Katsu Curry (カツカレー)
Katsu Curry is a modern classic beloved by growing teenagers and adults in need of a bit of comfort alike. It involves two components: Tonkatsu and Curry Rice served on the same plate. The curry becomes a sauce for the cutlet, and the crispy spicy synergy is nothing short of magic.
The only problem with the dish is that you need to prepare two meals to have one. That's why in our household, Katsu Curry has been relegated to those chance days when we happen to make curry or tonkatsu within a few days of each other. Then the leftovers from one could be used for the other.
Being one of my favorite foods, I wanted to see if I could find a way to simplify the preparation of both components to make it more of an everyday meal. To do this, I leveraged several kitchen hacks that I've picked up over the years, and I'm happy to report that this cutlet curry can be put together in under thirty minutes, and the results won't disappoint!
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- Caramelized aromatics such as onions, carrots, garlic, and ginger are at the heart of good Japanese curry. This typically involves over an hour of stirring to get these ingredients to a glossy caramel brown. I've cut the time required to achieve this down to about eight minutes by grating them and adding baking soda to raise the pH (more on this later).
- Cocoa powder may sound like an odd addition to curry, but it lends umami along with a deep roasted flavor that makes the curry taste like it's been simmering for hours instead of minutes.
- I usually prefer my tonkatsu to be thick-cut, but for Katsu Curry, it's better to pound it out. This gives it a higher ratio of crisp panko to meat, which provides more surface area for the curry sauce to adhere to. It also has the added benefit of making the katsu fry up in about half the time.
Ingredients for Katsu Curry Sauce
- Chicken stock - this is the liquid component of the curry sauce. Since there is no meat in the sauce. I like to use a meat stock to add flavor and umami. If you want to make this vegan-friendly, you can substitute vegetable or mushroom stock.
- Soy sauce - To get the flavor of a long-simmered curry in a short amount of time, it's important to add ingredients containing a lot of amino acids. Soy sauce is rich in glutamic acid, which gives the sauce the taste of umami.
- Chunou sauce - Chunou sauce is a thick spiced fruit sauce similar to Tonkatsu sauce and Okonomiyaki sauce, and you can use either as a substitute. If you can't find these, you can also use a 50:50 mixture of Worcestershire sauce and ketchup.
- Honey - Japanese curry is sweeter than Indian or Thai curry, and although it can be sweetened with fruit such as apples or bananas, it needs to be cooked for longer to get the flavors to meld. Using honey or sugar is a quick way to get the sweetness required quickly.
- Cocoa powder - This may sound like an odd addition, but adding cocoa powder gives the curry a toasty, nutty flavor that makes it taste like it's been simmering for hours. It does not make the curry taste like chocolate. Just be sure you use an unsweetened cocoa powder that does not include any other ingredients. I also recommend using a Dutch-processed cocoa powder. This gives it a darker color and a more potent flavor.
- Aromatics - The standard aromatics for Japanese curry are onions, garlic, and ginger, but I also like to add some carrots to the mixture. The key with these ingredients is to get them well caramelized, and to speed up the process, I grate them.
- Baking soda - In addition to physically grating the aromatics, adding a small amount of baking soda will raise the pH of the mixture. This aids in further breaking down the vegetables while speeding up browning reactions such as caramelization and the Maillard reaction.
- Vegetable oil - The oil aids in caramelizing the vegetables and lends some richness to the curry sauce.
- Japanese curry powder - Japanese curry powder is a blend of 20 spices that is better to buy than making yourself. S&B and Gaban are two brands I'd recommend. That being said, if you really want to make it yourself, here's a recipe for Japanese Curry Powder.
Ingredients for Tonkatsu
- Pork chops - Katsu curry works best with thinner pork with a large surface area. This is why I usually pound out medium-thick pork chops until they end up being double their original size. I like using rib chops because they have more fat, but the recipe will also work with leaner loin chops. If you'd rather make this with chicken breast, you can follow my chicken katsu recipe.
- Seasonings - The curry sauce will give these cutlets lots of flavor, but lightly season the tonkatsu with some salt and pepper is still a good idea. You can also sprinkle on some garlic powder if you like.
- Flour - Flour is like a primer that helps the panko stick to the pork along with the egg.
