I’ve been enjoying panko for many years now—since my friend David Shamah who owned a restaurant (and is always up on the latest wonderful ingredient and equipment) shared some with me. Panko is a bread crumb, originally from Japan, that is made from the heart of the bread, i.e. no crust. It is also slightly larger and more even in size than the average bread crumb.
I discovered the importance of bread crumbs without crust when I studied strudel baking in Austria. It’s actually entirely logical: The crust of bread is browned to the optimal degree for flavor—more and it would become bitter. When you brown bread crumbs in oil to toast them lightly, any crust mixed in with the crumbs would become too dark.
I was delighted to discover that Progresso, the manufacturer of plain and seasoned bread crumbs that I used prior to panko, is now producing panko in both plain and seasoned variety. This is proof that panko awareness has reached the heartland and will now be available to the consumer as well as food service!
Here is a recipe for one of my favorite dishes into which bread crumbs have made their way by sheer chance. One evening I was eating an oven-crisped baguette with linguine and clams and some of the crispy crumbs fell into the pasta. Now I add them intentionally every time and I’ve since discovered that bread crumbs are often added to pasta dishes in Italy. I wondered if perhaps they discovered this the same way as I did!
Linguine & Clam Sauce with Bread Crumbs
Serves: 2 as a main course
Equipment: A 12 inch frying pan or wok
Do not salt the water for the linguine as the clam juice from the clams is very salty. (The bottled clam juice is lightly salted.)
1) Heat the oil over low heat in the 12 inch frying pan or wok. Add the garlic, hot pepper flakes and black pepper and fry on low heat for about 30 second or until the garlic softens. Do not allow it to brown.
2) Add the chicken stock, clam juice, parsley, and the clams. Cover and cook until the clams pop open widely (5 to 10 minutes). Throw out any that do not open. Remove the clams to bowls and keep them warm in a low oven. If any clam juices are in the bowls drain it back into the skillet.
3) Bring the pan juices to a boil and reduce until just about 1/2 cup remains. Remove the pan from the heat.
4) Boil the linguine in a large kettle with a generous quantity of unsalted water, just until only a little white appears in the center when a strand is cut (13 minutes if using the same brand and size).
5) While the linguine cooks, in a small skillet over low heat, sauté the bread crumbs in the olive oil, stirring often until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Set them aside.
6) Drain the pasta and add it to the 12 inch skillet. Cook on medium heat, tossing constantly until the linguini is well coated in the oil and juices and most of the liquid has been absorbed. The pasta will still be al dente but if a strand is cut it will no longer have any white uncooked part inside.
7) Add the linguine to the serving bowls and toss to mix in the clams. Garnish with the basil and sprinkle with the bread crumbs.