Japanese Pork Tonkatsu
In every culture there seems to be some version of breaded, fried meat. In Italy, there’s veal parmigiana; in Mexico, steak doused with bread crumbs is called milanesa; in Germany, cooks use crumbs from dried Kaiser rolls to make wiener schnitzel; I suppose chicken-fried steak could count as America’s contribution to this category. In Japan, thin slices of pork are battered with panko crumbs then fried to create tonkatsu.
Last November, a friend invited me over to a pre-Thanksgiving meal where she was teaching how to cook a traditional roasted turkey, stuffing and, of course, pumpkin pie to friends of hers from Japan. Her friends knew as many English words as I knew Japanese, which amounted to two—‘thank you’ (arigato) and ‘hello’ (konnichiwa). But once we started rolling out pie crusts, we found a common language, food. (It helped that my friend was fluent in both Japanese and English.)
As a thank-you for the afternoon of all things Thanksgiving, my friend and I were invited over for some Japanese instruction a month later. Of all the things we cooked and sampled that day (I don’t think I’ll ever have a taste for mochi balls, but the sweet bean paste was tasty), the pork tonkatsu became a favorite for our family.
You make tonkatsu as you might other breaded meats, with a few key differences. Thin slices of pork are dredged in flour, then whisked eggs, then panko bread crumbs. Using the right bread crumbs is key—panko crumbs are not only crustless, but they’re lighter than American bread crumbs, making for a crispier coating. You can find panko in the Asian food aisle of just about any area grocery store.
Serve the tonkatsu over steamed white rice and veggies. Traditionally, there’s also a ketchup-like sauce served alongside. While it’s known as ‘Tonkatsu sauce’ my Japanese foodie friends call it ‘Bull-dog’ because that’s one of the more popular brands in Japan. While some grocers carry Bull-dog, you might have to go to an Asian grocery store to track it down. It’s worth making the trip—the combination of the sweet/sour Bull-dog sauce, crisp-fried pork and rice makes for a meal my kids ask for again and again.
Prep time: 30 minutes + 20-30 minutes cooking
Serving: 5 + leftovers
1.5-2 pound pork loin
½ Tablespoon soy sauce
1 cup flour
1 bag panko bread crumbs (usually around 7.4 ounces)
Oil for frying
- In three shallow dishes or plates, prepare the following (I find pie plates work nicely). One dish with 1 cup flour. Whisk the eggs with soy sauce and pour into a separate plate. On the final plate place half the bag of panko crumbs.
- On a cutting board, slice the pork loin into small pieces, about ¼” thick.
- On a clean cutting board lay a couple pieces of pork between two sheets of plastic wrap. Gently pound the meat until the slice becomes slightly thinner. Repeat with the remaining meat slices.
- Working with one pork slice at a time, dredge the piece in flour, then lightly tap off excess, then dip it into the egg mixture and finally the panko. Place the battered meat slice onto a baking sheet.
- Repeat with the remaining slices of pork.
- Pour oil up to ½ an inch in a cooking pan. Heat to medium-high heat (test using a crumb of panko—it should start to sizzle when place in the oil).
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
- Gently place 2 or 3 battered pork slices into the prepared oil, fry for 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove the meat from the oil onto a cookie sheet fitted with a wire rack to drain off excess oil.
- Place in the warm oven while you fry the rest of the meat slices. Cut into long strips and serve over rice (this also makes for excellent leftovers—if you have any!).