Panko bread crumbs should be a part of every low sodium pantry. They have just 35 mg of sodium per half cup and add a great texture and flavor to so many things. I love to toast them in some butter or infused oil and sprinkle the toasted crumbs over any salad or pasta dish. Or add them to meatballs for some added texture. But my favorite way to use them is for breading chicken or fish.
This recipe is very forgiving. If you don't like to have to follow recipes too closely, you can sort of wing a lot of this. I streamlined the traditional flour-egg-breading process by combining the flour and egg step, and also add a ton of spices at each step in the process to give these chicken/fish strips a lot of flavor and incredible texture. See my notes below for making these even lower in sodium by omitting the egg.
I love the chicken version with low sodium barbecue sauce, or in a wrap or salad. The fish is great with sauces, too, but we usually use them in our fish tacos with tomatillo salsa and pickled red onions.
Servings: Makes four 4-ounce servings
Sodium: 85 mg per serving (less if you leave out the egg)
Time: 1 hour
1 pound chicken tenders or breasts, cut into 1/2 inch thick strips OR a firm white fish like tilapia (which is really low sodium)
1 tablespoon oil (olive, canola, or vegetable)
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Egg/flour mixture ingredients:
1 tablespoon Wondra or all purpose flour
2 tablespoons water
1 large egg
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Panko breading ingredients:
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons oil (olive, canola, or vegetable)
1) Cut chicken breasts or fish into 1/2 inch thick strips. In a large bowl, combine chicken with all the remaining items in the "Chicken/fish ingredients" list above and mix to coat the chicken. If I'm making these more like chicken nuggets for my kids, I'll cut them into smaller pieces. If you do that, you'll need a little more panko to coat it all.
2) In a separate bowl, prepare the egg/flour mixture. Wondra is a great flour to use here because it dissolves really easily. But all purpose flour will work too. Start by whisking just the flour and water together until you get a smooth slurry, then add the remaining "Egg/flour mixture ingredients" and whisk until combined and no lumps remain. Take the egg/flour mixture and pour it over the chicken, tossing to coat evenly.
I used to bread my chicken strips by starting with flour, then egg, then crumbs. But I found that by the end of the batch, the egg mixture was really thick from the flour anyways so I tried combining the egg and flour and it works really well. One less step and more importantly, one less bowl to wash.
If you don't want to include the egg, just leave it out. I've done that plenty of times and you can still get the panko to stick really well. The trick is not to let your panko get too wet when you're coating the meat, more on that below.
Finally, if you don't want to measure all these ingredients out, just start with 1-2 tablespoons of Wondra/flour and slowly mix it with enough egg/water so that it's about the texture of a well-beaten egg. Or leave the egg out entirely and just use Wonder/flour and water as the base. Then add lots of spices. You really don't have to measure the spices out, just eyeball it here and you'll be fine.
3) In a large bowl, combine all the "Panko breading ingredients" and use your hands to incorporate the oil. When you pour the oil into the panko, it will immediately form little clumps so you want to gently rub the panko between your fingers so that the crumbs are evenly coated in oil. The oil helps them bake up nice and crispy. If you've cut your chicken/fish into smaller pieces, you may need to increase the Panko by another 1/2 cup. If you're doing that, add another tablespoon of oil.
4) Preheat oven to 425°F and line a large (mine is 12x17 inches) roasting pan with parchment paper. If you have a roasting rack that will make the chicken/fish crispier on the bottom, but it's not necessary.
5) Work with 1 piece of chicken/fish at a time, and coat it with panko. The key to this step is to keep the panko dry and prevent it from getting lumpy from any excess egg/flour mixture that falls into it. That helps the panko stick to each piece of chicken/fish better. Here's what I do: use one set of tongs (or chopstick) just for the chicken, and a separate slotted spoon and tongs for the Panko bowl. Pick up one piece of chicken/fish at a time and drop it into the Panko bowl.
In the panko bowl, use a slotted spoon to cover the chicken with crumbs, press down lightly to get the crumbs to stick, and then use a separate set of tongs (or chopsticks) to transfer the breaded chicken/fish onto the roasting pan. So each bowl has its own designated tongs (chopstick) and your hands stay clean! The first half of the batch will be easy because you'll have lots of Panko, but by the time you get to the last few pieces, it'll be harder to get the Panko on evenly because there's less there and because inevitably the Panko has gotten a little moisture from the flour mixture. I was going to write the recipe with double the Panko crumbs to deal with this but then you end up with over half a cup of Panko that you'll just have to throw away so I stuck with the exact amount I felt was needed.
Do this for all the chicken/fish and then bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, turning the pan halfway for even baking. Baking time will depend on the thickness of your chicken, but the chicken should be fully cooked and the panko will be golden brown.
For tilapia, which is what I usually use if I'm making fish, you just need it to bake for about 7 minutes at 425°F.
-To make this even lower sodium, omit the egg and make a flour dredge by combining: 1/4 cup flour, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, and 6 tablespoons of water. Proceed with the rest of the recipe in the same way. This takes the sodium down to 67 mg per serving. If you don't use the egg, it does lose a little flavor but you still get a wonderful crunch from the panko.
-Panko are Japanese style bread crumbs. They're larger than other breadcrumbs and can be as low as 35 mg of sodium per half cup (check the labels). You can find them at most major grocery stores.
-Make sure the chicken does not have salt added already. Chicken breast without salt aded has about 50 mg of sodium for 4 ounces.
-Make a double batch and freeze half. To reheat, bake directly from frozen at 425°F for about 10-12 minutes.