When I try to explain, for the hundredth time, that sushi is not the daily fare of the huge majority of the Japanese and that my favourite, regularly eaten Japanese dishes are not based on raw fish, I usually get incredulous looks and am asked to give some examples. Apart from Korokke, Okonomiyaki, Oyakodon and Karaage, I always cite Tonkatsu. Even though this dish has obvious Western origins (“katsu” is a Japanised version of the word “cutlet” or “côtelette”), it is different from its European counterparts. When I am asked, often with a mocking smile, what is so special about it, I say without hesitation: panko and deep-frying.
For those who have never seen panko, these crunchy flakes made of flour and water are used in Japanese cuisine instead of Western bread crumbs. They are flaky, thin, much crunchier and much lighter after the frying process and, strangely, absorb less fat than traditional bread crumbs. As for deep-frying, it is quicker and gives less fatty results than the European shallow frying method (as long as the right oil temperature is maintained). After having shallow-fried breaded pork all my life, I was amazed to see the dramatical change obtained thanks to panko and deep-frying.
I started to prepare Tonkatsu before meeting Hiroyuki, Nami or Robert-Gilles, bloggers who are my main internet source and inspiration in Japanese cooking adventures. I do not even remember the exact recipe I used for the first time, but it was probably taken from one of the books I own. Every cook has of course his or her tips, but the basic tonkatsu preparation can be resumed in very short instructions. The thick cutlets are pounded, seasoned, dipped in flour, egg, panko and then deep-fried. Tonkatsu is served either on a “bed” of shredded cabbage, on top of a rice bowl or in a sandwich, usually with the equally famous commercial tonkatsu sauce. When I was in Tokyo I had a tonkatsu burger, the most delicious fast food treat I have ever tasted.
Even though I have always wanted to share with you my enthusiasm for this simple dish, it was left in the waiting list because my favourite, very thin tonkatsu is far from the traditional thick version. In my opinion very thin pork cutlets are lighter, crispier, quicker and easier to prepare (no need to pound them), but I had been convinced no one prepared them this way and I didn’t want to be accused of sacrilege.
Imagine my surprise when, last week, while browsing through my friend Nami’s older recipes (Just One Coobook), I saw a thin Tonkatsu version! I was pleasantly surprised to have had the same idea as such a renowned expert and this discovery has emboldened me to write about my version, in spite of the messy presentation and an unorthodox way to serve it. In fact, instead of the traditional tonkatsu sauce (see the TIPS) I most enjoy my tonkatsu with mayonnaise and thick crunchy chili oil sediments ( taken from my Taberu Rayu).
Deep-frying scares many people, but in my opinion it becomes very easy and quick with time. Everyone has different preferences of course, but the basic rule to observe is to make sure the food is completely dry before it’s fried (or breaded) to minimise the risk of oil splashes. Personally I prefer deep-frying in a small cooking pan (I have one which is only for deep-frying) using a small amount of oil. I also place the pan as far as possible from myself, just in case the oil splashes.
Deep-fried food should “swim” easily, so do not overcrowd the pan (otherwise the temperature becomes lower, the food fries slowly and absorbs more oil). I often have to cut mu pork slices in two, but they still taste great.
I am able to fry only one cutlet at a time. In order to make sure all the pork slices are hot when served, I place a baking dish in the oven at 100°C/212°F, line it with paper napkins and put there tonkatsu, one by one, until the whole frying process is finished.
Frying oil can be used as long as it doesn’t darken and is always filtered after each use (I usually throw it away after three times).
As I have mentioned above I serve my tonkatsu with mayonnaise combined with hot chili oil sediments (and sometimes with hot chili paste, such as Korean gochujang). The traditional tonkatsu sauce is available in Japanese grocery shops. Thanks to Hiroyuki’s kind advice (Hiroyuki’s Blog on Japanese Cooking), I know it can be substituted with a mixture of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce. I actually prefer now this home-made sauce because it is not as sweet as the commercial version.
If you want to see the very well explained and beautifully presented traditional thick Tonkatsu, hop to Nami’s blog.
A similar dish can be prepared with chicken breasts. Click here to see Nami’s Chicken Katsu recipe.
Preparation: about 30 minutes
Ingredients (serves two-three):
6 thin slices of pork loin (about 1/2 cm or about 1/4 in thick)
about 10 heaped tablespoons of panko
5 tablespoons wheat flour
1 egg, slightly beaten
oil for deep-frying
tonkatsu sauce to serve (or a mixture of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce) or mayonnaise + thick chili paste or taberu rayu sediment
Season the pork slices with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oil for deep-frying.
(I don’t have the special thermometer and put some panko in the oil to check the temperature. If it starts making bubbles, doesn’t fall down and is fried immediately, it means the oil is hot enough. )
Dust the pork slices with flour, dip them in the beaten egg and coat in panko, pressing so that the whole slice is covered.
Deep-fry them until golden, one by one (unless you have a very big frying dish), on both sides (it usually takes one minute per side).
Remove excess fat, placing the pork slices on paper towels.
Keep them in a warm oven (see the TIPS) until you finish frying all the slices.
Serve on rice or on shredded cabbage with tonkatsu sauce or with mayonnaise and chili paste (or chili oil sediment).