Although there are many regional variations around Japan, the most popular version of Chicken Katsudon (チキンカツ丼) is made with a bed of rice topped with cutlets of chicken that have been simmered in a savory-sweet broth with onions and egg. It’s a great way to use leftover cutlets, which makes it a popular lunch item in homes and cafeterias around Japan.
Why this recipe works
- I usually fry chicken katsu at 340 degrees F (170C) for about 6-8 minutes, which results in a fully cooked (though still juicy) interior and crisp golden-brown exterior. For Katsudon, it’s best to fry it at about 355 degrees F (180C) for 4-5 minutes. This results in a slightly undercooked interior and medium-brown exterior. That’s not usually a good thing, but since we need to cook Katsudon a second time, you can prevent overcooking the meat by slightly undercooking it the first time. The darker brown exterior also increases the amount of toasty/nutty flavors in the breading, which works well for this dish.
- While it may seem counterintuitive to cook the crisp katsu in liquid, the browned breading soaks up the flavorful broth like a sponge, which makes for a delicious transition between the creamy egg and juicy chicken.
- The trick to getting the egg nice and creamy is to cut the heat early, allowing the residual heat in the pan to gently cook the egg through to a thick jiggly texture.
Ingredients for Chicken Katsudon
- Katsu – Chicken Katsu, Tonkatsu (pork), and Gyukatsu(beef) all work for this recipe and can be substituted without any changes.
- Eggs – Katsudon is best when the eggs are still a little creamy, so it is important to use fresh eggs from a farm you trust. Eating undercooked eggs always carries the risk of food-borne illness, so if you are worried about it, you should cook the eggs through fully.
- Onions – I just use regular yellow onions for this. You want to slice them fairly thinly so that they cook through quickly. Otherwise, you’ll lose too much of your sauce due to evaporation. You can also add or substitute other members of the allium genus such as leeks, garlic chives, or garlic scapes.
- Katsudon sauce – The sauce for Katsudon has a dashi-stock base, which is seasoned with a mixture of sake, soy sauce, and sugar. This makes for an umami-rich broth that strikes an exquisite balance between savory and sweet. If you can’t use sake for some reason, you can substitute extra dashi.
- Rice – Although hot white rice is the traditional bed for donburi dishes, there’s a lot of room to change this based on your dietary preferences. Multi-grain rice, quinoa, and cauliflower rice are just a few possibilities.
- Garnish – I like to garnish my Katsudon with a few mitsuba leaves, but chopped scallions will work as well. Some people also like to sprinkle some shichimi chili flakes onto their donburi.
How to make Chicken Katsudon
If you are using leftover chicken katsu, you can skip ahead a few steps, but Katsudon turns out best if you fry the katsu at a higher temperature than you usually would if you were eating the katsu by itself. You can follow the directions in my Chicken Katsu recipe or Tonkatsu recipe to learn how to prepare and bread your cutlet and then follow these instructions to fry it.
Heat 1.5-2 inches of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot to 355 degrees F (180 C) and prepare a paper towel-lined rack.
Fry the cutlet for 4-5 minutes, or until they are medium brown on the outside. Be sure to flip it over at least once to ensure it browns evenly. It’s okay if the meat is slightly undercooked as it will be cooked again in the broth. When it’s done, drain it on the prepared rack and let it cool enough to handle.
Slice the katsu into relatively thick slices as you will need to flip these over individually while cooking.
Briefly beat the egg. You still want a clear separation between the egg whites and yolks, as this creates a marbling effect in the finished donburi.
Slice the onions relatively thinly and drop them into a non-stick 8-inch omelet pan along with the dashi, sake, soy sauce, and sugar. Bring this mixture to a simmer over medium heat and adjust the temperature to maintain the simmer. You don’t want the heat to be too high, or all of your sauce will evaporate.
When your onions are tender, add the sliced cutlet and nestle the pieces between the onions. Let this cook until the bottom of the katsu has absorbed some of the broth.
Flip the chicken over and then continue cooking it in the broth until the chicken is warmed through and fully cooked.
Drizzle the egg mixture evenly over everything. Use chopsticks or tongs to move the chicken and onions around a bit to redistribute the egg and mix it with the remaining broth.
Slam the pan against the stove to settle the egg. If you have a fragile cooktop, such as an induction burner, you’ll want to do this on a separate surface that won’t break.
