Wagyu Katsu Sandwich
Wagyu Katsu Sandwich is the English name for a dish called Gyukatsusando (牛カツサンド) in Japanese. Gyu literally means “beef” (as opposed to ton for “pork”), katsu is the Japanese abbreviation of “cutlet,” and sando is the Japanese abbreviation for “sandwich.” As its name implies, it’s a sandwich that’s made with a deep-fried beef cutlet.
It’s a simple dish, but the thing that makes it so unique (and why it commands such a high price in restaurants) is the use of high-grade Japanese beef. Unlike its western counterparts, Wagyu (和牛), or “Japanese beef,” is has a ton of intramuscular marbling with fat that has a very low melting point. This makes the meat melt-in-your-mouth like butter. When fried and stuffed between fluffy Japanese bread, you get a sandwich that’s soft on the outside, crisp towards the middle, and explosively tender and juicy in the center.
Why this recipe works
- It’s all about the beef. Whether it’s roast beef or a steak sandwich, beef is almost always sliced before being added to a sandwich. That’s because the connective tissue in a typical steak makes it difficult to bite cleanly through it. An A5 grade Wagyu sirloin from Japan is so tender that this problem disappears, which makes it possible to stuff the whole crispy cutlet into the sandwich.
- To get the katsu crisp and golden brown on the outside and rare in the center. I start with steaks that come right out of the refrigerator(rather than letting them come up to room temperature as you normally would do when grilling a steak). Then, they’re fried at 375 degrees F, which is significantly hotter than usual. This quickly browns the breading, while warming the center through enough to start melting the fat but not so much that it cooks it through.
- Premium Wagyu from Japan has a large amount of intramuscular fat, which is what makes it so delicious, but it can be pretty rich, which is why my homemade Katsu Sauce for this is tangy and spicy, to help balance things out.
What are the Ingredients for a Wayu Sandwich?
Like most Japanese dishes, there aren’t a ton of components, but the quality of each ingredient is what makes or breaks this sandwich.
- Shokupan – Also known as “Japanese milk bread” outside of Japan, Shokupan is a sandwich bread that’s light and fluffy, and yet it has a springy texture that turns dense and chewy (in a good way) as you bite into it. This not only provides a contrast to the crisp cutlet, but it’s also durable enough to not fall apart as you’re eating the sandwich. Outside of Japan, it’s sold in many Asian bakeries, but if you can’t find it, any moist sandwich bread with some structure like Pain de Mie will work.
- Sake – Sake is a brewed beverage made from rice, and it contains a high concentration of amino acids that stimulate umami taste receptors on your tongue. This gives foods it’s added to the savory taste of umami. Since it’s boiled, the alcohol will evaporate as will any finer nuances present in more expensive sake. This is why I recommend using a relatively inexpensive sake. The one exception is that you should never cook with anything labeled “cooking sake,” that’s because these are typically loaded with salt, preservatives, and “flavor enhancers,” which can throw off the seasoning in recipes.
- Black Pepper – Black pepper and beef are a match made in heaven, and I like to load my katsu sauce up with coarse ground pepper for this sandwich.
- Onion Powder and Onion Powder– The two aromatics I add to my sauce for flavor. You can grate fresh onions and garlic as well, but I prefer using the powder as it keeps the sauce from getting chunky.
- Worcestershire Sauce – This is the base for the sauce and provides the tartness and blend of spices that give it the taste of katsu sauce. I use an ordinary bottle of Lea & Perrins. I don’t recommend using Japanese Worcestershire sauce as they tend to be much saltier than the British kind.
- Ketchup – This is where the sauce gets its sweet fruity flavor from, and it also gives it some body.
- Honey – Added for sweetness and thickness. Use mild honey that doesn’t have a strong flavor.
- Whole Grain Mustard – The mustard isn’t spicy in the hot sense, but it does add the pleasant spicy taste of mustard, and the seeds give the sauce a beautiful texture. I use the French brand Maille.
- Oyster Sauce – The oyster sauce adds salt and umami to the sauce. I use the Thai brand MegaChef. An alternative would be soy sauce, but oyster sauce is sweet and less salty than soy sauce, so you’ll want to reduce the amount if you use soy sauce.
- Wagyu Sirloin – This is the most important ingredient to get right. I used an A5 grade Wagyu Sirloin from Japan. It has no sinew or gristle and is pink in color when viewed from a distance because of the fine intramuscular marbling of fat. Beef that’s marketed as “Wagyu” is often not from Japan, and due to cross-breeding, it does not have the same taste or texture as Japanese beef. If you need teeth to bite through it, it’s probably not a good choice for this sandwich. One possible alternative is to pound a dry-aged filet mignon out, so it’s 3/4 of an inch thick and about the size of your sandwich bread. It won’t have the same taste or flavor, but it should be tender enough.
- Salt and Pepper – The sauce is more tangy and sweet than savory, so it’s important to season the beef generously before breading it.
- Flour and Egg – When breading Japanese katsu, the flour, and egg act as a glue that helps the panko stick to the cutlet.
- Panko – Panko literally means “powdered bread” in Japanese and is a coarse breadcrumb that’s made from the white part of sandwich bread. If you can’t find it near you, you can pulse some sandwich bread in a food processor to make it at home.
