If you've ever wondered what makes foods like tonkatsu extraordinarily light and crisp, the answer is "panko." Panko (パン粉) literally means "bread crumbs" in Japanese, but they aren't just your run-of-the-mill bread crumbs. They're set apart by their light, feathery texture and coarse crumbs, which create a thick shatteringly crisp coating for fried foods. All it takes is a few slices of crustless bread and a food processor or cheese grater to make this versatile ingredient at home.
Why This Recipe Works?
- Fresh panko bread crumbs puff up when fried due to the evaporation of moisture in the bread. This creates a lighter crust for fried food.
- The crust of bread is more dense than the white center and removing it makes the panko lighter.
- Using a food processor allows you to make coarse panko which allows for a thicker coating of crisp breading.
Panko vs Bread Crumbs
Although both Japanese panko and regular bread crumbs are made from crumbled bread, the type of bread they're made from and a different method of production results in two different ingredients. Western bread crumbs are usually made from bread that's been baked until it contains almost no moisture. This is then ground into a powder that resembles coarse sand. This creates a thin, crunchy coating on fried foods. Japanese panko is made by shredding fresh sandwich bread into larger, airy flakes. When coated with panko, fried foods take on a light, crispy texture.
The only ingredient you need to make homemade panko is Japanese sandwich bread. Also known as shokupan or Japanese milk bread, it has a plush and elastic texture that makes it shred rather than crumble. The irregular shards of bread create a more airy coating, which is part of what gives panko its unique texture. I like using thicker slices of bread, especially if you plan on manually grating it with a cheese grater because it's easier to handle. If you can't find Japanese sandwich bread, fluffy white bread with a soft elastic crumb will do the trick.
Panko is a 2-syllable name pronounced as follows (read the italicized parts).
- pan like pond
- ko like cooperate
How to Make Panko Bread Crumbs
Start by trimming away the crusts from the sandwich bread with a knife. The crust is more dense than the white center of the bread, so removing them contributes to a lighter panko. (Don't throw away those crusts! Find out what I like to do with them here.) Slice the bread into 1-inch cubes, taking care not to squish these airy building blocks of deliciousness.
Place the cubed bread in a food processor and pulse it —about 1-2 seconds each. Aim for 10-12 pulses to get coarsely textured panko. Bigger crumbs ensure a thicker coating of crispy goodness.
The magic in panko happens when it hits hot oil, and I prefer using Japanese breadcrumbs fresh, without dehydrating them. That's because the moisture in the fresh bread evaporates as it fries. This causes the panko to puff slightly before crisping, making it ethereally light and airy.
The only downside with fresh panko is that it needs to be used within a few days, so if you want to store it, I recommend dehydrating it at a low temperature in the oven. Twenty to thirty minutes at 285°F (140°C) should do the trick.
Make Panko without a Food Processor
Panko can also be made without a food processor by freezing the bread first, and then using a cheese grater with large holes to grate the frozen bread. This doesn't work quite as well as the food processor method because the size of your panko will be determined by the size of the holes in your grater, but still produces fluffy panko that will work in a pinch.
How to Use Panko Breadcrumbs
Panko's coarse, airy structure makes it the ideal breading choice for anything requiring a crispy coating—think Chicken Katsu, Fried Shrimp, Korokke, Tonkatsu, or my Oven Baked Chicken Parmesan. But panko isn't just an excellent coating. I also like using it as a crunchy topping for dishes like my Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese or my Green Tomato Gratin. Even simpler dishes like oven-baked fish or roasted vegetables can be transformed with a light sprinkle of panko, which crisps up beautifully in the oven. Because Panko breadcrumbs are so adept at soaking up moisture without getting soggy, they're a fantastic addition to Meatloaf, Meatballs, or Japanese Hamburg Steak to help them retain moisture while making them tender.
Panko bread crumbs are a type of Japanese bread crumb known for their unique, flaky structure and airy texture. It's made from crustless sandwich bread that's coarsely shredded, giving it its unique texture that's excellent for breading fried foods for a delicate crunch, used as a crisp topping for casseroles, and mixed into ground meat to help it retain moisture.
Unless you make it with gluten-free bread, panko sold in stores is generally not gluten free. That being said you can make this recipe using gluten-free sandwich bread made without wheat flour to make gluten-free panko.
Most Japanese sandwich bread includes milk, so it is vegetarian, but not vegan. If you make your own panko at home, you can use a plant-based bread to make vegan panko.
Panko is made from bread and is susceptible to mold, especially if you are using fresh panko that hasn't been dried in the oven. Fresh panko should be used within a few days. If you dry your panko in the oven, it will last longer, however I recommend storing it in the refrigerator and using it within a few weeks. Store bought panko should be stored in the refrigerator once opened, and used by the expiration date.
- 200 grams Japanese sandwich bread (2 slices, 3 centimeters thick)
- Slice the crusts off of 200 grams Japanese sandwich bread and cut the bread into 1-inch (2.5 centimeter) cubes.
- Put the bread cubes in a food processor and pulse for 1-2 seconds at a time until the panko reaches your desired size. For course panko this will require 10-12 pulses.
- Use the panko fresh within a few days, or you can spread the bread crumbs out onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake it in a 285°F (140°C) oven until it is dried out and crisp. Dehydrated panko can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one month.