Panko (Recipe: chicken fingers)
Neither a dance, nor an exercise regimen, nor very cool drum-beating music, panko are the Japanese bread crumbs that have taken Western cooking by storm over the past five years or so. More coarse than traditional dried bread crumbs, panko are really bread flakes; the flakes absorb less moisture and, therefore, food made with them stays more crisp.
There are two main types of panko: white and brown. The white is made from bread without the crusts, and the brown includes the whole loaf. Last time I shopped in my local Asian market, I found this honey panko, which is not really sweet but is definitely more flavorful. The bag says "A Good Bargain," and at just $1.59 for a 12-ounce bag, I have to agree.
Once you've opened the package, store unused panko in a ziploc bag, in the cupboard. Don't freeze panko, as it will absorb moisture and become a bit gloppy. If that does happen, use it in meatloaf, but not as a crust. When a recipe calls for panko, you can substitute cracker crumbs, which are lighter than traditional dried bread crumbs.
P.S.: Last week I had a play date in my friend Bob's photography studio, which explains why my panko looks like a movie star today!
Just in time for the big football game (it's big, if you're from New England), here's an easy appetizer. Serves 4; can be doubled or tripled or more.
1-1/4 cup panko
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Few drops of Tabasco or other hot sauce, to taste
Drop of agave nectar, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
1-1/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut lengthwise into 1-inch strips
Spicy ketchup or honey mustard (store-bought or homemade), for dipping
Preheat the broiler, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat. Place panko in a pie plate or other flat rimmed bowl. In a mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, hot sauce, agave nectar and black pepper, and stir. Dip the chicken strips into the mayonnaise mixture, and then roll them in the panko, pressing lightly to make sure the crumbs adhere. Place on the baking sheet, and cook under the broiler, turning once, for a total of 6-10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the panko is browned. Serve with your choice of dipping sauce.