Panko may sound exotic and unusual, but it's simply the Japanese version of breadcrumbs. However, their flakiness makes them crispier than standard breadcrumbs, and they tend to be healthier because they absorb less oil. Panko makes delicious breading for chicken, fish or seafood; or makes a great topping for lasagna or casseroles.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Place the saltine crackers or oyster crackers in a resealable plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin until they resemble coarse crumbs. Add the dried thyme, basil, chili powder and freshly ground black pepper, and shake the bag until the herbs and cracker crumbs are thoroughly mixed.
Spread the panko mixture on a large baking sheet and bake it for 6 to 8 minutes. Shake the pan at least twice during the baking time and check the panko breadcrumbs often. The crumbs should be dry, but not toasted or brown.
Remove the baking pan from the oven and allow the panko breadcrumbs to cool.
Store the cooled panko breadcrumbs in a sealed container or in a resealable bag. They can also be frozen, and will keep several months if they are tightly sealed.
If you have a food processor, standard white bread makes delicious panko. Simply tear the bread into chunks and shred it in the food processor. Use it instead of cracker crumbs, and proceed with the recipe as directed.