Turn off the heat and allow carry-over cooking to partially cook the remaining egg. Katsudon is best when the egg is still creamy and jiggly, however, if you want to cook the egg thoroughly, you can cover the pan with a lid before you turn off the heat and allow the egg to steam until it is done to your liking.
In a large bowl that’s about the width of your pan, add enough rice to fill it about halfway. Shake the pan to loosen the egg from the pan and slide it over the rice. You can use a spatula to help if you need it.
Garnish the rice bowl with mitsuba or chopped scallions and serve immediately.
Variations on Katsudon
- Sauce Katsudon – This is the original version of Katsudon with a crisp fried cutlet dipped in tonkatsu sauce, served over a bowl of rice. Although it has fallen out of favor in most areas of Japan, there are still regions like Fukui and Niigata, where it is still popular.
- Miso Katsudon – In Nagoya, it is popular to cover the katsu with a sweet miso glaze and serve it over rice.
- Demi Katsudon – In this specialty of Okayama, the katsu is served with a demi-glace sauce poured over it like gravy, and it’s often garnished with peas.
- Shoyu Katsudon – In Gifu, Tonkatsu can be served over rice drizzled with sweet soy sauce.
- Tartar Katsudon – One of the more unusual variations. In Gunma, Katsudon is served with a heaping mound of tartar sauce over crisp katsu and rice.
Other Japanese rice bowls
Donburi (丼) is a type of large ceramic bowl usually used to serve rice or noodles. It is also the name for a rice dish served in the eponymous bowl with seasoned meat, seafood, and or egg on top. When used to refer to the dish, it is often abbreviated as just don.
Katsudon is an abbreviation of katsuretsu donburi which literally means “cutlet rice bowl”. However, katsu (カツ) sounds like the verb katsu (勝つ), which means “to win.” That’s why it’s often eaten before or after a big challenge in life, such as an exam, or match. For example, in the original version of Midnight Diner (yes, the US is missing out on a few seasons of the series) season 1, episode 6 features a boxer who stops by the diner after a win to eat Katsudon.
Katsudon was originally just Tonkatsu dipped in Sauce and served over a bowl of rice. How this became the simmered dish that it is today is not clear. One creation story suggests it was invented in 1921 near Waseda University at a soba restaurant called Sanchoan. In the evenings, the restaurant became an izakaya that served Tonkatsu. Because the cutlets weren’t fried to order, there would inevitably be leftovers. One morning the chef was bemoaning a particularly large batch of uneaten Tonkatsu when a college student suggested he’d eat it if the chef prepared it with egg and served it over rice like Oyakodon.
This recipe makes 1 very large serving of Katsudon. If you are a lighter eater, you can split this between two people.
Yes, you can, but I recommend cooking it in two separate small pans, as it will not look very nice if you try and split a large batch of Katsudon in half between two bowls.
It’s best to fry the cutlet at a higher temperature for Katsudon so that the meat is slightly undercooked while the breading is extra browned; however, leftover fully cooked chicken or Tonkatsu will work fine.
Katsudon makes for a delicious bento lunch; however, you will want to fully cook the egg if you plan to pack this into a bento box, especially if you don’t intend to refrigerate and reheat it before eating it.
If you are using leftover chicken katsu that’s already been fried, you can proceed to step 3. Otherwise, go follow the instructions here for preparing and breading the chicken cutlets and come back to step 2 to fry it.
Preheat 1 1/2-inches of oil to 355 degrees F (180 C). Fry the chicken, flipping it over at least once until the breading is golden brown (about 4-5 minutes). Transfer the katsu to a paper towel-lined rack and let it cool enough to handle.
Cut the chicken katsu into 3/4-inch slices. Break the eggs into a bowl and lightly beat them.
Slice the onion thinly and add it to an 8-inch non-stick omelet pan, along with the dashi, sake, soy sauce, and sugar.
Bring the onion mixture to a simmer and cook them until they are tender.
Add the sliced cutlets and let them cook until they’ve soaked up the sauce on one side.
Flip the chicken over and continue cooking until they’re warmed through and fully cooked.
Drizzle the beaten egg evenly over everything.
Gently mix the egg with tongs or chopsticks, ensuring it flows between each piece of chicken and then slam the pan against the stove (don’t do this if you have a glass-topped stove) to help redistribute the uncooked egg.
Turn off the heat and allow the residual heat to cook the egg until it starts to turn opaque, but is still creamy. If you want your eggs more thoroughly cooked, you can cover the pan with a lid before turning off the heat and let it steam.
Serve over a bed of hot rice and garnish with mitsuba or scallions.