Panko is the generic name for the Japanese version of breadcrumbs, used in traditional dishes like tonkatsu, a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet. But there’s no reason to limit it to Asian-style dishes.
Influenced by the Portuguese, who taught the Japanese to make bread centuries ago, panko is actually a combination of the Portuguese word for bread (pão) and the Japanese word for crumb (ko.) Panko breadcumbs are pale, light, crisp and airy, not nearly as dense as traditional versions you may be accustomed to using.
They are made from crustless white bread, which is flaked into large pieces and then dried or toasted. Used as breading on dishes that are either fried or baked, panko produces a light, crisp crust that stays crunchy and delicious even after the dish cools down. Panko also absorbs less grease than other types of breading, so your dish will taste less heavy, and will have fewer calories!
On their own, panko crumbs are mild, almost bland. Panko takes well to herbs or spices, and it also allows the other ingredients in your dish to shine. (You can also buy flavored panko.)
You can substitute panko for breadcrumbs in most recipes. They make a great breading for fish, shrimp or chicken, whether you’re baking it or frying, but they’re really versatile. Use them instead of cracker crumbs in crab cakes, or mix with herbs and a little butter or oil and sprinkle atop a casserole. And although you might try them at first in Japanese or other Asian-inspired dishes, I find that their light crisp texture works with all kinds of flavor profiles, like this Italian-inspired fish dish.
Roasted Cod with Basil Pesto & Garlic Bread crumbs
1 large ripe Organic Heirloom Tomato, cored and sliced very thinly (about 1/8 inch)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. Olio Carli extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 cups Iron Chef Japanese style breadcrumbs (or any panko-style breadcrumbs)
1 small clove garlic, minced
1-1/2 lb. cod, rinsed, patted dry, and cut into 4 even portions
2/3 cup Olio Carli Pesto
Heat the oven to 450° F. Spread the tomato slices on a large plate and season with 1/4 tsp. salt and a few grinds of black pepper.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat for 1 minute. Pour in the olive oil, add the breadcrumbs, and season with 1/4 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring, until the breadcrumbs start to turn a light golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook, stirring, for another 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl.
Set the fish on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with foil. Season with salt and pepper. Divide the pesto evenly over the fish and top each with two or three tomato slices and the breadcrumbs. Roast until the fish is opaque on the sides and starts to flake, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.