Born from the union of Western influences with traditional Japanese cuisine during the Meiji Restoration, Tonkatsu (とんカツ) has become a staple of home cooking in Japan that's spawned a whole genre of crispy breaded dishes like Ebifry as well as dishes that include a shatteringly crisp pork katsu as their base. Unlike Western breaded pork cutlets, my Tonkatsu recipe uses thicker pork chops, which are coated in a thick layer of flakey panko. This gives my katsu a crisp golden armor that's the perfect counterpoint to juicy meat inside.
Why This Recipe Works?
- Although tonkatsu is served with a savory sweet sauce, I always season the pork cutlet before breading it to ensure it's seasoned all the way through.
- I recommend using homemade panko for tonkatsu. The larger crumbs create a thicker coating that stays crisp longer and it's what differentiates this Japanese dish from Western cutlet dishes.
- I've tested frying tonkatsu at various temperatures, and using a relatively low temperature of 320°F (160°C) produces the best result. The meat ends up tender and juicy while the crust turns a rich golden brown.
- Pork - Tonkatsu is usually made with pork loin/tenderloin (ヒレカ - hirekatsu) or boneless rib chops (ロースカツ - rohsukatsu), and I prefer the latter due to the sublime balance of meat and fat. This ensures your pork katsu ends up juicy and flavorful. Heritage breeds like Kurobuta or Berkshire add a level of flavor and texture that's hard to match, but if these aren't accessible, a well-marbled regular pork chop can still create a delightful Tonkatsu. If you end up using a cut of pork that's thinner than ½-inch, I recommend cutting slits through the fat cap to prevent the cutlet from curling.
- Seasoning - Seasoning the cutlet is crucial for ensuring your pork katsu doesn't end up bland beneath its crispy coating. I like using a combination of salt and white pepper, but black pepper will work. If you want to add even more flavor, try sprinkling the cutlets with garlic or onion powder before breading them.
- Flour - Together with the egg, a light dusting of flour acts as the glue that holds the panko breadcrumbs onto the pork cutlet. For a gluten-free version, rice flour or a gluten-free all-purpose flour mix will also work.
- Egg - The binding agent in our breading process. It provides moisture and helps the panko cling to the pork cutlets, resulting in that iconic crunch.
- Panko - Panko bread crumbs are key for a lighter, airier, and crispier texture that differentiates tonkatsu from other breaded cutlets. I prefer using homemade panko because you can make the crumbs larger, but store-bought panko will work in a pinch.
- Oil - I recommend using a neutral oil with a high smoke point. Rice bran oil, grapeseed oil, or avocado oil are ideal, but canola or sunflower oil will work as well.
- Tonkatsu Sauce - This sweet, tangy sauce is a perfect complement to the savory pork cutlet, bringing a balance of flavors that is distinctly Japanese. Other similar sauces include chunou sauce, okonomiyaki sauce, and takoyaki sauce, and any of these will work with your fried pork cutlets in a pinch. I'll also include my tonkatsu sauce recipe below.
- Japanese Hot Mustard - Its sharp, clean heat adds an invigorating kick that cuts through the richness of the pork cutlets. If you can't find it, a dab of hot English mustard could be used as an alternative.
How to Make Tonkatsu (Japanese Pork Cutlet)
The first thing you want to do is season the pork on both sides with salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you'd like to impart on your katsu. Then, you want to dust the pork with a thin, even coating of flour.
To bread the cutlets, beat the egg in a tray and add the panko to a separate tray. You want to dip the floured pork chops in the egg to evenly wet the surface and then transfer the cutlet to the tray with the panko. Mound up the panko around and over the top of the pork and then gently press the crumbs into all of the surfaces of the katsu. Lift the cutlet out of the panko once to check and see if there are any bald spots, and press some more panko into those areas to ensure you have a nice, even coating.
To fry the pork katsu, add an inch and a half of oil to a heavy-bottomed pot with relatively high sides (this limits spattering and prevents spilling). Heat the oil to 320°F (160°C). When the oil has reached temperature, gently lower the Tonkatsu into the oil and deep fry it until it reaches an internal temperature of 140°F. Once the panko layer has set, you'll want to flip the katsu over a few times while it's cooking to ensure the breading browns evenly.
