Thursday, August 28, 2008

Panko has gone mainstream

Panko (in case you don't know what it is) is the Japanese word for bread crumbs, borrowing from the romance-language word for bread (pain in French, pane in Italian, pan in Spanish). The Japanese use panko to make extra-crispy coatings on dishes like tonkatsu (pan-fried pork cutlets).

Several years ago panko was discovered by American chefs, who liked the extra-crispy nature of panko (which I will attempt to explain below). This eventually inspired home cooks to do the same.

Until quite recently it was a bit of a treasure hunt to find panko in stores, but now Progresso offers two different styles of panko, plain and (of course) Italian-style. Because of Progresso's national presence in supermarkets, it should now be easy to get this once esoteric ingredient.

The How of Panko
As I was musing about writing this blog entry, I thought it would be a good idea to explain why panko is so incredibly crispy. So I studied a Japanese website to see if I could figure out how they make it. As near as I could figure out (everything was in Japanese), panko is made by baking a crustless bread. The bread then has the moisture vacuumed out of it in a big chamber (I think it's similar to freeze-drying, but without the cold). Then huge rotating saw teeth cut the bread into what are essentially shards, not crumbs, which then get aerated. The end result is a crumb that will not absorb oil, which leaves a fried coating light and crisp instead of oily.

In my effort to understand the Japanese site, I took a portion of the text and put it into translation software. I thought I would share the result, because it's funny: "The many air bubbles (air) having entered in the bread crumbs, the fire sort, rises in order to perform the function of heat insulation slowly tastily. The bread crumbs are made shattering the pan." Get it?

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