Before our first visit to Japan, in 1986, Ted and I tried to memorize one hundred words we thought we'd need -- please and thank you, taxi, toilet, bank, subway, where, how much.
Shrimp (ebi) and train station (eki), both on our list of necessary words, were so similar that it was inevitable we'd confuse the two.
When it happened, when we were sitting in a cafe near the mountain town of Nikko, when we ordered soup noodles with a train station on top, it was funny. More so because, as I recall, the cafe actually was in a train station.
The bowl of soup noodles arrived, topped with a shrimp (yes, victory!) coated with panko, and the first bite of the light, crispy crustacean wiped away all of our embarrassment at asking for a train station in our soup.
Panko means "bread crumbs" in Japanese; it comes from the combination of pan, or "bread," and ko, meaning "powder". This particular type of jagged-edged breadcrumb has a coarse texture that resembles flakes; because the flakes have more surface area, they get crispier than regular breadcrumbs when used as a coating.
I've seen panko in three varieties; white, made from yeast bread baked in a special oven so it forms no crust; tan, made with bread crusts in the crumb; and honey, which is white but slightly sweetened with sugar. Though made from wheat bread, Panko is more delicate, absorbs less oil, and stays crunchier for longer than traditional bread crumbs.
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 from freezing and thawing. If that does happen, use it in meatloaf, but not for coating.
If you can't find panko at your local market, buy it online or substitute cracker crumbs, which are lighter than traditional dried bread crumbs.
Panko and mustard crusted fish
Here in New England, we can get fresh, thick cod loin from the fishmonger. Use any firm, mild white fish for this recipe. If you're using thin fillets, be sure to adjust the cooking time. Serves 4.
2 lbs cod loin (or any mild white fish: cod, halibut, shark, tilapia)
1/2 cup panko
Zest of one lemon
2 Tbsp roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp fresh black pepper
1 heaping Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp + 1 Tbsp olive oil
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Dry the fish with paper towels, and set in an ovenproof casserole dish. Coat on all sides with 1 Tbsp olive oil.
In a small bowl, mix panko, lemon zest, parsley, salt, pepper, mustard, and 2 Tbsp olive oil, until the panko is moistened. Press the mixture on top of the fish with your hand, to form a thick coating.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish; with cod loin, which is at least one inch thick, I baked for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the fish rest for 5 minutes before serving.
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