Saturday, September 8, 2012

The one where I discover tonkatsu

I've been in a major cooking rut the last few weeks. Months, really. There's no excuse for it, not with all the wonderful summer produce around. For some reason, I've been making the same things over and over again. The short list includes Chicky Teri, Spaghetti with Shrimp and Arugula, various pureed soups, and the assorted quickie dinners that are the best friend of the home cook: pan-roasted salmon with steamed green beans, grilled flank steak with romesco.

I did make one new, great roast chicken--a Spanish roast chicken, with chorizo and little potatoes--of which I neglected to take a single photo. That post will have to wait for the encore presentation. But overall, I've been relying on old recipes, whose grocery lists and directions are etched in my mind.

Finally, though, I felt like doing something new: tonkatsu.

Tonkatsu is the Japanese idea of Western food, according to this article. The Japanese enjoy these little breaded cutlets, dipped in tonkatsu sauce (reminiscent of BBQ sauce) in their Denny's restaurants and are often surprised when visiting the States to not see tonkatsu on the menu.

My friend Stacie posted about this awhile ago, and I often order it as part of bento boxes at Japanese restaurants. But somehow, I'd never made it on my own. Part of it was a faint resistance to breading and frying pork. Now, writing this, it seems like an absurd claim. But, also, tonkatsu ("ton" is pork, "katsu" is cutlet) is often pounded thin. I have no meat pounder. This always seemed an obstacle.

I overcame this so-called barrier to my tonkatsu enjoyment by placing each cutlet between two pieces of plastic wrap, then giving them some good whacks with my cast iron skillet. I wasn't able to get them too thin, but it helped. I think in the end, they were about 1/2" thick.

The recipe is simple. I actually combined, sort of, the directions in the links above and it all worked out just fine. I made four cutlets; we ate two four dinner and the next day, we had them for lunch. The husband's was packed tidily in a tupperware, snuggled between a scoop of rice and mound of bright green broccoli. I started to feel the need to buy some real bento boxes.

I think I can safely say the rut is over.

4 boneless pork chops, about 1/2"-3/4" thick
1 cup (more or less) panko
1/4 c. flour
1 egg, beaten
vegetable oil for frying
sliced green onions, optional

Tonkatsu sauce
1 T. soy sauce
2 T worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1 t. brown sugar
1 t. dijon mustard

Directions: Make tonkatsu sauce by whisking all ingredients together. Set aside.

Pound pork cutlets to desired thickness. Season both sides with salt and pepper.

Set up your assembly line: place flour on one plate, beaten egg in a shallow dish wide enough for dipping, and panko on a third plate. Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a skillet (I used my non-stick) over medium heat.

While the oil is heating, prep cutlets: coat in flour, shaking off the excess; dip in egg (letting excess drip off); and roll in panko, pressing crumbs in. Place chops in pan. You should hear a sizzle, but be careful that the oil is not so hot that it will burn the panko before the pork is cooked. For my cutlets, which were medium-thick, they cooked a total of 8-9 minutes, flipping once, and were perfectly done. The thinner the cutlet, the quicker they'll cook.

When the cutlets are golden brown and crispy, remove to a plate lined with paper towels and let sit for a minute. Sprinkle with green onions and serve, with tonkatsu sauce on the side for dipping.


  1. Your quickie dinners and your "rut" meals sound pretty darn good. You obviously have not joined us for a microwave meal at our house during the week. I think we literally fling food-it is a sad state of affairs.

    Breaded pork cutlets (japanese style) looks delicious. I would dig these!

    Happy late summer to you!


  2. I think this would be even tastier - and cuter! - in a bento box! I have made chicken katsu before but not tonkatsu. But never occurred to me to try making katsu sauce nor did it occur to me how simple the sauce might be! Will have to try making both now. - Pete

  3. Velva: Well, we don't have a microwave--if we did, I'm sure our weeknight dinners would look quite a bit different!
    Happy late summer to you too!

    Pete: Try it! It's fun to make and delicious. FYI, the sauce is strong--I like it for dipping not drizzling so that you can really control how much you get in each bite :)

  4. Growing up in Hawaii, tonkatsu was pretty popular in plate lunches and traditional bento boxes at the Japanese restaurants. I've also never made it myself, mostly because of the deep-frying. (But sounds like you did more of a pan-frying, eh?) Yours turned out nice and golden brown. I have a feeling we're going to see photos of bento boxes in the near future! ;-)

  5. i KNEW my cast iron skillet would come in handy one day for something other than pancakes. good thinking, and thanks for introducing me to tonkatsu!

  6. Ben: Yes, it was definitely pan fried rather than deep fried. That's marginally better, right?!

    grace: your cast iron would be perfect for this!

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  8. I just emerged from a rut - they are awful! Love katsu!! Deep fried may be better. :) But we never do at home. Even make this in oven....

  9. Just made this on Tuesday--great! Kids love it, of course. My next goal is to recreate that open-faced sandwich from The Woolly Pig...

  10. ALY: Ooh, good idea with the oven.

    Jary: Awesome! And, was just at the WP yesterday and mentioned your love of that sammie to the owner...he said it had a bechamel sauce too I think?

  11. That looks wonderful! I do use my heavy frying pan to whack things when they need whacking, and it does a fine job. I might try these with thin slices of pork tenderloin, which needs no whacking to be tender. Thanks for a nice inspiration - I've been kind of in a rut, too.

  12. Oh, and, have you been to Italy yet? Maybe you'd like to share it so we can all be jealous? :-)

  13. Hi Zoom! This would be great with tenderloin. And no, we haven't gone yet--two weeks to go. Will definitely post some photos post-trip.

  14. Oh I hear you about quickie dinners! We have been subsisting on the same few meals lately but, as Velva points out, nowhere near as glam as your meals! I do enjoy ordering tonkatu but have never attempted a home cooked version. You make it looks easy :)

  15. Yum!! It's also good when you use it for a sandwich.

  16. shaz: Well I have plenty of unglamorous meals too, they just don't make it to the blog...

    Jessica: Brilliant idea!

  17. This looks great! I've never attempted tonkatsu, but you've made it simple!