Tonteki (トンテキ), which literally means "pork steak" in Japanese, is made by frying a thick-cut pork chop with garlic and glazing it with a savory, sweet, and tangy sauce. It's a regional specialty of Yokkaichi city in Mie prefecture, where it was invented.
It's also the headline dish of season 1, episode 3 of Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, but the dish featured in Midnight Diner is significantly different from the original. The Master himself says the sauce is light and might not satisfy someone who's had the original. Having tried it both ways, I can tell you that the Yokkaichi original is leagues better than the one featured in the show.
Why This Recipe Works?
- Using a well-marbled cut of pork such as a boneless rib chop and then cutting any connective tissue ensures your Tonteki turns out juicy and tender.
- Dusting the pork steak with flour helps the sauce adhere to the meat.
- Frying the garlic chips in oil infuses it with garlic flavor, which can then be used to pan-fry the Tonteki.
- The combination of umami-packed rice wine and soy sauce with tangy Worcestershire sauce and ketchup and sweet honey makes for an indescribably delicious sauce for this pork steak.
- Pork steak - Any relatively thick(¾-inch to 1-inch) pork chop will work for this, but I like using rib chops because they tend to be juicier and have more flavor than leaner cuts like loin chops.
- Flour - Dusting the pork with flour gives it a coating for the sauce to adhere to. You can also use something like potato starch for this.
- Garlic - Part of the allure of Tonteki is in the potency of the garlic. In the original preparation, whole cloves of garlic are fried and used as a topping, but I prefer slicing them into chips and crisping them up. Then you can use the oil you fried the garlic in to cook the pork for an extra boost of flavor.
- Shaoxing wine - Brewed rice beverages like Shaoxing and Sake contain a ton of amino acids, which creates the taste of umami. As you boil the sauce down, the alcohol evaporates, concentrating the taste of umami in the sauce. Sake will also work here, but I prefer the nutty notes of Shaoxing for this particular dish. Mirin will also work, but you'll want to skip the honey if you use it.
- Soy sauce - Sauce sauce is another ingredient with a lot of amino acids, but it also acts as the primary seasoning for the sauce.
- Worcestershire sauce - Worcestershire sauce adds tartness and spices to the sauce. You can also use tonkatsu sauce or chunou sauce, but these are both sweeter, so you can skip the honey if you do.
- Ketchup - Ketchup might seem like an odd addition to a dish created in Japan, but it's a core component of the sauce, adding a fruity sweetness while lending a beautiful color to the glaze.
- Honey - The honey balances out the Worcestershire sauce's tartness and the soy sauce's saltiness while giving the glaze a mirror-like shine.
How to Make Tonteki
The first thing you want to do is get all of the Tonteki sauce ingredients, including the Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and honey, in a bowl and whisk them together.
To prepare the pork steaks, use scissors or the tip of a knife to cut through any connective tissue in the meat about a quarter-inch apart. It usually runs along veins of fat, so cutting along the fat is a good place to start. Be sure to get each pork chop from both sides.
Season both sides of the pork by sprinkling it with salt and pepper and rubbing them in a bit. Then you can dust the surface of the meat with the flour. The goal is to get a thin, even coating.
Next, you want to fry the sliced garlic in the vegetable oil over medium-low heat until it's light tan in color. One way to make this easier is to tip the pan so the oil pools on one side of the pan to deep fry the garlic. You can start removing the ones that brown first, but when most of them have browned, you'll want to get them out of the pan quickly so they don't get too dark or they'll get bitter.
Then you want to pan-fry the pork steaks in the garlic-infused oil. I usually let them fry undisturbed until they've started to brown on one side and then flip them over and brown the other side. Then you can then flip them over periodically until they're cooked through. If you have an instant-read thermometer, you want to get it up to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C).
When the meat is cooked through, transfer it to a plate. It may seem like a bit of a waste, but the garlic oil already served its purpose, so you want to wipe it out of the pan using paper towels and tongs. Otherwise, the sauce will end up greasy.
Now, you can add the sauce ingredients to the pan, turn up the heat, and boil the mixture to reduce the sauce. Once the sauce is thick, and the bubbles are large and glossy, add the Tonteki back in and repeatedly flip it over until the sauce forms a thick glaze around the meat.
Serve it With
Tonteki is typically served over a bed of thinly shredded cabbage with garlic and lemon. To make it a complete meal, I recommend serving it with a bowl of rice and miso soup. If you want to take it to the next level, try pairing this with my teppanyaki-style garlic rice.
Other Japanese Pork Recipes
- Tonkatsu (Cutlet)
- Shogayaki (Ginger Pork)
- Butadon (Pork Rice Bowl)
- Katsusando (Cutlet Sandwich)
- Tonjiru (Pork Miso Soup)
Tonteki is a Japanese-style pork steak that was created at a Japanese-style Chinese restaurant called Rairaiken in the city of Yokkaichi, Japan. The name is a play on bifuteki (ビフテキ), the Japanese word for beefsteak, by replacing bifu with ton, which means "pork." The original version is made by cutting slits into a pork chop like the fingers on a glove, which is why it is also sometimes called gurōbuyaki (グローブ焼き).
Tonteki is a three-syllable name pronounced as follows:
ton like tone
te like ten
ki like key
Since pork is in the name, you couldn't call it Tonteki anymore, but the preparation method can be used for any relatively tender cut of meat, including: chicken, beef or lamb steaks, or even tofu. The need to cut connective tissue will depend on the toughness of the meat, and cooking times will vary, but otherwise, you can use the same steps described in this Tonteki recipe.
For Tonteki sauce
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 600 grams pork rib chops (2 chops ~¾-inch thick)
- Salt & pepper (to taste)
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 30 grams garlic (4 extra-large cloves, sliced 1/25-inch thick)
- To make the sauce, whisk the Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and honey together in a bowl until the honey has dissolved and the sauce is uniform in color.
- Use scissors or a knife to cut through any connective tissue on both sides of the pork chops about ¼-inch apart.
- Sprinkle both sides of the pork with salt and pepper, and then dust both sides with a thin, even dusting of flour.
- Add the vegetable oil and sliced garlic to a frying pan over medium-low heat and slowly fry the garlic while stirring it regularly until it's light tan in color. They won't brown at the same speed, so begin removing the garlic chips as they brown.
- Once all of the garlic is out of the pan, add the pork steaks and fry them until they've browned on one side. Next, flip the steaks over, then brown the second side. You may need to flip them over a few more times to achieve even browning. They're done when they reach an internal temperature of 145° F (63° C).
- Transfer the pork to a plate and set it aside. Wipe out all of the oil from the pan with paper towels.
- Add the sauce ingredients to the pan and turn up the heat to high. Boil the sauce until the bubbles become big and glossy and the sauce has thickened up.
- Return the pork chops to the pan, along with any collected juices, and flip them over repeatedly until they're glazed with a thick layer of sauce.
- Serve the Tonteki with fried garlic chips with shredded cabbage and rice.