Japanese cuisine can be divided roughly into washoku 和食, traditional Japanese food, and yoshoku 洋食, which defines dishes inspired by Western cuisines. Unsurprisingly, the former is healthy and light, while the latter contains many deep-fried, rich dishes. I quickly realised my heart goes very often (maybe too often) to the westernised cuisine and such deep-fried delicacies as korokke コロッケ(potato croquettes), ebi fry (breaded shrimp) or tonkatsu 豚カツ (breaded pork loin) are among my favourite Japanese dishes. The fact that these dishes were the only ones I could read on menus in Japan (they are in majority written in one of the two Japanese syllabaries, much easier to decipher than Chinese characters) makes me love them even more.
Breaded chicken cutlets, or chicken katsu, (“katsu” is a Japanised version of the word “cutlet” or “côtelette”), are at least as excellent as tonkatsu, their close cousins, but in my opinion they are easier, quicker and more crowd-pleasing. Some of my friends call them Japanese chicken nuggets. The main difference in the preparation is that, unlike pork loin, chicken breast is often cut into smaller pieces and briefly marinated before being fried. (Although I have seen also bigger chicken katsu versions too).
I know I’m repeating myself, but I have to emphasize that Japanese breaded dishes are not mere copies of their Western counterparts. First of all, Japanese flaky panko creates a lighter, crunchier result than simple dried bread crumbs. Moreover, thanks to deep-frying, the dishes cook quicker, absorb less oil and are juicier. (Of course, if you prefer shallow-frying, you can easily shallow fry chicken katsu).
As a big fan of Nami’s blog (Just One Cookbook), an infinite source of well-explained and beautifully photographed Japanese recipes, I naturally chose her Chicken Katsu recipe and wasn’t disappointed. The result was perfect, as every time I follow Nami’s instructions and advice. Thank you so much, Nami, for one more infallible recipe!
If you prefer pork, you might like my Thin version of Tonkatsu, or Breaded Pork Cutlets (as you see this is one of my favourite bowls…):
Traditionally both tonkatsu and chicken katsu are served with a dark, thick sauce called “Tonkatsu sauce”. It is available in Japanese grocery shops, but is too sweet and too heavy to my taste. Thanks to Hiroyuki’s kind advice (Hiroyuki’s Blog on Japanese Cooking), I make my own version mixing ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce. I also serve chicken katsu with mayonnaise and hot chili oil sediments you see above or with hot chili paste, such as Korean gochujang.
Deep-frying scares many people, but becomes 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. If you are really not comfortable with deep-frying or don’t have enough oil, you can of course shallow fry this dish.
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).
You will probable have to fry in several batches (unless you have a big deep-frying dish or make a small batch). In order to make sure all the chicken pieces 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 deep-fried bits, one by one, until the whole frying process is finished. This way they keep warm and if you serve them in the same hot baking dish, they will stay warm on the table too.
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, but it depends on what you fry… Fish for example can make the oil smell strong, so keep it only for fish or seafood frying).
Preparation: about 30 minutes
Ingredients (serves two):
2 medium chicken breasts
about 10 heaped tablespoons of panko
5 tablespoons wheat flour
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon sake
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
Slice chicken breasts diagonally into 1 cm (about 1/2 inch) thick slices.
(If you keep the chicken tenderloins; i.e the thin strips attached to the breast, but usually sold with the breast, separate them from the main piece of breast and simply cut them in horizontally in two).
Season the chicken slices with sake, salt and pepper.
In the meantime 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 chicken 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, in batches, trying not to overcrowd the pan (unless you have a very big frying dish), on both sides (it usually takes 2- 3 minutes per side).
Remove excess fat, placing the meat slices on paper towels.
Keep them in a warm oven (see the TIPS above) until you finish frying all the batches.
Serve with rice, on shredded cabbage or a light salad with the special Japanese tonkatsu sauce or, like I do, with mayonnaise and chili paste (or chili oil sediment).
Chicken tonkatsu is also excellent as a snack (you can cut it in bite-sized pieces too).