- Egg - Egg is the glue that holds the panko onto the meat.
- Panko - Western bread crumbs are usually made from crusts that have been ground into a powder. Panko breadcrumbs are made from the inside of the bread and is crumbled much more coarsely. This gives it a crisp, flakey texture. You can make it yourself by cutting the crusts off of sandwich bread and pulsing it in a food processor until you have crumbs that are about ¼-1/8 inch thick.
How to Make Katsu Curry
The first thing you want to do is prepare the seasoning base for the curry by mixing the chicken stock, soy sauce, chunou sauce, honey, and cocoa powder together in a bowl. It's okay if some small lumps of cocoa powder remain as they dissolve when you cook the mixture.
The next thing you need to do is grate the onion, carrot, garlic, and ginger. I usually do this straight into a pan using a daikon grater, but you can also use the rasp on a box grater or a food processor. Whatever method you use, it's crucial that the aromatics are fully pureed, otherwise your curry sauce will not thicken properly. The texture should be like apple sauce.
Prepare the cutlets by cutting slits into each chop, spacing them ¼-inch apart. Be careful not to cut further than ⅓ of the way through the meat, or it may fall apart in the next step. Next, flip the cutlets over and repeat the cuts holding the knife at the same angle on the second side. This ensures the slits on either side run perpendicular to each other, so you don't accidentally cut all the way through the meat. These slits make it easier to pound out the meat; it also cuts any connective tissue, which can cause the cutlet to curl when you fry it.
Spread a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment paper over the pork and use a meat mallet, rolling pin, or heavy pot to pound it out until it's doubled in size.
Season the pork on both sides with salt and pepper, and then dust it with flour. Together with the egg, the flour will form a glue that helps the panko adhere to the meat, so be careful not to miss any spots.
Get two trays or shallow bowls and break an egg into one and whisk it together until it's uniform in color. Then, add the panko to the other tray.
Dip a cutlet in the egg to coat every surface and then place it on the panko. Scoop panko on top of the pork and then pat it gently to press the crumbs into the meat. Flip it over a few times, repeating until you have an even layer of panko. Repeat with the second cutlet.
Prepare a pot with 1-inch of vegetable oil and preheat it to 340 degrees F (170 C). Line a cooling rack with a few layers of paper towels and set it aside.
For the curry sauce, you first want to boil off the excess liquid from the grated vegetables. To do this, put the pan on the stove over high heat and stir in the baking soda. Cook this until most of the liquid is gone. This should take about five minutes.
Next, you want to caramelize the vegetables by reducing the heat, adding two tablespoons of vegetable oil, and stirring the mixture until it forms a thick caramel brown paste. This will take another three minutes or so.
Once the aromatics are caramelized, add the curry powder and stir it in. Toasting the curry powder brings out its aroma, but be careful not to burn it, or it will make your curry taste bitter. As soon as the curry powder starts getting fragrant, you want to stir in the chicken stock mixture. Next, turn down the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and move on to frying the katsu.
Unless you have a very big pot (and are willing to use a lot of oil), I'd recommend frying the tonkatsu one at a time. Just lower the cutlet into the hot oil and let it fry undisturbed until the coating has set. Then you want to flip it over periodically to ensure it browns evenly. The katsu should take about five minutes to cook through, and it's done when the panko is golden brown. Repeat with the second cutlet if needed.
At this point, your curry should be very thick, so taste it and add more salt if it needs it. If the curry is too viscous or salty, you can add some water to thin it out a bit.
To serve your Katsu Curry, slice up the cutlet and place it over a bed of Japanese short-grain rice. Then, pour the curry sauce over half of the katsu and serve it right away before the panko goes soggy.
The plate and salad bowl pictured above were sent over by Musubi Kiln. They have a fantastic selection of both classic and modern Japanese ceramics and tableware and they ship around the world. Get 5% off your order by using coupon code “NORECIPES” at checkout.
Other Japanese Curry Recipes
Katsu Curry literally means "cutlet curry," and it's a mashup of Tonkatsu with Japanese-style curry rice. A typical plate consists of a bed of rice, with a sliced breaded pork cutlet on top, and then the cutlet is draped in a thick Japanese-style curry sauce.
