Tonkatsu

Tonkatsu, a Japanese breaded and fried pork cutlet served with a sweet and savory fruit sauce.

Call me a geek, but I’m a bit obsessed with the history of food. Contrary to popular belief, even the most “authentic” dishes are often influenced by ingredients or techniques from other parts of the world. That’s because the journey of food parallels the journey of humankind, taking unexpected twists and turns, which bring ingredients and techniques continents away from where they originated.

For Tonkatsu (豚カツ) , it’s not entirely clear where the journey started, but deep-frying is not a native method of preparing food in Japan. The first written account of the dish is in a cookbook published in 1872 called Seiyou Ryouritsu (literally “The Western World Cookbook), which describes a breaded and fried dish called Hohru Katsuretsu (Whole Cutlet). The first recorded appearance on a restaurant menu was at Rengatei in Ginza around 1899 going by the name of Pohku Katsuretsu (Pork Cutlet).

The timing coincides with the Meiji Restoration which brought with it the opening of trade with the West along with a constitution that was modelled after the legal structures of the German Empire. The English name suggests it was introduced by the British or the Americans, but the true origin of the dish is most likely the Austrian Wiener Schnitzel, or the Italian Cotoletta alla Milanese.

The name Tonkatsu didn’t appear until later and is a portmanteau of ton, which means “pork” in Japanese and katsu, which is an abbreviation of katsuretsu, the Japanese transcription of “cutlet”. Whatever its origins, tonkatsu’s popularity has spread all over Asia with regional variations, such as in Korea, where it’s known as donkkaseu (돈까스).

Tonkatsu Recipe

Since Tonkatsu is a simple dish that only has a few ingredients, the quality of the ingredients matter. The most important component is the pork and you’ll want to splurge here on a tender cut with some fat marbled in. I like using either a loin chop or rib chop but look for a cut with even marbling and without much connective tissue and you should be okay. Heritage breeds like Berkshire (kurobuta) or Iberico are the best since they haven’t had the fat bred out of them.

Traditionally Tonkatsu is served with a nest of shredded raw cabbage, spicy mustard and a sweet fruit-based sauce, but my favourite way of having it is with Japanese curry. There’s something divinely satisfying about biting through the crisp golden breading into the tender juicy pork while the sweet, spicy curry sauce swirls around in your mouth. If you end up with leftovers they’re great in sandwiches (Katsusando), and they can also be used to make Katsudon(Tonkatsu with onions and eggs over rice).

Equipment you'll need:

Tonkatsu Recipe
Tonkatsu
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Tonkatsu is a Japanese breaded and fried pork cutlet served with a sweet and savory fruit sauce.
Tonkatsu Recipe
Tonkatsu
Print Recipe
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Votes: 5
Rating: 3.6
You:
Rate this recipe!
Tonkatsu is a Japanese breaded and fried pork cutlet served with a sweet and savory fruit sauce.
Servings Prep Time
cutlets 5minutes
Cook Time
10minutes
Servings Prep Time
cutlets 5minutes
Cook Time
10minutes
Ingredients
  • 1/2 head of cabbage
  • 930 grams pork - loin chops (about 4 1" thick chops)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • flour - all-purpose (for dusting
  • 1 large egg
  • 60 grams panko ~ 1 1/2 cups
  • oil for frying
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Units:
Instructions
    for cabbage
    1. To prepare the cabbage salad, separate the leaves from the head, trim off the tough stems, roll a few leaves together and use a sharp knife to slice the cabbage into thin threads. If you have a mandoline, you can leave the half-head of cabbage whole and just mandoline the cabbage and then pick out the tough bits.
    2. Soak the cabbage in cold water while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. This not only crisps the cabbage it tames some of the cabbagy funk.
    for tonkatsu
    1. Prepare two bowls, one with a well beaten egg and the other with the panko. Prepare a wire rack lined with 2 paper towels. Making Tonkatsu
    2. Add 1 1/2-inches of oil to a heavy bottomed pot and then add 1 tablespoon of toasted sesame oil. Heat the oil to 340 degrees F (170 C).
    3. For the pork, salt and pepper both sides. You can also add other seasonings here. Japanese Pork Cutlet
    4. Dust the chops with an even coating of flour. Best Tonkatsu
    5. Dip the cutlet in the egg and coat evenly.
    6. Transfer the pork to the panko and dust evenly, pressing down gently on the cutlet to ensure you get a good coating of breadcrumbs.
    7. Fry the cutlets until the panko is golden brown and they register 145 degrees F (63 C) with an instant read thermometer. Flip once to ensure even browning and use a skimmer to remove any foam that accumulates on the surface of the oil. Be sure to remove the katsu from oil before measuring the temperature or you'll end up getting a false reading. Depending on how thick your chops are they will take anywhere from 7-10 minutes to cook through. Japanese Tonkatsu
    8. Drain the pork on the paper towel lined rack and let it rest for a few minutes.
    9. While the pork rests, drain the cabbage and use a salad spinner to remove any excess moisture. Place big mounds of cabbage on each plate.
    10. Slice the tonkatsu and plate with the cabbage. Serve with Tonkatsu sauce. If you don't have tonkatsu sauce, you can make a simple version by mixing a 1:1 ratio of ketchup and worcestershire sauce.
    Notes

    This is recipe is for a very basic tonkatsu, but if you want to do something a little different you can add seasonings such as grated ginger or garlic or even curry powder when you salt and pepper the chops. Alternatively you can also brine the pork ahead of time to give it even more flavor.

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    • http://www.alyssaandcarla.com/ Alyssa W

      I love the idea of seasoning with curry, I’m definitely trying that.

    • Stephen

      Hey Marc? Any thoughts on making the Tonkatsu sauce from scratch? Bulldog seems to be the storebought standard, but I’m sure there’s a better way or a better brand out there.

      • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

        Hi Stephen, while Bulldog or Kagome make perfectly serviceable sauces, I do like homemade sauces better. Never really thought to actually document it though but I’ll add it to the list of reader requests.

        • James

          Let me second this request–some tips for where to start with a homemade tonkatsu sauce would be amazing!

          • MG_Siegler

            I third that…

    • Stephen

      I remember Hamakatsu preferred a sesame grind into their sauce… Just reminiscing back to Japan…. :-)

    • Tiffany Cheng

      I love tonkatsu, but I also love chicken katsu and beef katsu. Katsu (whether beef katsu, chicken katsu, or tonkatsu) is one my favorite food since my childhood years. When I was a ten years old girl, my mother sometimes likes to cook katsu for Sunday lunch.

      My mother prefers to use the yellow colored panko instead of the white one. Because my mother said that the yellow colored panko doesn’t darken when its fried, unlike the white one which is easily darkens when its fried.

    • Taz

      The ‘barbecue sauce’ we get in Australia is a pretty good substitute for the bulldog brand (similar ingredients). Adding a little worcestershire (just a dash) will balance the sweetness.

    • angelica

      wow tonkatsu how i wish i could taste it.

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    I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!

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