What Is Panko?
Panko-crusted mahi. Mmm. It sounds very swanky, but what exactly is "panko?" Panko is the Japanese word for bread crumbs.
Suddenly, panko sounds much less swanky, but there are many characteristics of panko that often make them superior to American-style bread crumbs in many culinary applications.
There are two general types of panko sold in stores - white panko is made without crusts, and tan panko is made from the whole loaf, crusts and all. What sets panko apart from regular bread crumbs is the processing.
The bread is processed in such a way that the resulting panko looks like flakes rather than crumbs. The flakiness means a much broader surface area than regular breadcrumbs. What this means for your cooking is crispier coatings, crunchier toppings and lighter end-products, depending on how you use the panko.
If you dredge food in panko before frying, you will end up with a crisp, light fried coating. Oil does not soak into panko as readily as it does into regular breadcrumbs, so you are left with a lighter, less-greasy coating. Try this with seafood or chicken.
Panko makes a wonderful crisp topping for casseroles. Toss panko together with some grated parmesan, salt, pepper and maybe some herbs. Then, drizzle in some melted butter. Spread this topping liberally on a casserole, and upon baking, you will be rewarded with a light, crunchy and flavorful topping a nice contrast to your creamy casserole. Try this trick on top of scalloped potatoes, lasagna, tuna noodle casserole or macaroni and cheese.
Use panko in any recipe that calls for bread crumbs as an ingredient. Panko does not compact like breadcrumbs, and since grease doesn't soak into them, your results will be lighter in texture than your original bread crumb-based recipes. Use panko as an ingredient in crab cakes, meatballs or meatloaf.
By itself, panko has almost no flavor. This makes it the perfect blank canvas. Panko readily soaks up other flavors"” and from the seasonings in the food and also from whatever seasonings you toss with it. A simple topping of panko, a little salt and pepper, and some melted butter will result in a richly flavored, crunchy topping after baking.
If you do not have panko on hand, you can certainly substitute bread crumbs, but your toppings won't be as crisp and any recipe you use them in will have a somewhat heavier texture. A better substitute for panko is cracker meal. You can crush up saltine crackers or matzo or purchase ready-made matzo meal.
Where To Find Panko
Look for panko in Asian markets, where it is readily available. Panko is becoming more and more common on the shelves at your local grocery store, as well, as more people discover its light and crispy texture. Find panko in the Asian section of your store or in the same aisle as standard bread crumbs.