Once the Tonkatsu reaches the desired temperature, transfer it to a cooling rack lined with a few sheets of paper towels to drain the excess oil. Let the pork katsu rest for at least three minutes to allow the protein in the pork to relax a bit so its juices don't end up all over your cutting board when you go to slice it.
Finally, slice and serve your Tonkatsu with the traditional accompaniments—shredded green cabbage for a refreshing crunch, Japanese hot mustard, and Tonkatsu sauce.
How to Make Tonkatsu Sauce
Tonkatsu sauce is a sweet and savory fruit-based sauce with a tartness and a similar blend of spices to Worcestershire sauce. To make homemade tonkatsu sauce, you can combine equal parts Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and oyster sauce. The Worcestershire sauce contributes the spices and tartness, the ketchup adds the fruity flavor, and the oyster sauce contributes loads of savory umami.
How to Serve Pork Katsu
Traditionally, Tonkatsu is served alongside a fluffy bed of finely shredded cabbage salad, with a dollop of piquant Japanese mustard and a generous drizzle of Tonkatsu sauce; the combination of textures and flavors is magical, and all you need to accompany this is a steaming bowl of Japanese short-grain rice and miso soup. For a more modern take, few dishes are more comforting than Katsu Curry, in which you smother the crispy cutlet in Japanese curry sauce. Katsu Sando is a terrific portable option if you need to take your pork cutlet on the go, tucking the crispy cutlet between slices of soft white bread with a swipe of tangy sauce and some crisp cabbage. Finally, if you find yourself with leftover Tonkatsu, you can warm it up in a savory sweet broth and finish it with a drizzle of eggs before scooping it onto a bed of rice to make Katsudon.
Other Type of Katsu
While it's not certain who invented Tonkatsu, the first written account of this Japanese pork cutlet is in a cookbook published in 1872 called Seiyou Ryouritsu (literally "The Western World Cookbook), which describes a breaded and fried dish called Whole Cutlet (フォールカツレツ - Huoru Katsuretsu). The first recorded appearance on a restaurant menu was at Rengatei in Ginza around 1899, where it was called Pork Cutlet (ポークカツレツ Pohku Katsuretsu).
The timing coincides with the Meiji Restoration, which brought with it the opening of trade with the West along with a constitution that was modeled after the legal structures of the German Empire. The English name suggests the British or the Americans introduced it, 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 it's a portmanteau of "ton," which means "pork" in Japanese, and "katsu," which is an abbreviation of the Japanese transliteration of the word "cutlet."
Tonkatsu is a 3-syllable name pronounced as follows (read the italicized parts).
ton like tone
ka like copy
tsu like eat soup
Technically for it to be called tonkatsu, it needs to contain pork, however I have a delicious recipe for tofu katsu that involves a process of infusing the tofu with flavor before it's breaded and fried.
- 1000 grams pork rib chops (3 to 4 1-inch thick chops)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- white pepper (to taste)
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- 100 grams panko
- vegetable oil (for frying)
- Tonkatsu sauce
- Japanese hot mustard
- Prepare two trays, one the 1 large egg beaten well, and the other with 100 grams panko. Prepare a wire rack lined with several sheets of paper towels to drain the pork katsu. Add 1 ½ inches of vegetable oil to a heavy-bottomed pot and heat the oil to 320° F (160° C).
- Season the 1000 grams pork rib chops with ½ teaspoon salt and white pepper and then dust them with 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour.
- Dip the cutlets in the egg and coat evenly.
- Transfer the pork to the tray with the panko and mound the breadcrumbs around the meat, pressing down gently on the cutlet to ensure you get a good coating of breadcrumbs on all sides.
- Fry the Tonkatsu until golden brown, flipping every few minutes to ensure even browning. Use a skimmer to remove any foam that accumulates on the surface of the oil. Depending on how thick your katsu are, they should take about 10-15 minutes to cook through.
- You can test if the pork cutlets are done by removing one from the oil and inserting an instant-read thermometer into the center. It should register 140 degrees F (63 C).
- When the Tonkatsu is done, transfer the cutlets to the prepared wire rack to drain. Let it rest for 3 minutes before you cut it.
- Slice the pork katsu and serve with Tonkatsu sauce and Japanese hot mustard.