The creation of Katsu Curry is generally credited to a yōshoku restaurant called Grill Swiss in Ginza circa 1948. Yōshoku means "western food" in Japanese, so Tonkatsu and Curry Rice would have been two popular items on their menu. As the story goes, professional baseball players wanting a high-calorie meal would order both dishes, and to streamline the process, they'd ask for them on the same plate.
Cutlet Curry is transliterated to Katsu Karé in Japanese, and it's a 4-syllable name that is pronounced as follows:
ka like copy
tsu like eat soup said quickly
ka like copy
ré like the “re” sound does not exist in the English language and the best way to make it is to say the word "rain" with the tip of your tongue at the front of your mouth.
Traditional condiments for Katsu Curry can be condiments that are served with either Tonkatsu or Curry Rice. These include a salad of thinly shredded cabbage and sweet pickles such as Fukushinzuke or pickled rakkyo.
The curry powder gives it a flavor that's full of spice, but the level of heat depends on the amount of chili pepper in the curry powder you use. Most Japanese curry powders tend to be fairly mild since Japanese people have a low tolerance to heat. If the Katsu Curry Sauce ends up being too mild for your tastes, you can add some cayenne pepper or your favorite hot sauce to spice things up.
The curry sauce can easily be made vegan-friendly by substituting vegetable or mushroom stock for the chicken stock and sugar for the honey. For the katsu, you can use a flax or chia "egg" to substitute the egg, and the pork can be substituted for tofu that has been sliced in half horizontally and then pressed. You can see how I press tofu in my Tofu Karaage recipe.
Yes, this sauce should freeze well, so you could make a bigger batch and then portion and freeze it.
- 1 ½ cups low sodium chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Chunou sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
- 200 grams onion (~1 medium onion)
- 120 grams carrot (1 small carrot)
- 15 grams garlic (~3 large cloves)
- 15 grams ginger (peeled)
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 14 grams Japanese curry powder (~ 2 tablespoons)
- 325 grams pork chops (2 chops, ⅗-inch thick)
- Salt (to taste)
- Pepper (to taste)
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 egg
- 1 cup panko
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- Stir together the chicken stock, soy sauce, chunou sauce, honey, and cocoa powder in a bowl.
- Grate the onion, carrot, garlic, and ginger into a pan. You can also use a food processor or blender to do this, but it's important the vegetables are fully pureed.
- To prepare the katsu, cut slits into each pork chop about ⅓ of the way down, spaced ¼-inch apart. Flip the cutlets over and then repeat the cuts at the same angle.
- Place a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment paper over the meat, and use a heavy object such as a mallet, rolling pin, or pot to pound the cutlet out until it's doubled in size.
- Season both sides of the pork with salt and pepper and then dust with an even coating of flour.
- Beat the egg until uniform in one tray or shallow bowl, and then add the panko to another.
- Dip each cutlet in the egg so there are no dry spots, and then place them in the panko, scooping the panko on top and gently patting to help it adhere. Next, flip the cutlets over in the panko a few times, repeating the scooping and patting process until each one is evenly coated.
- Preheat a pot with about 1-inch of oil to 340 degrees F (170 C) and line a cooling rack with a few layers of paper towels.
- To make the curry sauce, put the pan with the grated vegetables on the stove and turn it on to high heat. Stir in the baking soda and continue boiling the mixture until most of the liquid has evaporated (about 5 minutes).
- Turn down the heat to medium and add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Fry this mixture while constantly stirring until it is caramel brown and forms a thick paste (about 3 more minutes).
- Add the curry powder and quickly stir it into the vegetable paste to toast it, but be careful not to burn it.
- Stir the chicken stock mixture in and turn down the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.
- To fry the katsu, add the breaded cutlets to the preheated oil and fry until golden brown. Flip them over periodically to ensure they brown evenly. If your pot doesn't hold both cutlets comfortably, just fry them one at a time. Drain on the prepared rack.
- Your curry should be nice and thick at this point, so give it a taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. If the curry is too thick or too salty, just add some water to thin it out.
- Slice up the katsu and serve it over rice. Pour the curry sauce over half of the katsu and serve immediately.