Tonkatsu is a dish I grew up eating and knowing as Japanese food. To me, Tonkatsu is as Japanese as chicken teriyaki, tempura and sushi. So why is it that when I went to Japan, people looked at me like I’m short a few brain cells when I called Tonkatsu washoku (Japanese food)?
Just as Americans are probably shocked to go to Japan and find no California rolls at sushi restaurants, Japanese tourists are likely dumbfounded when they come to the States and can’t find Tonkatsu on the menu at Denny’s.
That’s because in Japan, Tonkatsu is a type of yōshoku, or “western food”. Even the name is half English. Ton means “pork” in Japanese, but katsu is the transliteration of the English word “cutlet” (pronounced ka-tsu-re-toh in Japanese).
As the name implies, it’s a dish that came to Japan over a century ago by way of American trade. Since then, it’s become a staple in most homes.
There are even restaurants that specialize in Tonkatsu (much like our steakhouses over here), and yet it’s still not considered “Japanese food” over there.
While it may look similar to pork schnitzel, the Japanese breadcrumbs (panko) give Tonkatsu a thick crispy crust, and a sweet tangy sauce compliments the moist cutlet inside.
Though not widely known throughout the U.S., this Japanese favorite is considered "western food" and incorporates so many unique flavors and textures. Marc Matsumoto of NoRecipes shares this recipe in a full post on the Fresh Tastes blog.
- 4 pork cutlets (about 1/2” thick)
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 egg, whisked until the white and yolk are combined in a shallow bowl
- 1 cup panko, in a shallow bowl
- vegetable oil for frying
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- Generously salt and pepper the pork cutlets. Dust every surface of each cutlet with a light coating of flour; discard any remaining flour. The flour combined with the egg helps the breadcrumbs stick, so be sure you don’t miss any spots.
- Dip a cutlet in the egg mixture, again ensuring that every surface is coated. Place the cutlet on the panko and scoop some of the panko on top. Gently press the crumbs into the pork. Flip the pork over and make sure you have an even coating of panko. Repeat with the rest of the cutlets.
- Fill a heavy bottomed pot with about 1” of oil and heat over medium high heat to 360 degrees F. Line a wire rack with a double layer of paper towels.
- When the oil is a hot, fry one or two cutlets at a time (depending on the size of your pot) until the coating is golden brown and the pork is cooked though. If you use a thicker piece of pork, you may want to use a thermometer to check for doneness (it should read at least 145 degrees F). Place the fried cutlets on the paper towel lined rack to drain.
- To make the Tonkatsu sauce, whisk together the ketchup and Worcestershire sauce in a small bowl. Serve the Tonkatsu with the sauce and hot mustard.
Yield: 4 servings
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.