How to make a Wagyu Sandwich
For the homemade katsu sauce, you want to boil the sake, black pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder together in a small pot. This burns off the alcohol while drawing out the flavor of the spices and aromatics into the liquid. You can tell it’s ready when the bubbles start getting big and shiny.
Next, the Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, honey, mustard, and oyster sauce go into the pot, and the mixture is brought to a boil again. Be careful not to overcook the sauce. Otherwise, the vinegar in the Worcestershire sauce and ketchup will evaporate, leaving the sauce tasting flat.
For the Katsu, I like starting with cold beef straight out of the fridge. It will warm up a bit while you’re working with it, and I like the beef to be as cold as possible so that it stays rare as we fry it.
Sprinkle both sides of the steaks with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Then dust every surface with an even coating of flour. The breadcrumbs will not stick to any spots you’ve missed, and if the flour is too thick, it will buckle up and flake off after you fry it, so it’s important to be thorough and then pat off any excess flour.
Next, you want to coat the steaks in an even layer of egg. Again, be sure you don’t miss any spots.
Finally, these get dropped into the panko and gently rolled around to coat every surface with the breadcrumbs. You can pile the panko on top and pat it down lightly to encourage the panko to stick, but you don’t want to crush the crumbs. You also need to handle the cutlet with care once it’s coated, or the panko will come off.
To fry the Wagyu Katsu, you need to preheat a few inches of oil to 375 degrees F (190 C). This is hotter than usual, but it’s how we get the outside nice and brown while maintaining a rare interior. Depending on the thickness and temperature of the beef, it will take anywhere from a minute to a minute and a half to get a cutlet that’s rare in the center. You can fry it for longer if you want it medium-rare, but I don’t recommend cooking Wagyu to well-done as most of the fat will render out, leaving you with very little meat.
When the katsu is done, transfer it to a wire rack to drain, and then immediately drizzle both sides of each cutlet with a generous amount of Katsu Sauce. It’s important to do this while the cutlets are still sizzling; otherwise, the sauce will make the crust soggy.
Assemble the sandwich by toasting the bread and then putting each cutlet between two slices of bread. In Japan, they cut the crusts off, which makes the sandwich look nice, but I prefer leaving the crusts on.
Wagyu literally means “Japanese Beef” in Japanese. It can be used to refer to beef that is raised in Japan, or collectively for breeds of cattle that are native to Japan, but it is not an individual breed in and of itself. It’s worth noting that most cattle raised outside of Japan and marketed as “____ Wagyu” are crossbred and have very little of the original bloodline remaining.
Wagyu from Japan is expensive because there is great care taken in the breeding and raising of the cattle to achieve the highest grading for beef in Japan: A5.
Beef from Japan is graded on a scale that measures yield, as well as the quality of the meat. The first letter (either A, B, or C) is the yield, which indicates how much meat can be used from the carcass. To get an A grade, the yield has to be higher than 72%. The number following the letter (1-5) is assigned based on the marbling, color of the meat, the texture of the meat, and the color of the fat. The higher the number, the higher the grade, and the overall score is based on the lowest score. So, for example, if a cut of beef got a score of 5 for marbling, meat color, and texture, but only got a 4 for fat color, the overall score would be 4. Based on this system, the highest grade is A5, while the lowest is C1.
This is entirely subjective and depends on what you value in your beef. Just as some people prefer sapphires to diamonds, some people may prefer a leaner type of beef. To take this analogy one step further, even a diamond lover, maybe just fine with a mid-grade diamond, because the incremental cost of getting a flawless colorless diamond is not worth it for them. Personally, I find A5 grade Wagyu from Japan to be a worthwhile splurge from time to time, but I would never pay the premium for most of what is being passed off as “Wagyu” around the world.
Other Japanese Sandwiches
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- 4 slices Japanese sandwich bread (thick-cut, lightly toasted)
- ¼ cup sake
- 1 teaspoon black pepper (coarse grind)
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
- 3 tablespoon ketchup
- 2 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 400 grams A5 Grade Wagyu Sirloin (2 steaks 3/4-inch thick)
- ¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper (coarse grind)
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg (beaten)
- 50 grams panko (about 1 cup)
- Fill a heavy-bottomed pot with 1 1/2 inches of oil and preheat to 375 degrees F (190 C).
- To make the Katsu Sauce, add the sake, black pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Continue to boil until the bubbles get big and shiny.
- Add the Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, honey, mustard, and oyster sauce and let the mixture come to a boil again. Remove the sauce from the heat and let it cool.
- For the Wagyu Katsu, sprinkle both sides of the steaks with the salt and black pepper.
- Sprinkle the steaks with the flour and dust coat every surface of the meat with a thin, even layer. Pat the meat to dust off any excess flour.
- Dip the beef in the beaten egg, coating every surface.
- Place the egg and flour-coated meat on a bed of panko and it with panko, patting gently to help the panko adhere to the steak.
- Add the steak to the preheated oil and fry for 30 seconds on one side. Flip the cutlet over and fry until it’s golden brown (about another 30 seconds).
- Transfer the fried Wagyu Katsu to a wire rack and drizzle with a generous amount of sauce. Repeat with the second cutlet.
- To assemble the sandwich, place a whole Wagyu Katsu between two slices of toasted sandwich bread.
- Trim off the crusts and slice the sandwich into halves or quarters.