Tonkatsu (豚 – pig; カツ – from the word カツレツ, which is katsuretsu, transliterated from the English word “cutlet”; とんかつ), also known as dongaseu (돈가스/돈까스, derived from the Japanese word) in Korea, is something from a distant childhood memory. I feel like I was brought up eating this dish, however, I can’t pinpoint exactly when I first ate it. It’s possible that my mom or my grandma made it for me, or we first ate it at a restaurant; regardless of the “origin story”, I remember that I loved eating it!
Fried food and I have been at constant battle with each other. I enjoy eating fritters and savory pancakes and crispy chicken, but I always have to eat it with some veggies or rice to cut the grease. Otherwise, I find it too heavy on my tummy. As kids, we can’t control what goes on the plate and into our mouths; we just hope that it tastes good and sustains us. When I found out that greasy foods can be made “less greasy”, I was surprised to find that it all comes down to the frying temperature. People don’t fry food at a hot enough temperature, so sometimes we eat food that’s saturated in oil.
That isn’t to say that foods need to be fried at scorching temperatures (because that would mean burnt on the outside, uncooked on the inside). As long as we follow the rules of frying, I find that fried food is delicious.
*First of all, don’t be afraid of frying. If lots of hot oil is overwhelming, I find that shallow pan-frying food works really well. Have a Dutch oven or cast iron pan to contain all the oil. They’re heavy-bottomed pans and work well for frying. Second, a frying/candy thermometer is helpful, as it can take high temperatures and it keeps track of the temperature of your oil. If you don’t have one, a wooden spoon will work in a quick fix; bubbles will form around the spoon handle when placed into hot oil. Third, make sure your flame height is somewhere around medium, so you don’t overheat the oil. Fourth, have a set of tongs ready to flip and maneuver the food. And finally, don’t overcrowd your pot or pan with fritters or, in this case, tonkatsu, as it can dramatically reduce the temperature of the oil (resulting in soggy and oily food), and also because you’ll need some space to flip your yummy cooking.
I’m not sure if I missed something in there, but when I follow the above “rules”, I get great results.*
The wonderful thing about eating a pork cutlet is that you can eat it in a sandwich, over a salad, with rice and curry, or enjoyed as a meal with other fixings. I like it the most basic way, which is with thinly-sliced cabbage and sauce!
The Pork Cutlet:
- 4 Pork Chops
- 3g (1t) Kosher Salt
- 1g (½t) ground Black Pepper
- 63g (½ cup) All-Purpose Flour
- 64g (½ cup) Corn Starch
- 2 large Eggs
- 90-120g (1½-2 cups) Panko Crumbs
- Vegetable/Canola/Grapeseed Oil, for frying
For the Plate:
- Shredded Cabbage
- Lemon Wedge
- Tomato Slices
- Tonkatsu Sauce
- Kewpie Mayonnaise
- Take a pork chop (preferably boneless) and place it between two large sheets of plastic film or waxed paper on a cutting board. Take your meat tenderizer and pound the pork to ⅜-½-inch thickness. Repeat the process for the other 3 chops.
- Season the chops with salt and pepper. In a large shallow bowl, mix the flour and corn starch together. Crack the eggs into a pie plate, and whisk to homogenize. Place the panko in a separate pie plate.
- Dredge the chops in the flour mix, then give them an even coating of egg, and finally a layer of crumbs.
- Fry the tonkatsu at 325-350°F in a Dutch oven or a cast iron pan, until both sides are evenly browned, about 3 minutes on each side.
- Remove from the oil and let them drain on a layer of paper towels or a wire rack.
- Once drained, slice into strips, serve with cabbage, and with any combination of items listed under "For the Plate"**.
- If it's difficult to source pork chops without the bone, simply run the knife down the length of the rib and discard the bone.
- Salt and pepper both sides. If you have any leftover seasoning, throw it into the flour mixture.
- It's possible that you may need another egg to coat the tonkatsu. Same goes for the panko crumbs; a good layer of crumbs is necessary for a crunchy exterior.
- I like to dredge the pork and keep them in the flour for 5-10 minutes. Any moisture on the meat will be absorbed by the flour, which will help in the frying process and make for a crispy tonkatsu. Just remember to shake the excess flour off of the pork before coating it in egg.
- Any flat, but lipped plate can be used to contain the flour and eggs. I use pie plates because they're shallow with sides.
- Shallow pan-frying or deep-frying the tonkatsu both work. Just make sure the neutral oil (any oil that has a high heat point, and doesn't impart flavor) isn't too hot, as it can brown the exterior before the meat can cook on the inside.
- The coating should be browned throughout, with little to no pale spots.
- I like to place my finished tonkatsu on a wire rack, to allow maximum exposure to the air. It's no fun when you eat soggy fried food.
- **One of the most common ways to plate this dish is with thinly shredded cabbage, a lemon wedge, karashi (a mustard), and a side of tonkatsu sauce. The shredded cabbage and tomato slices are supposed to help in cleansing the palate from the grease. If you would like, use a mayo-based dressing, or a light vinaigrette for the cabbage. Pickled vegetables are also common to eat with this dish (like cucumber or radish). To make it into a meal, some people have this with a bowl of rice and some miso soup. I've also enjoyed this with Japanese curry.
- Kitty likes this with some kewpie mayo, so we have this on the side along with the tonkatsu sauce.