Toasted panko is here to save your 2020 cooking sanity
Toasted panko ice cream sundaes? Yes. Plus schnitzel, salads, pastas and so many more recipes that are coming in clutch as this pandemic wears on.
I’m tired of my cooking.
I mean, sure, I’m also tired of cooking, but I’m especially bored with my style of cooking, my flavors, my textures, my blah-blah-blah. How many more soba-noodle bowls and Instant Pot chilies can one family eat?
I consider myself a decent cook. I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid. I’ve cooked in restaurants and for catering companies. I understand how to layer flavors, how to respect ingredients.
Even the deepest wells sometimes run dry. And if they don’t, you can only drink well water for so long before you start craving something (anything!) else.
It’s this pandemic mindset that made me look at a bowl of toasted panko breadcrumbs with a lusty eye.
I’d made them to top an otherwise simple batch of stove-top macaroni and cheese. I toasted them in a pan with butter, taking them from pale blonde to golden and nutty in just a few minutes. Instead of sprinkling them over top the macaroni, where they’d soon go soggy, I plated scoops of the pasta, then showered them in the toasted panko just before eating. The simple, buttery crunch took the dish from ho-hum to holy moly what else can I do with this magic?
They say butter makes everything better, and OK fine, but butter-toasted panko breadcrumbs truly make nearly everything more delicious. And it’s far easier to toast panko on the stove than it is to bread things and fry them.
The beauty of panko is in its light, flaky crunch. These crust-less, vegan-friendly breadcrumbs have Japanese roots, and have become a staple of U.S. supermarkets. I found an array of panko options at my local grocery story: plain panko, seasoned panko, gluten-free plain panko, gluten-free seasoned panko.
A few dinners later, I toasted up more panko breadcrumbs for a quickie version of schnitzel that required no pounding, no laborious dry-wet-dry breading setup, and no spatters of grease burning my forearms and speckling every surface of my kitchen. When’s the last time you made schnitzel? This version came together in minutes, with very little cleanup.
I’ve sprinkled toasted panko on salads (hello teeny-tiny croutons) and bowls of that Instant Pot chili I keep on rotation. It’s wonderful over steamed/grilled vegetables. It’s the perfect addition to a simple piece of sauteed fish.
But the holy grail of toasted panko: ice cream sundaes.
Think of it as a reverse-engineered cobbler, or a speedy shortcake with crunch. You can make your sundae as fancy as you like: warm up some Nutella; slice bananas; dice strawberries; whip together a caramel sauce.
Or do none of that. Simply scoop a bite of ice cream from the carton, sprinkle the toasted panko over top, and eat.
Toasted panko is here to save us from our pandemic-induced kitchen insanity. Let’s embrace it with open arms — and these easy recipes.
Toasted panko breadcrumbs
NOTE: I prefer plain, unseasoned panko for all applications. For sweet dishes, starting with plain panko is essential; it can then be zhuzhed up with cinnamon, allspice, or keep it simple and leave it plain. For savory uses, feel free to season the panko as it toasts, with salt, pepper, chili powder, granulated garlic, etc.
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
Directions: Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add butter or oil. Once the butter starts to sizzle, or the oil is shimmering, add breadcrumbs. Stir to thoroughly incorporate the fat, then continue stirring as the panko begins to toast. This is not a time to walk away or get sucked down a social-media rabbit hole. Unattended panko will burn, and once burned you will be forced to start again.
Continue stirring until the breadcrumbs have gone from pale to golden-toasty, about 4-5 minutes. You can take them to a deep, rich umber, which makes them especially nutty, or keep them a lighter brown, up to you. Remove pan from heat. Serve immediately or store in an air-tight container in a cool, dry place for 1-2 days.
Servings: This makes enough for one family-sized batch of macaroni and cheese, or 4-5 sundaes. I allot approximately ⅛-¼ cup toasted panko per serving.
One-pot mac and cheese with toasted panko
NOTE: You can do this with blue-box macaroni and cheese. And I won’t tell anyone.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups water
4 cups milk
1 pound uncooked pasta (I’m a sucker for traditional elbows or curly cavatappi)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon ground mustard
4-5 cups shredded cheddar/Monterey Jack (or any blend you prefer)
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano
1 cup toasted panko breadcrumbs
Directions: Melt butter in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add flour and stir until combined. Cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Pour in 1 cup of the water and whisk until the mixture is smooth and starts to thicken. Slowly pour in the remaining water and milk, stirring until combined.
Stir in uncooked pasta, salt, garlic powder and mustard. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a low simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 9-10 minutes or until the pasta is al dente. Be careful not to overcook it.
Remove pot from heat and stir in the cheeses until melted. Taste and season as needed. While the pasta is still hot and gooey, scoop out servings and finish with a generous smattering of toasted panko just before eating. I like to leave a bowl of panko on the table, for continued sprinkling.
Servings: 6 to 8
Recipe adapted from gimmesomeoven.com
Quick chicken ‘schnitzel’ with sauerkraut tagliatelle
NOTE: All the luscious crunch of schnitzel, with very little of the work and cleanup.
2-3 pounds chicken breasts
salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
1 pound tagliatelle pasta
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ red cabbage, cored and shaved or thinly sliced
½ cup vinegar (I prefer apple cider or red wine)
1 teaspoon paprika (if you have smoked paprika, all the merrier)
Salt and pepper (if you’re the kind of person who keeps caraway seeds deep in your spice cabinet, liberate those bad boys and toss in a teaspoon)
1 cup toasted panko breadcrumbs
Chopped flat-leaf parsley, grated Parmesan, chili flakes for garnish
Directions: Preheat oven to 375 and line a sheet pan with parchment paper or foil (to save yourself a dish/shred of sanity). Layer on chicken breasts, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Bake for 22-30 minutes, depending on thickness, or until a meat thermometer inserted to the thickest part of each breast reads 165. Remove from oven and slice.
As the chicken is baking, boil the pasta per package directions. Drain, drizzle with olive oil to help prevent sticking, and set aside.
For the sauerkraut, as the chicken is baking and the pasta is boiling, heat a large saute pan over medium-high. Add olive oil and minced garlic, cooking just until fragrant and lightly brown, 1-2 minutes. Add cabbage, vinegar and seasonings. Cook until cabbage is tender, about 8-10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Add cooked pasta to the pan with the sauteed cabbage and toss to combine. Taste again, adjusting seasonings and olive oil/vinegar accordingly. Layer the sliced chicken breasts over top the pasta and cabbage. Sprinkle the whole lot in toasted panko breadcrumbs (chopped flat-leaf parsley is a splendid addition, should you have some).
Serve immediately with grated Parmesan and chili flakes for optional garnishes.
Servings: 4 to 5
Toasted panko banana split
1-2 tablespoons Nutella (to make it warm and gooey, pop it in a microwave-safe dish and nuke for 10-15 seconds)
1 banana, cut in half lengthwise
2-3 scoops of ice cream (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, sea-salt caramel; go crazy)
¼ cup toasted panko breadcrumbs
Directions: I like to start with the Nutella as a kind of “glue” to keep the banana in place. Layer in the ice cream, sprinkle on the toasted panko and eat up. Or go wild with strawberries, sprinkles, caramel sauce, etc.
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