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Tonkatsu (豚カツ, とんかつ, or トンカツ) is a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet that is very popular in Japan. It is traditionally served with shredded cabbage, or miso soup, or both. Ton means pork in Japanese. Katsu is short for katsuretto (aka “cutlet”).
Keep in mind that we’re talking about tonKAtsu, not tonKOtsu – make sure you pronounce it right! TonKOtsu is a type of ramen with a broth made from boiling pork bones, fat, and collagen to make a rich creamy broth. We love both tonKOtsu and tonKAtsu.
Tonkatsu is commonly eaten with a thick sauce called tonkatsu sōsu (トンカツソース) or just sōsu (usually made up of ketchup, mustard powder, soy sauce, Worcestershire, and apple puree), some karashi (spicy yellow Japanese mustard) and a slice of lemon. Some people like to use just soy sauce.
You can make your tonkatsu sauce at home, or buy it. Bull Dog is a very popular brand, but there are quite a few different brands.
Sometimes people sandwich cheese or shiso leaves between thin slices of pork before breading and frying their tonkatsu.
It is said the best tonkatsu is made from kurobuta – black pig from Kagoshima Prefecture in southern Japan. Kurobuta are actually Berkshire pigs, are a rare bread of pig originating from Berkshire in England. Berkshire pork, prized for juiciness, flavor and tenderness, is pink-hued and heavily marbled. Its high fat content makes it suitable for long cooking and high-temperature cooking.
Tonkatsu is thought to have been introduced to Japan by the Portuguese in the late 1800s, and was originally made with beef. It is a type of yōshoku–Japanese versions of European cuisine, although nowadays it’s become “Japanized” and is served in the style of washoku (traditional Japanese food) with rice, miso soup, and tsukemono (Japanese pickles) and is eaten with chopsticks.
Some ways you can eat tonkatsu include:
- Katsu sando (tonkatsu in a sandwich)
- Katsu karē (tonkatsu served on Japanese curry)
- Katsudon (bowl of rice topped with tonkatsu, egg, and condiments, such as:
- sauce katsudon, with Worcestershire sauce
- demi katsudon, with demi-glace and usually green peas
- shio katsudon, with salt
- shoyu-dare katsudon, with soy sauce (Niigata style)
- miso katsudon (favorite in Nagyoa)
It has become a tradition for Japanese studens to eat katsudon the night before taking a major test or school entrance exam because “katsu” is a homophone of the verb katsu, meaning “to win” or “to be victorious” (same reason why Kit Kats are used in the same way).
So, how to make tonkatsu?
You can use pork fillet (ヒレ, hire) or pork loin (ロース, rōsu). The meat is salted and peppered, dusted lightly with flour, dipped in beaten egg, coated with panko, and then deep-fried.
Tonkatsu lovers are very particular about what they believe the perfect tonkatsu should be like. There are different opinions on what the fattiness or tenderness of the pork should be and how crunchy the coating should be.
Regardless, proper preparation is all about oil, temperature, timing, and quality ingredients.
Personally, we’re big fans of the recipe Rachael developed. But everyone has different opinions about what makes perfect tonkatsu, so if you don’t like that one, search around! There are tons of recipes out there.