Tonkatsu is a Japanese dish made with fried pork cutlets and very crispy, served with a fruity sauce. This Japanese cuisine classic with a Western inspiration is one of the favorite dishes of Japanese people.
What is tonkatsu?
Tonkatsu is a very popular dish in Japan, consisting of a breaded pork cutlet, fried and then cut into thin slices.
The meat is first softened with a mallet, then soaked respectively in flour, beaten eggs and panko, a typical Japanese breading, before being deep-fried.
Traditionally, this dish is served only with a salad of minced white cabbage, although the Japanese also like to serve it with white rice.
Tonkatsu sauce is a must: no tonkatsu worthy of the name without its tasty fruity eponymous sauce, similar to Worcestershire sauce. In Japan, people are very fond of Bulldog, a brand that can be found in most Asian grocery stores in the West.
Finally, it is common to add a few drops of karashi, a type of Asian mustard with a particularly spicy taste.
What is the origin of tonkatsu?
Etymologically, tonkatsu (豚カツ) means “pork chop”. Ton is the Japanese word for pork, and katsu is the shortened form of katsuretsu, itself derived from the English “cutlet” or “côtelette” in French.
Tonkatsu is one of those Japanese dishes strongly inspired by Western cuisine. Indeed, we see a slight resemblance to the famous veal Milanese from Italy or the German schnitzel, adapted to Japanese taste thanks to panko and tonkatsu sauce.
The dish was invented at the end of the 19th century, during the reign of Emperor Meiji. His desire to encourage the import of Western cuisine into Japan marked a turning point in the country’s culinary history.
Thanks to him, many chefs embarked on the creation of a fusion cuisine, which was very innovative at the time. This type of cuisine, combining Japanese and Western influences, even has a name in Japan: yōshoku.
Renga-tei, a small restaurant in Tokyo renowned for being one of the precursors of yōshoku, was at the origin of the birth of tonkatsu in 1899. It was then simply called katsuretsu (“chops”), and it wasn’t officially introduced under the name of tonkatsu until 1930.
Today, tonkatsu is one of the most emblematic dishes of Japanese cuisine. It is so well integrated that it has become customary for students to savor it before an exam for good luck, a rite coming from the play on words with the verb katsu (勝つ) which means “win” or “succeed”.
Panko and Japanese frying
For the breading of tonkatsu, the Japanese use panko, breadcrumbs quite different from the ones used in Western cuisine. While the latter can be made with any bread that is crushed in a blender, the method for making panko is a little unique.
This breading is made from a white bread without crust, with a very soft crumb, which is baked not in the oven, but by electric current. It is then roughly grated before being dried. The result is a kind of thick, coarse flakes, giving a firm and crisp texture to the dishes they coat.
Panko is also known to absorb less oil when frying, and therefore to make food less fat and lighter.
Variants of tonkatsu in Japanese cuisine
Today, the popularity of tonkatsu is so great that it is inseparable from Japanese cuisine. While it can of course be enjoyed as it is, it also serves as a basis for other typical dishes.
This includes katsudon, which consists of placing a tonkatsu on a bowl of hot rice and sprinkling it with cooked eggs and green onions.
The katsu sando is a type of sandwich very popular at lunch, which is commonly included in a bento, the Japanese snack box. It is simply a tonkatsu between two slices of sandwich bread.
Katsukare is a version of tonkatsu with rice and a thick and flavored curry sauce.
The dish is also available in different regions of the country. Miso katsu, for example, is a specialty of the city of Nagoya: there, tonkatsu is covered with miso sauce, instead of tonkatsu sauce.
Over time, the prefix katsu has eventually extended to any type of breaded and fried meat using the tonkatsu method. Torikatsu refers to a fried chicken cutlet, menchi-katsu to minced meat croquettes and gyū katsu is a fried beef dish, very popular in Osaka and Kobe.
- 4 pork cutlets
- 5 tablespoons flour
- 2 eggs beaten
- 2 teaspoons water
- 4 oz. panko
- Vegetable oil
- 10 oz. white cabbage cut into thin strips
- Tonkatsu sauce Japanese Worcestershire sauce
- Karashi Japanese mustard
- Gently flatten the pork with a meat mallet.
- Dip the cutlets in the flour and remove the excess flour by tapping them.
- Dip each scallop in the eggs mixed with water, then coat them generously with the panko.
- Press each cutlet well so that the breadcrumbs hold well.
- Let stand for 10 minutes.
- Soak the cabbage for 5 minutes in ice-cold water so that it is crisp.
- Drain and dry.
- Heat a large volume of vegetable oil in a frying pan and fry the meat over medium-high heat for 5 to 6 minutes, turning it over until the meat is browned on both sides.
- Drain the pork on paper towels and cut into 1-inch wide diagonal slices.
- Serve with cabbage drizzled with tonkatsu sauce and karashi.