When asked what are my favourite Japanese dishes, I never forget to mention tonkatsu (豚カツ), or breaded pork cutlet. Thanks to the deep-frying method and the use of crisp panko instead of softer bread crumbs, this dish is my opinion superior to its European breaded, shallow-fried cousins (in fact “katsu” is a Japanised version of the word “côtelette” or “cutlet” and has obvious Western origins). Needless to say, every tonkatsu meal is a real treat. After dozens of batches, I have never considered swapping loin for any other pork cut until I saw the tenderloin version on Hiroyuki’s blog. Intrigued by the cute, mini-tonkatsu, called hitokuchi katsu, I decided to give them a try. As you have probably guessed, the result was thoroughly satisfying. To tell you the truth, it has recently become my favourite version of tonkatsu.
Hitokuchi katsu means “bite-sized cutlet” and is usually made with tenderloin (though I have seen it somewhere on internet made with pork belly). In reality these mini-cutlets require rather two or three bites, but due to their small size, they can still be treated as snacks or “drink” food. I have enjoyed them served with rice, in a “proper” meal, but they were also excellent with some pickles and a glass of shochu (click here to learn more about shochu). As its name suggests it, tenderloin is softer than loin and in spite of being lean, it doesn’t dry as easily as loin. I have tested both thick and thin versions of hitokuchi katsu and both were excellent, the latter being crisper and the former juicier. If you already know – and like – tonkatsu, you will not regret experimenting with tenderloin.
Hiroyuki, thank you so much for this excellent idea and constant inspiration!
If you have never tasted or cooked Tonkatsu, you might want to try its most popular pork loin version first:
or the equally good chicken version, called Chicken Katsu:
Deep-frying scares many home cooks, 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).
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 reused as long as it doesn’t darken and is filtered after each use (I usually throw it away after three times). If you fry a lot of batches, you might want to strain the oil in the middle of frying, after 4-5 batches (there will be lots of burnt panko pieces which will stick to freshly fried cutlets).
From my experience, deep-fried food, if the oil temperature is correct and the pan is not crowded, absorbs less oil than shallow fried, so if you have a choice between the two, try deep-frying.
Sauce suggestions: Traditionally tonkatsu is served with “tonkatsu sauce” 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.
Another “sauce” I love with tonkatsu (and hitokuchikatsu) is mayonnaise and hot chili oil sediments from taberu rayu (and sometimes with hot chili paste, such as Korean gochujang).
I have recently discovered that my Tomato Indian-Style Chutney is simply perfect with tonkatsu (hereby I encourage you to try making it this year and stock your pantry!).
Slicing tip: You can cut the tenderloin into 1/2 – 1 cm (1/4- 1/2 in) slices, depending on your preferences; the thicker the slices, the juicier they will be; the thinner ones will be crispier. I always slice tenderloin diagonally, starting with a very small angle and increasing it at the thinner tip of the tenderloin.
Preparation: about 30 minutes
Ingredients (serves two-three):
10 – 12 slices of pork tenderloin (1 or 1/2 cm or about 1/2 or 1/4 in thick, depending on your preferences: the thicker the slices are the juicier they will be; the thinner ones will be crispier)
about 10 heaped tablespoons of panko
5 tablespoons wheat flour
1 egg, slightly beaten
oil for deep-frying
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 golden 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 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 or simply as a snack with drinks, with tonkatsu sauce or with mayonnaise and chili paste (or chili oil sediment).