tonkatsu (crispy japanese pork cutlets)
When Stephen got back from Japan, the two things he raved about eating (well, besides an $80 Kobe steak and his drunken late night creation, “mexican toast pizzza”) were Mos Burgers and Tonkatsu, crispy fried pork cutlets served with their own special sauce over a bed of rice. As it turned out, this was a dish that is quite easy to recreate here, so I quickly learned to make it and discovered that it was a very accessible way to ease into Japanese food and cooking. From what I can gather it’s kind of a westernized Japanese food, but it’s very popular in Japan. It is very quick to put together, and a great budget meal–we can usually score 3-4 thin cut pork cutlets for a couple bucks, and the rest of the meal is just rice, cabbage, and some miso soup if you want to go all the way with the traditional serving methods. Easy and yum!
If you want to do everything right, you must first track down some Tonkatsu or pork cutlet sauce from the ethnic foods section of your grocery store (most carry it) or an asian market. I wasn’t a huge fan of the sauce at first (I ate my tonkatsu with sweet chili sauce instead, which is also delicious), but Stephen insists it really makes the dish, and I’ve since come around to it. It kind of tastes like a fruity version of A1 steak sauce to me, and in a good way– the fruitiness goes really well with the pork. I’ve seen recipes for making your own, and have never tried it because they always sound like they won’t taste right (they generally involve ketchup), but here is a fairly standard looking recipe if you want to try making it yourself.
Once you’ve got the sauce, the making of the actual cutlets is a snap, as is whipping up some miso soup, chopping some cabbage, and steaming some white rice if you want to make a full meal out of it. The presentation of the dish is apparently important, but easy; you slice the fried cutlets into strips, then reassemble it in cutlet shape atop the bed of rice and drizzle it generously with the tonkatsu sauce (as seen at the top of the page). The cabbage is served alongside, as is the miso. And you’re done! What’s below is almost more a guide to preparation than a recipe, as the measurements are all approximate (enough flour to coat, enough panko to coat, enough oil to coat the pan, etc), which I hope you will find helpful if you are preparing this for more than 2 people–you can just adjust your number of cutlets to suit your crowd, and increase panko and flour enough to coat as many as you have.
Serves 2 – 4
2-4 thin-sliced, boneless pork loin cutlets (depending on their size and your hunger)
Salt and pepper
2-4 T flour (just enough to coat the cutlets, so don’t worry about accurate measuring)
1 egg, beaten in a wide bowl
1 cup Panko bread crumbs, in a wide bowl
about 3/4 oil, for frying (peanut–enough to coat your pan about 1/4 inch deep)
To serve: cabbage, julienned; white rice, cooked; miso soup, prepared; tonkatsu sauce, to drizzle
Trim your cutlets of any undesirable, sinewy bits. Season with salt and pepper, then dust with flour to coat well. Dredge cutlets in egg, then press into panko crumbs. I like to put my panko in a shallow bowl, make a well in the middle, stick the cutlet in it, and then sort of bury the cutlet in crumbs and press to really give it a good coat. Flip it over, and press crumbs onto the other side. Set aside on a plate, and repeat with remaining cutlets, replenishing your egg or panko if necessary. In the best case scenario, in which you have extra time, you would at this point stick the cutlets in the fridge for about 30 minutes to really set the crumb coating before frying, but we almost never bother with this step.
Heat oil in a skillet large enough to accomodate a few cutlets over medium heat (don’t be tempted to bump the heat up too high, or you will brown your cutlets before they have a chance to cook through). When oil is good and hot, gently set cutlets in oil and cook, turning occasionally (I use tongs), until rich golden brown on both sides. At medium heat, this should take long enough (about 10 minutes) that your cutlets should be cooked through completely, but if your cutlets are thickish or if you’re unsure, just take a little peek to be sure. Then remove cutlets to a paper towel lined plate, to drain off the oil.
When the cutlets have cooled just a little and dried up a bit, slice into 3/4 inch strips without disassembling the cutlet shape. Pick them up as a whole and lay over a bed of rice on each plate, then drizzle generously with Tonkatsu sauce. Serve alongside cabbage and miso.