Panko, which means “bread child” in Japanese, has a very interesting food history. When we think of a Japanese main staple, we immediately think of rice. Not only is it eaten at most meals, but their favorite drink, sake, is made from rice. Their vinegar for sushi is made from rice.
So how did bread come into the food picture in Japan? My friend Jimmy Souza will be very proud and happy to know that the Portuguese traders and missionaries came to Japan around the 15th to 17th centuries and brought with them their “pao duce,” or bread, and their sponge cake, “bolo de Castelo.” The very popular Japanese “kasutera,” or castella cake, is based on the Portuguese sponge cake and their bread, or “pan,” is soft and billowy in the inside is like the Portuguese pao duce.
It is believed that it was also the Portuguese who introduced frying to the Japanese as there is no record of oil, or “abura,” prior to the Portuguese landing in Japan. So when you eat a shrimp tempura, thank a Portuguese for this wonderful entrée.
What is fascinating to me is the story of the creation of the breading for tonkatsu, panko, which became a household word, however, was undocumented.
We visited Uppercrust Enterprises in Los Angeles, and their vice president of sales and marketing, Tom Shea, said the story he heard on the invention of panko happened during World War II. While the Japanese were at war with the Russians, they wanted to eat bread out in the battlefields. Unable to bake the bread, the Japanese used their tanks’ batteries to quickly “bake” their bread. They discovered that the bread was extremely light and airy, with very small air pockets.
This method of using electric current to bake bread with no brown crusts is how panko is made today at Upper Crust Enterprises.
Masashi Kawaguchi started Mrs. Friday panko-crusted shrimp fish sold to restaurants and in the frozen section, food service, cash and carry outlets. He brought the panko from Japan, but the best flour comes from the United States, Canada, and Australia. Mr. Kawaguchi thought this did not make good business sense to ship the flour from America to Japan, then back to the United States as panko, so sent his son Gary to Japan to learn how to make panko.
Mr. Kawaguchi opened two plants 35 years ago and the present location in Little Tokyo is now run by Gary Kawaguchi. One of the cleanest, most monitored factories we have seen, it is an impressive operation. We had to remove all jewelry, wear a hairnet, (Jim had a beard net) clean and wash our hands twice before we began our tour around the panko factory.
The bread dough is carefully mixed, kneaded, and risen twice, just as you would if baking bread at home. The bread goes through a specially made “oven” for 1 1/2 hours where each huge loaf of bread is electrocuted. When the bread comes out, the loaves are whitish slabs of “bread” that looks and jiggles like tofu. Tom tore off a piece of bread for us to taste.
The bread was soft and billowy and tastes like bread should.
These loaves are air-dried on large racks overnight. The next day, a special food processor cuts these loaves into long crumbs. Unlike their competitors, Upper Crust has healthy looking panko flakes, not tiny crumbs.
By weight, their panko gives 26 percent better yield per pound because of the larger, slivery crumbs with an airy texture.
I asked Tom and Edward Shelley, chief financial officer of Upper Crust, whether gluten-free panko would be a future product and he said the gluten in wheat flour was necessary to get the texture and airy panko crumbs. Tom suggested using crushed rice crispies, corn flakes or dehydrated potato flakes for coating when cooking for someone with gluten intolerance.
Upper Crust’s recipe suggestions include:
— Crispy Katsu:
Pound chicken breast, pork or beef cutlet to ¼ inch thick. Mix granulated black pepper and seasoned salt to Dry Upper Crust Tempura Batter mix. Dredge protein in dry tempura batter mix. Dip in prepared tempura batter make with cold water or beer then coat to Upper Crust Authentic Japanese Panko. Deep fry at 350 degrees until done. Slice into 1-inch strips and serve with Katsu Sauce.
— Apple Cobbler with Crispy Panko:
Mix Upper Crust Authentic Japanese Panko with melted butter, sugar, coconut flakes and blend lightly. Top your favorite apple or peach cobbler and bake. The Panko mixture creates a unique flavor experience of crunchy topping with soft fruit insides.
So take your Portuguese friends to eat tonkatsu or shrimp tempura and thank them.
If you are you like me, whenever we have guests and I am cooking up a storm in the kitchen, my smoke alarm goes off! It is so annoying! Well, there are new smoke alarms out now for the kitchen that can tell the difference between cooking and actual fires by distinguishing between the slow build of an actual fire and short burst from a skillet or from the oven. We immediately went to town to look for the IoPhic brand, but bought another brand for kitchen, called an intelligent smoke alarm.
Please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a question. Bon appetit until next week.