Someone suggested Inez recently via a post comment that you can use the lees leftover from making tofu to make a soy version of panko. The tip stuck in my mind and I gave it a try the other day. If you’re not familiar with the lees, they are the solids that remain after you’ve pressed out the soy milk. Professional tofu makers have so much of it that they usually arrange for it to be hauled off to a nearby farm to be used as animal feed. But for home cooks who are small batching it, you can turn it into food for humans (you) to eat! Consider the lees a tofu byproduct bonus.
Soymilk lees, often called okara (their name in Japanese) are a great source of fiber and protein. In Asian Tofu, I have a number of recipes that use the okara, including croquettes, cookies and even a little fake meat. I didn’t think of turning okara into a gluten-free panko. It’s a brilliant idea and super easy to execute.
The photo at the top highlights how you can make flakes like oatmeal or cornflakes or crumbles like coarse ground cornmeal. If you’re not making your own soy milk and don’t have the lees leftover, you can buy them or get them for free from a tofu shop. Japanese markets may sell it in plastic bags near the refrigerated tofu section. It looks like this:
How did the soy panko work in cooking? Quite well. I fried fish with it last night and the crust was delicately crisp and nutty tasting. It didn’t brown as fast as regular panko bread crumbs which was rather nice because I’m always a bit harried when frying with panko, which browns relatively quickly. Actually, the thin tail piece got was extra good with the bits of soy panko. See below for how I fried with the panko.
Gluten-Free Soy Panko
6-8 ounces fresh or thawed soy milk lees
1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 300F.
2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat (e.g, Silpat). Spread or scatter the lees out to cover the surface of the baking sheet. If you want flakes, press down on the lees with the palm of your hand to flatten them out to form a very thin layer. Otherwise, leave them as buff-colored nubs. On this baking sheet, I did half and half:
If you happen to find some intact beans, remove and discard them:
3. Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes. If you are making the crumbles, stir to break them up a bit every 10 minutes. With the flakes, leave them be until the 15 to 20 minute mark, when they should look parched, like a dry desert lake bed. When possible, use a metal spatula to turn it over. It’ll break up but that’s okay.
4. When the “panko” feels as if it has just a little bit of moisture left, turn off the oven. Leave for 10-15 minutes for the soy panko to finish drying out. It will feel somewhat like Styrofoam when done. Pull the baking sheet from the oven, and allow to cool. Crumble the soy panko up as needed. I broke the larger flakes up. Use or store in an airtight container or zip-top bag.
Frying with soy panko
For last night’s fried fish, I cut a 1-pound fillet into 3 by 4-inch pieces, about half the size of the palm of my hand. To absorb excess moisture, I dredged each piece of fish in regular flour (you can use cornstarch or tapioca starch, even rice flour for a full gluten-free treatment). Then I let it sit until the fish no longer looked like it was coated in white. Then I drizzled a tiny bit of soymilk over the fish, which turned the flour into a slightly sticky surface. (You could use beaten egg, which may actually work better; I was out of eggs.)
Finally, I coated the fish pieces in the soy panko, lightly pressing it into place. The fish was shallow fried in 350-375F oil. Some of the panko fell off (I think I should have used egg) but most of it stayed on the fish, forming a nice crust. After pulling the fish from the oil, let it rest on paper towel for a few seconds to blot away excess oil, then cool on a rack.
Baking with soy panko: Not great as it didn't brown much as a topping on a casserole-type dish. Maybe as a "Shake and Bake" type of application where the soy panko comes in contact with lot of fat so it can kind of fry.
How’s that for using the whole soybean?!
Other recipes where you could use gluten-free soy panko:
- Crispy shrimp coated with green rice
- Stuffed Crab Claws (a dim sum recipe on Asian Dumpling Tips)
- Kaffir Lime Fried Chicken