Crispy pork tonkatsu smothered with a sweet onion and miso sauce, served with rice and a crunchy apple coleslaw with a ginger and wasabi dressing…
Tonkatsu, or pork katsu (cutlet), is a quintessential Japanese favourite – panko-crumbed pork fried to a crisp golden brown. Tonkatsu is not only tasty but also versatile, and can be served in various guises – simply on its own, on rice bowls, in curries, even in sandwiches.
Although tonkatsu now has a uniquely Japanese identity, turns out it is a more “modern” addition to the Japanese repertoire. Entering the scene in the 1900s, it slowly gained popularity from the 1930s following the growing influence of the West on Japan and the adaptation of Western dishes for the Japanese palate.
Funny how things come full circle – as international cuisine gains popularity round the world, food that was originally imported from the West is now being re-exported back as Japanese food!
This also made me think a little more on the concept of fusion cuisine. Still a relatively new idea from a Western perspective, the idea of fusion cuisine has gained more and more traction over the last few years. However, the approach is often a deliberate attempt to meld two or more (sometimes disparate) cuisines into something that’s perceived as new or exciting. Unfortunately the danger lies in cases where the approach is fusion for fusion’s sake. In the case of the katsu though, it’s refreshing to see an example of how a relatively simple yet organic approach to incorporating other cuisines can over time create something so integral to the local food culture.
In its “pure” incarnation, tonkatsu is typically served with tonkatsu sauce (a localised version of Worcestershire sauce), fresh cabbage and mustard, alongside the obligatory side of rice. My other favourite way of having tonkatsu is as Katsudon, where a katsu is cooked with egg, onions and sauce and served on top of a bowl of rice.
However, for this recipe we’ve switched it up a bit with a miso-based sauce, a variant that’s found in Nagoya in central Japan, and mixed it with slow-cooked onions in a nod to the Katsudon sauce. The onions are slowly caramelised over 30 – 40 minutes, and mixed in with the miso sauce for sweetness and added texture. It can be quite rich, so I like to add a bit of acidity using balsamic vinegar as it has a bit more complexity and mellowness.
On the subject of tonkatsu itself, the key is a balance between crispy coating and juicy pork. I don’t like the pork to be bashed out too thin, otherwise it can dry out a bit too much. I’ve also seen some recipes that advocate for double-frying the katsu, while Japanese Soul Cooking advocates for double-breading them.
I was curious, so I had a go at the two variants – the double fry, and the double coat (two dredges in flour and egg plus panko, though I’ve even done two rounds of panko before!). The one on the left is the regular single-coated cutlet which is then fried twice, while the one on the right is the double-coated one, fried just once.
Both versions come out nice and crispy, but as you can see the double-coated katsu is certainly chunkier, and that’s the version I prefer, because of the added texture the thicker breading provides.
Tonkatsu is usally served with a mound of shredded cabbage, but I’ve pushed the boat out here and served it with a coleslaw-esque mix. I’ve added some shredded green apple because apple and pork are a great match, and dressed it with a wasabi and ginger dressing for some bite against the fried pork.
Recipe adapted from Classic Tonkatsu, pg 65 Japanese Soul Cooking