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Tonkatsu: Deep Fried Pork Cutlet

Tonkatsu: Deep Fried Pork Cutlet

Enjoy a traditional tonkatsu recipe originating from a sleepy old Tokyo neighborhood. This article provides a step-by-step guide, along with ingredient quantities, for preparing juicy and crunchy tonkatsu at home. It also includes recommendations for tonkatsu sauce and Japanese mustard to complement the dish.

In 2009 I spent couple of months in a sleepy old Tokyo neighborhood called Monzen Nakacho, about as far as you can get from the modern side of the city. Located in Shitamachi, once the "town below" Edo Castle, where the craftsmen and fishermen lived, it's in my favorite part of Tokyo, one proud of its Edokko sensibility, and chock full of traditional shops and eateries. A hole-in-the-wall there I particularly loved was a tiny joint run by crusty husband and wife that specialized in just one thing -- tonkatsu, deep fried pork cutlet. I liked to grab a seat at the counter opposite the old man and watch him cut a slice of fresh boneless pork chop loin with a thick ribbon of white fat, salt and pepper it, and dip it in flour, beaten egg and panko crumbs before laying in a vat of bubbling oil. Once the cutlet turned golden brown -- the color of a fox, as they say in Japan -- he'd slice and serve it immediately with shredded cabbage. I'd slather it with tangy tonkatsu sauce and go to town. Incredibly crunchy, juicy, tender and so satisfying. I've been thinking about the old man as I made my own version of tonkatsu this past weekend. Here's the recipe, for four:

1/2 pound cabbage, shredded as thinly as possible (ideally with a mandolin)
4 cutlets (about 1 pound) pork loin, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
Salt and pepper
1 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups panko crumbs (this brand has nothing artificial)
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Tonkatsu sauce, to taste (see note)
Japanese mustard, to taste

Place the shredded cabbage in a large mixing bowl and fill with the coldest water you have. Add a tray of ice cubes, and let the cabbage sit for about 30 minutes to crisp it up; the cold water makes the cabbage really crunchy. Drain well in a colander when it's ready.

Set up a deep frying station: One one side of your burner, arrange 1 plate with the flour, 1 shallow bowl with the beaten egg and 1 plate with the panko crumbs. On the burner, place a pot filled with at least 1 inch of oil (I like to use a cast iron skillet). On the other side of your burner, set up a rack over a newspaper lined tray to drain the deep fried cutlet.

Lay the fillets on a tray and use the back of a heavy knife or cleaver, or a meat pounder, to flatten them to about 1/3 inch thickness. If you have a ribbon of fat on your meat, make sure to flatten that pretty good (even to 1/4 inch). Cut nicks in the fat to make it easier to cook (Watch this video and you'll understand the technique, even if you don't speak Japanese). Season the cutlets with salt and pepper on both sides.

Heat the oil to 340 degrees F (170 degrees C). I use a deep fry thermometer, to make sure the temperature is right (too hot will burn it). When the oil is ready, coat a cutlet with flour, shaking off excess. Dip it into the egg, shaking off excess. Now lay it in the panko, making sure to coat it very well with the crumbs; you can even press them on the cutlet. Carefully place the cutlet into the oil, and deep fry for about 7 minutes, turning once. Check the temperature, to make sure you're maintaining 340 degrees F. Depending on how large your pot is, you can fry more than 1 cutlet at once, but don't crowd the pot; frying in batches is the way to go. When the cutlet is beautifully golden brown, remove from the oil and drain on the rack. Let the cutlet rest for about 1 minute before transferring to a cutting board and slicing into strips.

Serve the tonkatsu with the cabbage. Slather with tonkatsu sauce, to taste. Add a dab of Japanese mustard, if you like. Eat piping hot.

Note: Tonkatsu sauce is a delicious tangy sauce that's both sweet and savory. I don't know how to make it, so I use Bulldog's "vegetable & fruit" sauce. Although I hate processed foods as a rule, this sauce, from an old Japanese food producer, is made with very little industrialized-food junk. If you know where I can find a good recipe for homemade tonkatsu sauce, please let me know in the comments!