Japanese cooks love to take Western dishes and make them their own. That’s how tonkatsu – essentially, breaded pork cutlets – became one of the most beloved foods in my home country.
In the typical Japanese fashion, affection has developed into obsession, with restaurants dedicated to tonkatsu and chefs debating over the proper cuts of pork, the type of fat (pork lard? sesame oil?), and frying temperature.
Yet at home, serving tonkatsu is as simple as making chicken cutlets but ten times as delicious thanks to extra-crunchy panko breadcrumbs and umami-packed tonkatsu sauce.
I can’t bring myself to say you can’t use one of the many bottled versions of this sweet-tangy sauce. After all, even homemade versions rely on other bottled products. Yet making it yourself lets you control the sweetness. I leave my version chunky, but feel free to blend if you prefer a smoother sauce.
*Recipe excerpted with permission from Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking by Masaharu Morimoto.
For the cutlets
- About 10 cups vegetable oil (for deep frying)
- 4 ½-inch-thick pork loin cutlets (about 1 pound total)
- To taste kosher salt
- To taste ground white pepper
- About 1½ cups panko breadcrumbs
- About 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 3 cups white cabbage, very thinly sliced
- For serving lemon wedges
- For serving tonkatsu sauce (recipe follows)
For the tonkatsu sauce (makes about 3/4 cup)
- ¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
- ½ cup seeded, cored, finely chopped canned whole tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 3 tablespoons ketchup
- 2 tablespoons molasses (not blackstrap)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
For the culets
- 1 Pour about 2 inches of vegetable oil into a medium pot and set it over medium-high heat until the oil reaches 350 ̊F on the deep-fry thermometer.
- 2 Use the tip of a sharp knife to score the cutlets, making about a dozen short, shallow cuts all over each side. This keeps the cutlets from curling as they fry. Season both sides lightly with salt and pepper.
- 3 Put the panko, flour, and eggs in three separate wide bowls. Working with one cutlet at a time, add it to the flour and turn to coat it, shaking off any excess. Transfer it to the egg and turn to coat, letting any excess egg drip off. Finally, transfer it to the panko, turning to coat well and piling on some of the panko and pressing lightly with your hands. The goal is to get as much panko to adhere as you can. Transfer the breaded cutlet to a plate and repeat with the remaining cutlets. Discard any leftover flour, egg, and panko.
- 4 Soak the cabbage in icy water for 10 minutes and drain well. Just before you fry, stir the oil well. Fry the cutlets two at a time, adjusting the heat if necessary to maintain the oil temperature and turning the pieces over occasionally, until the cutlets are golden brown and crispy, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain and fry the remaining cutlets. Let the cutlets rest for a few minutes, then cut them into ¾-inch slices and serve with the cabbage, lemon, and sauce for dipping.
For the tonkatsu sauce
- 1 Put the sesame seeds in a medium pan, set it over medium heat, and toast, stirring and tossing frequently, until they’re a few shades darker, about 3 minutes. Transfer them to a bowl and let them cool.
- 2 Combine the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan, stir, and set over medium heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer, lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the flavors come together, about 10 minutes. Season to taste. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and let it come to room temperature. It keeps in the fridge for up to 1 week.
- 3 When you’re ready to serve, pound the seeds to a powder in a mortar or grind them in a spice grinder and serve in a bowl at the table, instructing your guests to mix the paste into the sauce to taste.