper Dip
Easy to halve if you want to make less.
- 2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese at room temperature
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 cup shredded Chihuahua, Jack, asadero or other melty cheese
- 1 (4 oz.) can diced green chiles
- 1 (4 oz.) can diced jalapeños OR 4 fresh jalapeños, seeded and minced
- 1 cup panko
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup butter, melted
Mix first six ingredients; spread into a greased 1.5–2 qt. baking dish. In a bowl, mix panko, Parmesan and melted butter.
Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over dip. Bake at 375 F for about 20 minutes or until top is browned and dip is bubbly. Serve with chips, crackers or celery/carrot sticks for scooping.
The avocados should be ripe but not too soft.
- Oil for frying
- ¼ cup flour
- ¼ tsp. salt, plus more to taste
- 2 eggs
- 1¼ cups panko
- Olive oil for drizzling
- 2 firm/ripe Hass avocados, sliced into ½ -inch wedges
In a medium saucepan, heat 1½ inches of oil till hot (375 F). Mix flour and salt on a shallow plate. Put eggs in a shallow bowl and whisk. Pour panko in another shallow bowl or plate. First dip avocado wedges in flour, shaking off excess, then in egg, then panko, pressing to coat.
To fry: Fry avocado wedges until deep golden, 30–60 seconds. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with salt. Serve immediately.
To bake: Arrange breaded avocado wedges on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Drizzle or spray with olive oil. Bake at 425 F for 15–20 minutes until golden and crisp.
Roasted Shrimp with Panko and Parsley
An easy “no-recipe” recipe!
- 1½ pounds shrimp
- Olive oil
- Fresh lemon juice
- ¼ cup panko
- Fresh parsley, minced
Heat oven to 500 F. Put shrimp in a roasting pan, toss with olive oil and lemon juice. Scatter panko on top. Drizzle with more oil. Roast, turning shrimp once, until pink all over, about 10 minutes.
Garnish with parsley and sprinkle with more fresh lemon juice.
- 24 large cremini or button mushrooms, stems removed
- ½ cup panko
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 Tbsp. minced parsley, plus more for garnish
- 2 garlic cloves, pressed with a garlic press or grated
- 4 Tbsp. olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Heat oven to 400 F. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Mix panko, Parmesan, parsley, garlic and 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Arrange mushrooms on pan, top down. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp. oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fill mushrooms with panko mixture, about 1 Tbsp. each, mounding them a bit on top. Drizzle with remaining olive oil.
Bake about 15 minutes until tops are crisp and golden. Remove from oven; cool 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley.
Easy Coconut Fish Sticks
Eat these in tacos or all by their delicious selves! You can also use the recipe with chicken instead.
- 1 lb. firm white fish (dorado, pargo)
- 1 cup flour
- 3 eggs, whisked
- 2 cups panko
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- Salt and pepper
- About 2 cups vegetable oil, for frying
- Cut fish into strips about 3 inches long and 1½ inch thick. Season with salt and pepper.
Place flour, eggs and panko in three separate bowls. Season flour and panko with salt and pepper. Mix coconut into panko.
First, gently coat fish with flour, then dip in egg, then dredge in panko mixture, pressing to make a good crust. Set aside.
In large skillet, pour about 1 inch of oil; heat over medium-high until hot. Add fish sticks in a single layer. Fry about 3 minutes till nicely browned on the bottom.
Flip and cook second side. Drain on paper towels.
Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.