Don’t let the name fool you – there’s a good chance you’ve had Tonkatsu before. A staple of Japanese restaurants, this pounded, breaded and fried pork cutlet is a crunchy counterpoint to rice and Miso soup. Another place you may have come across Tonkatsu is on vacation! Tonkatsu is the most popular choice on Hawaii’s “plate lunch” menus, served alongside rice and macaroni salad. If you are still unfamiliar with this deep-fried Asian delicacy, don’t give up – it is incredibly easy to make at home, and it’s just as tasty and satisfying as a bowl of potato chips!
The only ingredient you may not have in your pantry is panko. Panko is Japanese breadcrumbs, and it’s what takes this dish from Shake-and-Bake to “Arigato!” You can find it in your grocery store if it has an “Asian” section, or at any Whole Foods or Japanese market. Aside from making Tonkatsu and Tempura so delicious and crispy, I use it in place of regular breadcrumbs on top of casseroles. It stays fluffy and crunchy and doesn’t get soggy. Trust me and use it on top of baked macaroni and cheese – fantastic!
As far as serving Tonkatsu, you have a lot of options. There are many brands of Katsu sauce (katsu is the name of the preparation, so you could make chicken katsu, ground beef katsu, even ham katsu, if the mood struck), but through much arduous research and hours of scholarly pursuit, I found you can easily make it at home. (Just kidding – I read the ingredients on all the bottles!) I’ve included my take on Katsu sauce, but you can also serve it with other Asian sauces – Citrusy Ponzu sauce, Sweet and Spicy Chinese Plum sauce, or like the Hawaiians, with a bottle of fiery Sriracha at hand!
Don’t feel like Miso Soup as an accompaniment? Don’t worry. Serve Tonkatsu with a green salad and pasta. Serve it Korean-style, with banchans, kimchee and rice. Get wacky and serve it on a roll as a sandwich! Next time I make it, I’m serving it club-style on wheat bread, with lettuce, avocado, and maybe a jury-rigged spicy mayo. The sky’s the limit; get frying!
- 4 thin-cut, boneless pork chops
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
- oil for frying – I’ve used grape seed oil, plain vegetable oil, and the best was rendered bacon fat!
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1 teapoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar or honey
- Prepare your pork chops: If they are thicker than 1/4-inch, lay them out on a piece of plastic wrap, and pound with a meat tenderizer. You want them flat and pounded down to a 1/4-inch thickness, and you want to try to get it as even as possible, so the cutlets cook evenly. Trim any excess fat and season with salt and pepper.
- Make a breading station: in one bowl, add the flour; in a second bowl, beat the egg with a teaspoon of water; and in a third bowl, pour in the panko.
- Heat the oil in a small pan – cast iron works really well here, but whatever you have is fine. Smaller is better because it means you can use less oil and fry the cutlets quicker. You want about 1/4 cup of oil, so that it will come about halfway up the side of the cutlet, but adjust the amount of oil depending on the size of your pan. While the oil is heating, prepare your first cutlet: dredge in flour, dip in egg, then coat in panko, pressing it to make it stick and ensure even coverage. Lay the cutlet gently in the hot oil – careful for splatters! Now is a good time to wear an apron! Cook for about 3 minutes, and flip when the bottom is medium-golden brown. Cook the other side for about 2-3 minutes. These go from underdone to too-dark pretty quickly, so no wandering away!
- Prepare the rest of the cutlets the same way, adding more oil if necessary, adjusting the heat so the cutlets brown but not burn.
- Make the dipping sauce: stir together the ketchup, soy sauce and sugar or honey. Add a few drops of hot sauce if you like, or a bit of hot mustard if you like. In the photo above, I added some minced onion. Drain the oil from the tonkatsu on a paper towel-lined plate, and sprinkle with salt.
Explore, experiment, enjoy! — Dana
Find more recipes from Dana, Asian and otherwise, at Frugal Girlmet!