The Japanese, in a never-ending quest to better the world in most things, have managed to breed a nation of super fryers, and fried food is eaten more commonly than one might assume – always in combination with other ingredients that help digest the oil and cut through the richness. This is one of the most satisfying dishes to eat in the middle of winter – dressed with a sharp, sweetish brown sauce, every mouthful sings the kind of harmony that keeps you going back for more. Tonkatsu is also served as miso katsu in some parts of Japan, and as katsu kare (katsu with curry sauce) in almost every city across the country. When pork sirloin is used, the dish is known as rosu katsu; when pork fillet is used it is called hire katsu. In Japan you usually have the choice of ordering either or a combination of these two cuts.
This is one of the most satisfying dishes to eat in the middle of winter – dressed with a sharp, sweetish brown sauce, every mouthful sings the kind of harmony that keeps you going back for more.
- 2 tbsp very finely chopped brown onion
- ½ carrot, finely chopped
- ½ celery stalk, finely chopped
- ½ apple, finely chopped or grated
- 70 ml (2¼ fl oz) tomato sauce (ketchup)
- 50-60 ml (1¾–2 fl oz) worcestershire sauce (preferably Japanese-style)
- 60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) rice vinegar, plus 1 tsp extra
- 2 tbsp mirin, plus 1 tsp extra
- 2 tbsp sake, plus 1 tsp extra
- 2½ tbsp shoyu, plus 1½ tsp extra
- ¼ tsp ground allspice
- a pinch of ground cinnamon
- a small pinch of ground cloves
- 2½ tbsp kurosato (Japanese black sugar) or dark brown sugar
- 1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
- 1 small garlic clove, bruised
- ½ tsp karashi (Japanese mustard) or hot English mustard
- 4 best-quality pork loin cutlets, each about 2.5-3 cm (1-1¼ inches) thick and weighing 200 g (7 oz), on the bone
- 1 tbsp saikyo miso (sweet, white Kyoto-style miso) or white miso
- plain (all-purpose) flour, seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, for coating
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), for coating (see Note)
- vegetable oil, for deep-frying
- 4 tbsp freshly toasted sesame seeds, to serve
- karashi (Japanese mustard) or hot English mustard, to serve (optional)
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Chilling time 30 minutes
Combine all the tonkatsu sauce ingredients (except the extra vinegar, mirin, sake and shoyu) in a saucepan with 80 ml (2½ fl oz/⅓ cup) water. Place over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture boils. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 1 hour, or until the vegetables are very tender.
Remove from the heat, discard the garlic clove and process with a hand-held stick blender until smooth. Pass the sauce through a sieve into a bowl and stir in the extra vinegar, mirin, sake and shoyu to season. Pour into a jug or a deep container with a small ladle ready for serving – in Japan the sauce is served in ceramic pots with a small, deep bamboo ladle.
To prepare the katsu, carefully cut the meat from the bone using a sharp knife. Cut small nicks all the way around the edge of the pork, at 1.5 cm (⅝ inch) intervals, so the meat doesn’t curl up too much when it cooks. Bash the cutlets with a meat mallet or rolling pin until they are about 1.5 cm (⅝ inch) thick. Smear the miso evenly over the pork.
Place the flour, egg and breadcrumbs in three separate dishes. Dip the cutlets into the flour, then the egg, allowing any excess to drip back into the dish. Then coat the cutlets well with the breadcrumbs, pressing them down to help them adhere. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to help the coating set.
Fill a deep-fryer or large deep saucepan with oil and heat to 170°C (325°F), or until a cube of bread dropped into the oil browns in 20 seconds. Line a wire rack with kitchen paper. Cook the cutlets, one at a time, for 5 minutes each, or until the crumbs are golden and the pork is just cooked through. Drain the cutlets on the kitchen paper and allow to rest for a few minutes before serving. The cutlets are best served immediately, but you can keep them warm in a low oven until you have finished frying them all.
To serve, use a sharp knife to slice each cutlet into 1.5 cm (⅝ inch) strips, then slide a long palette knife underneath and transfer the strips to a plate in one movement. Serve with a little cabbage and yuzu dressing, a bowl of rice, miso soup, sesame seeds and mustard if desired, and of course the tonkatsu sauce for dipping.
If you can find four individual suribachi (ribbed Japanese mortar and wooden pestles), you can allow each diner to grind their own sesame seeds to add to the sauce, as you would in Japan. Put a tbsp of sesame seeds in each suribachi, grind them as finely as you like, then stir in the amount of tonkatsu sauce you wish to use – more sauce can be added later as desired. The other option is to grind all the sesame seeds beforehand, stir the sauce through, then divide among small bowls for each diner to dip their katsu into.
• Panko is readily available in supermarkets, but you can prepare your own by making large breadcrumbs from white crusty bread. Pulse the bread in a food processor, then spread the crumbs out on trays lined with kitchen paper and allow to dry for 24 hours, or until crisp.
• Variation: Instead of the tonkatsu sauce, you can use a mixture of grated daikon, ginger, soy and yuzu or lemon juice for dipping instead.
• If you are short on time you can also buy tonkatsu sauce from Asian grocery stores. It is honestly pretty good flavour-wise, but, as with most things, I prefer to make my own – that way I know what’s in it and that it’s as additive-free as possible. It’s a bit like making your own barbecue sauce instead of buying the bottled stuff!
Recipe and images from Zenbu Zen by Jane Lawson, published by Murdoch Books $69.99.